Born into a church-going family in South Central LA, Duckwrth (whose real name is Jared Lee) is keenly aware of the contradictory influences he grew up around. Gospel music, de facto soundtrack to life at home, spoke of praise and transcendence, while the realness of West Coast hip-hop marked a different world outside.
“It’s hard to work out who you want to be as a person in these types of situations,” he reflects. “You see a lot of shit just being a public school kid in LA, but you have no choice but to deal with it.”
Music, skating and other forms of free creative expression, now echoed in the stylistic flair of both his attire and his records, would provide him with sanctuary, and set the tone for who he is today. “When you skate, you’re fully aware that you’re going to bleed and break bones. But all that matters is that you land the trick,” he recalls with fondness. “When you find people that have a similar mindset, people who are just as determined, disciplined and rowdy as you, that’s when you can build a community.”
In 2012, Duckwrth decided to pursue and develop his love for Outkast, Pharrell and Kid Cudi rather than skating, or his college degree in graphic design and art direction, and now he is releasing music that is similarly intriguing and idiosyncratic to that of his idols. His 2016 debut studio album ‘I’m Uugly’, and ‘An Xtra Uugly Mixtape’, released a year later, marked breakthrough moments in a career that took a while to live up to his global aspirations.
These projects showed a change in approach, where he combined the feel-good optimism of his early material with meditations on his own insecurities, what it means to feel like an outsider, and what it’s like to feel ugly. He explains that in its essence his concept of being ‘Uugly’ has nothing to do with aesthetics, but everything to do with “being true to yourself,” saying: “When I learned to lean into the things that made me different, I started to be truly happy. That is what I want to share with people.”
Duly he has been rewarded with a committed and expanding global fanbase that find solace in his music, as he did in skateboarding as a teenager. Now Duckwrth makes videos, merch, artwork and music all for and of his misunderstood generation. The sound, the subject matter, the feeling and the funk all come from celebrating the quirks, flaws and imperfections that make us who we are.
This is Duckwrth’s message: Be uugly, and be proud.
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Words: Robbie Russell
Photography: Katherine Squier
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