As hip-hop continues to stray further from the sounds we’ve grown accustomed to over the past three decades, the bridge between my elders and the artists who're just being introduced to the game has become increasingly stretched and brittle. Many veteran hip-hop fans struggle to grasp what is so appealing about what they see to be a dilution of the culture, while the youth just want the space to do their thing without constant comparisons to artists with whom they’ve never resonated.
For the past three years, I’ve always found myself on the fence of this battle of purism vs. exploration. While I’m often puzzled by the appeal of some of the new artists I see gaining nationwide buzz, I’m a firm believer that this experience is just the latest go-round of an endlessly cyclical attitude towards changes in fashion, music and expression of the youth in general.
Despite the delta that exists between these two disparate hip-hop worlds, 20-year-old Houston rapper Ugly God is primed to both connect and reinforce the bridge.
Seriously, stick with me here.
If an "old head" was to take a quick trip through Ugly God’s SoundCloud, he or she most likely peg him as exactly the type of homegrown youngster that’s destroying the culture, a part of the XXL's latest Freshman Class that many see as the final nail in the coffin of hip-hop’s glory days. If the older generation took a moment to get to know Ugly God through his interviews and actually sit with his music, though, they’d find that the man behind “Beat My Meat” is actually one of the most considerate and self-aware contributors to hip-hop's new wave.
Ugly God’s lyrics are, more often than not, garbage, I’ll give you that. But, to be fair, so will Ugly God. He’s the first to admit that his lyrics are simplistic, but when he says he can rap his ass off if he wants and he’s doing this because it’s what the people want, I believe him. That may not make him the most ethical artist in the eyes of purists, but it’s an honesty that most of his peers aren’t willing to reside in.
In fact, Ugly God eschews most of the traits—lyrics aside—that his fellow youth are chastised for. The flossing, the heavy drug use, the recklessness—Ugly God wants no part of it.
His music may perpetuate the stereotype that the new wave of rappers are narcotic-soaked zombies, but by no means is Ugly God unintelligent. The Mississippi native had a full ride to USM for computer engineering and web development but abandoned his educational pursuit when his music career began to take off. Nor has Ugly God ever partaken in drugs or alcohol, making him part of a somewhat silent opposition to much of the youth’s proud debauchery.
Rather than attempting to take the gold medal for rappitiest rapper, Ugly God places his musical focus on making people laugh and enjoy themselves, a trait that's been around since hip-hop's humble beginnings (Biz Markie, anyone?).
Ugly God stated in his No Jumper interview last year that he was tired of the cliché of rapping about struggle, causing him to purposefully go in a more simplistic direction with his material:
"It used to be cool telling about your story and struggle and stuff, but if you have a million motherfuckers struggling? And it's only easier now for them to make music, too, so you got a million motherfuckers rapping about struggling?"
Those sentiments may sound like blasphemy to those who grew up on artists like Tupac and Scarface, but it’s an outlook that’s shared by most of Ugly God’s peers, and it’s one he gets across with a succinct eloquence that makes a lot of sense if looked at objectively.
Ugly God also rejects the idea that fashion should be the focal point of the culture, a viewpoint he surely shares with a vast majority of hip-hop purists. Where several of this year’s XXL Freshmen seem more concerned with flaunting designer belts and stage-diving into infamy than making music, Ugly God proudly raps about rocking Sketchers and flaunts his rejection of using designer brands to up his credibility.
When asked during his recent HipHopDX interview if he would up his fashion game once acquiring more money, his reason for refusing to change his lifestyle was nothing short of refreshing:
"Certain popular rappers, if they stop wearing jewelry or stop wearing the expensive clothing that they have, everyone would feel like they fell off because they've used a brand to create their image, where I’m doing it organically. I can go out, wear what I want."
In many ways, Ugly God seems to be the Vince Staples of the SoundCloud era, calling out bullshit at every turn and unapologetically crafting music that suits him and makes those that enjoy it happy for a few short minutes—and it's working. He’s keenly aware that his peers have all but ruined the initial meaning of the term “freestyle” with dubious preparation, and is fully capable of explaining himself in any situation where his motives might be called into question.
His music may not scream “repeat listens” for those stuck in the "golden era," but he’s one of the few new wave artists who knows exactly what he’s doing and isn’t afraid to back it up with sound reasoning.
Ugly God is honest, entertaining, hilarious and building a devoted fan base by simply being himself. He also produces nearly all of his own material and is no slouch behind the boards. If those critical of his peers can be more accepting of his slightly nontraditional approach, and not take his obvious trolling too seriously, they might just find that there's a reason Ugly God is racking up millions of plays, and bridge the gap between old and new just a bit more.
He’s done it for me, and I think if given the chance, he can do it for you, too.