Ugly Duckling Bang for the Buck

[Fat Beats; 2006]

Styles: old-school hip-hop, party rap, cartoon rap
Others: Dangerdoom, Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow, MC Paul Barman, Big Apple Rappin’

Bang for the Buck is Ugly Duckling's fourth album. For a cartoonish rap group that has already released a concept album about meat shakes, it would seem as if there would be no new frontiers to traverse. UD demonstrates on this record that they have plenty of gags left, but have decided to deploy them within verses that are equally clever and cheeky, while some impressively funky breaks keep your booty shaking. Yes, booty shaking. The cover art is a good visual summary of what you will find inside — loads of kiddy wordplay, homages to Adam-West-as-Batman action, and an arch satire of hip-hop's frequent hubris and violence.

With the near-ubiquity of aggro rap in both mainstream and indie circles, Ugly Duckling can seem maddeningly cute. There is no profanity on this album. I think it could successfully soundtrack an ice cream social for Presbyterian middle schoolers. Yet, I like it. A lot. I get the impression that this kind of squeaky-clean hip-hop is not at all a pose for Andy, Dizzy and Einstein — they genuinely enjoy making this music and clearly work hard to assert the relevance of a style many are probably reluctant to see revived. The relentless puns, tongue-in-cheek bravado, and the boisterous brass breaks recall the vibe of early-Brooklyn block parties (or at least, the vibe of the re-released recordings from said parties — I wasn't born till the apex of the Run DMC-era). They make a case for hip-hop as a music that can still be fun in a summer-afternoon-with-friends kind of way, rather than a threesome-with-coke-and-hookers-in-the-Maserati kind of way. Lines like "I hold it down like a paperweight" and "I'm designed like a porcupine — untouchable / I'm a four-course meal, you're a Lunchable" are typical in both their simple and willful wholesomeness. The distilled retro approach is further established with the use of words like "hogwash," references to dated political events (the falling of the Berlin Wall), tracks dedicated to the DJ (UD: "Einstein's on Stage"; old-school: "Eric B. Is President") or groups like "party people." Ugly Duckling prove themselves capable of more than gimmicky stunts; on Bang for the Buck, they have resuscitated some of hip-hop's earliest techniques, making for a party than can be a bit too adorable at times, but gets invited back to my player thanks to the horn-heavy grooves and retro scratching that surround the silly cafeteria putdowns of its smartypants MCs.

1. Bang for the Buck
2. Yudee!
3. The Breakdown
4. Left Behind
5. Smack
6. Einstein's on Stage
7. Let It Out
8. Lower the Boom
9. Andy vs. Dizzy
10. Slow the Flow
11. Shoot Your Shot
12. The End of Time
13. Bang for the Buck Remix