Lil Ugly Mane is an interesting character, and not one who you can familiarize yourself with at will. His identity is diffuse in a way that prevents easy apprehension. You're gonna have to work to find the limits of this enigmatic rap figure. Supa first played me some of his music a few months ago, and I enjoyed the tunes. But, in the months that followed I've come to find that Lil Ugly Mane's art is far more complicated than a song about pants saggin might suggest. He does the beats, the raps, and the art. And from his viewpoint rap isn't a two dimensional field of possible identities. For Lil Ugly Mane, rap is a way to align his life, and present art that reveals his unique take on existing in America in 2012.
Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, he grew up on an interesting fringe of the South. And while his music sounds overtly Southern, it has an odd sensibility to it that extends well beyond the the South's dominant ideas of rap music. I have a feeling that the longer I keep up with Lil Ugly Mane the more I'm going to find out about someone with a compelling take on life, and a keen ability to translate that to art. We're in wild times, and whether folks see it or not there is certainly a very Wild West element to what American hip hop artists are doing. We're utilizing the internet, and readily available technologies to create communities in places yet to be defined. There is an idea of the internet as a space, but what I'm talking about is moreso the "real world" as affected by the internet. The new "real world" that is emerging where online and offline life are inseparable. A new world that can be defined by neither side of the former dichotomy. Lil Ugly Mane is like some kind of Billy the Kid creating art that influences the world to align with his outlook. He's using his talents, and available technologies to strip away his born identity, and instead he embodies the myth that he feels best describes our current era. And he's really, really, good at it.
Lil Ugly Mane: Yoooo what's good?
Whas goodie mane? Just smoked hella hash put some tater tots in the oven.
LUM: Haha right.
Worked lunch at the restaurant I work at. How bout you?
LUM: I'm just working on beats, smokin' too many cigarettes.
Thats whasup. You do all your beats as Shawn Kemp?
LUM: It all depends. Some shit isn't a Shawn Kemp beat.
True I feel you. Can you say what would make it a Shawn Kemp beat? Or is it a feeling? Or something else?
LUM: I'm not really sure, honestly, cuz when I started doing the Shawn Kemp shit, it was on a whole different tip, I was surrounded by cats like Ahnnu and Ohbliv down here, and it was more focused on the beat itself being able to flow independently with the absence of an MC, so when I make a beat now, I take that whole outlook with me, I still try to make shit that I don't even got to rhyme on for it to sound right.
Ok true. What are the different aliases that people know you for? Which ones do you think are the most recognized? I mean to be honest I know you do beats and raps as Ugly Mane, and you do Shawn Kemp beats, and you do artwork as Ugly Mane. But I also heard that you used to make noise music too from a Fader article or something.
LUM: A few years back I had a project called Across that toured around a bit a put out a few tapes, that was just harsh electronics, but I mean honestly I'm always making shit. I feel like it's all connected. It all makes sense.
That's dope me too. I started in 2000 and done all kinds of stuff. I just played tabla for a long time and worked with field recordings. But most folks can't understand how that shit would influence me now.
LUM: Exactly. I'm saying people are too willing to corral themselves into corners and try to define themselves. That shit's boring to me.
Exactly. It's dead. No life in it. Like music is so free, just follow the sounds, like really follow and see where they take you.
LUM: Totally. It's end times. People need to open up to everything. The world's a fucking swamp. Everything's mutating together anyway. I mean people want to cling on to these banners of what they think makes something what it is and to me thats preschool shit, like I'm glad you can tell that a circle is different from a rectangle. Good job.
That's word on the swamp analogy man that’s a good one. So how long altogether you been doin tunes?
LUM: I've been making music since forever man. It's all I really ever gave a fuck about.
Where are you from?
LUM: im from Virginia, Richmond mostly. Moved around a bunch tho, I was in Philly for a while, I was stayin up in West Baltimore and Mount Vernon when I recorded Mista Thug Isolation. But I'm back in Richmond now. I just get to feelin' like I gotta bounce sometimes and so I do, but so far, I always come home.
Would you say the place you grew up was southern?
LUM: Not really really southern, but I mean you gotta think we're barely below the Mason Dixon, it's still the south. Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy you know what I'm sayin'? But it's like VA is right smack in the middle of the east coast, we were getting everything growing up, I bought 6 Feet Deep the same day I bought Charge It 2 Da Game. As far as hip hop is concerned shit like DITC, and Mobb Deep was just as crucial to me growing up as all the Rap-A-Lot and No Limit shit comin' out of the south.
Word that's what's up. Did you always do graphic design too?
LUM: Yo, making the cover is the best part of making music. Making flyers, t-shirts. All that shit is fun. I feel like I've started projects in the past just cuz I had made a cover and wanted to use it for something.
Hahah damn feel you on that too mane. Fosho I was always makin the fliers and comin up with crazy ways to package shit.
LUM: CD-R in a diaper. That shit's the future.
Aye bruh keep it on the low!
How many records you think you done?
LUM: Like record covers or like me personally?
LUM: Too many. I had a website that's not around anymore when I was up in Philly, that I recorded an album a day and posted it. Probably did like 40 something, but most of it was stupid shit. Prank calling Roses department stores through a delay pedal and shit.
That's dope though. Classic shit. How did you start doin all the Raider art?
LUM: Back when Purpp was about to drop the BLVCKLVND 66.6 tape, he hit me up to do the letters, and I ended up collabing with my homie Chino Amobi on that. But more recently it started when Curry hit me up to do the shit for his tape and I just started doing 'em for everybody. Shit's fun.
Hell yeah. I feel your style too like from a graphic standpoint. I can appreciate the work that goes into that.
LUM: Thanks fam. I just always loved that style, like you cant look at the cover of Ghetto D for instance and not think that shit is dope.
Bro pen n pixel has defined a huge part of young people taste. It's just such a sign of the times.
LUM: I completely agree.
The combination of computers letting folks make these graphics that cater to this kind of impossible idea of diamonds and money and shit. But then it kinda came true I guess. Like now it really is diamond coated teeth and shit. Real life lookin like a pen n pixel cover.
LUM: That's the goal.
LUM: But it really is a sign of the times. Hit the jump for the rest!
It says a lot more about life in these times then maybe people realize. It's cool to see you really reppin it though. Presenting it in a way that's not a bite, but still totally proper but new, and like some humor, but it aint a joke.
LUM: There's always been humor in it though. Like if you look at a lot of old pen and pixel covers, there is no way that some of those dudes looked at the finished product and just thought it was mad hard and didn't think it was funny. Like dudes with a quill pen chillin' in the mall with a giant vulture or some shit. Shit's hard as hell actually...
Exactly. I think though, actually I know for along time a lot of "graphic design people" would be shittin on pen n pixel. Sayin how it was wack. And I think the humor, you only gonna see that if you actually on the path but yeah def always been there. I mean that Big Bear shit is the classic example of that.
LUM: Totally. Big Bear should be rich as fuck off that tho. Shit's fucked up if he's not actually chillin with that bear right now.
What are you working on currently?
LUM: I'm doing a lot of production work right now. Just tryin to focus on beats heavy. I'm finishing up an EP with Supa thats gonna be real dope. Just sent some beats over to Antwon, and Key Nyata. Which I know are gonna turn out classic. I've also been working on a production for Nickelus F from Richmond which is gonna be crazy. That dude is hands down one of the illest rappers in the game, period. So I know it's gonna be dope.
Yeah I been hearin his shit for a while.
LUM: Nick's flow is crazy. I remember breakin dude's lyrics down on his first mixtape when I was young as hell and he still got it like that.
I'm hype for that Key Nyata album.
LUM: Me too. That lil dude too ill.
LUM: Key Nyata's in his own lane for sure.
Oh fosho he is just getting goin too. How did you link up with Antwon?
LUM: That just happened this week actually. I had been fucking with the My Westside Horizon tape since I heard about it, and it turned out he was real tight with my homegirl /old roommate J*** up in philly so I just made the connect.
Word. Besides Nyata is there any other records you're lookin forward to?
LUM: I mean im excited to see what Purpps 4AD release is gonna be all about. He needs to drop a Redhouse Painters sample for the heads on there.
LUM: Seriously that shit would be a hit.
Man anything is possible now. We in the future.
LUM: Everything is fractal geometry at this point. No matter how small the subject is it's still gonna contain the larger sum of everything else. Everything is accessible now. It's a choice if you dont know about something.
As long as the subject knows how to exist in that state, but yeah I def agree. we're living in the information age. It used to be that you couldn't find everything you knew about but that simply aint the case anymore.
LUM: Exactly. I don't think any thought can be arrived at independently anymore, there are too many reference points everywhere. I'm old enough to remember having to drive an hour and a half to cop a record.
Right, aint no reason for us to whip up new stuff. We're part of an epoch that is defined by its ability to recontextualize, and revitalize. Me too mane. Old enough to remember simply not being able to get it. Because there wasn't even a place an hour and a half a way to get it at haha. That shit is unfathomable now.
LUM: Totally. Half the shit I downloaded when that shit first became available was shit I wanted when i was 13 but couldnt ever get. Random bands from the shout out lists on hardcore 7 inch's that sounded cool.
Yes! And even then, there was still hella shit unfindable it took a while to get here, but we here. It's the future fosho.L
UM: True that.