Although this has been a year filled with some mysterious characters, those that shy away from the limelight, those with alter-egos, and those who avoid social media, Lil’ Ugly Mane has to be one of the rap games most mysterious artists these days.  No twitter account, goes on prolonged facebook hiatuses, fluctuates the prices of his bandcamp albums, dropping cassette tape only physical releases and extremely limited edition t-shirts.  Add to that his various sonic influences, vocal modulators, split producer and rapper personas, lack of concerts, and limited reliable information online and there’s a legitimate veil around Lil Ugly Mane that adds to the mystique of his art.

I caught up with Lil Ugly Mane to talk about what he’s been up to and when we can expect the follow up to this year’s excellent Mista Thug Isolation. I also asked him to explain why he unplugged from the net in May, his production techniques and his writing process.  Along the way we discussed why he feels rap is as standardized as ever, the saturation of the sound he, SpaceGhostPurrp, and others brought to the forefront, and why his next album could sound very different from Mista Thug Isolation and Playaz Circle

JB: After dropping Mista Thug Isolation, and aside from a couple appearances on the SupaSonic project you produced for Supa Sortahuman this year, you really have laid pretty low this year other than picking up a few production credits.  What have you been working on? 

Lil Ugly Mane:

I’m constantly producing – it’s literally all I do most of the time – but i scrap a lot of shit or just forget that it exists. I do a lot of waiting around for the right beat to happen.  I don’t wanna just rap on bullshit that’s good, I need production to fluidly make sense in regards to mixtapes and what not, quality of quantity I guess, don’t wanna drop 20 mixtapes.  I respect people that can pull that shit off, but its not me, everything I make I want to resonate on certain tones precisely and I cant do that unless everything is how it already exists in my head.  Right now I’m like neck deep in beats and lyrics that I’m trying to make sense of.
JB: I hear you.  Jumping into that process for a second… as a rapper how do you approach song writing?  Are you writing lyrics all the time and fitting it to the appropriate beat when you find it?  Or do you write to your beats? Or I should say, do you write only to the beat that you’re going to record a song over?

Lil Ugly Mane:

Honestly, the whole process for writing is along the same lines as beat making for me. A lot of time shit just happens when it happens.  I don’t like to force myself to do anything, I think the end product suffers when you put deadlines and expectations on shit.  But I mean usually when I’m writing, I write to old Lord Finesse instrumentals and or like Premo instrumentals and shit – I wrote cup fulla beetlejuice over the Smif N Wessun “Bucktown” instrumental – I dont know why really, I just think it takes me back to like middle school when you are just making rhymes cuz its fun or you’re bored, there isnt any bullshit attached to it.

JB: That’s interesting, so would you go so far as to say most of your raps aren’t initially written to your own instrumentals?

Lil Ugly Mane:

Some are, I mean a lot of times when I’m producing the verse is like 3/4 of the way done by the time i finish laying out the beat.  But I like writing the most when there isn’t any immediate need to lay it down on a track, when I’m just writing cuz I thought of 4 bars when I was pissing and I wanted to put 12 more on it.

“Bust A Sag” Lil Ugly Mane

JB: Definitely, I’ll get back to process more in a minute, but people often reference groups like Three 6 Mafia and era’s like the mid-90’s Memphis Underground when they talk about your music, and obviously there’s some influence there in terms of the darker vibe, but in your own words, who are you biggest influences?

Lil Ugly Mane:

As far as hiphop, I grew up on shit like KMD, Tribe, Grand Puba, Kool G Rap, Pete Rock,  but I’ve always been a huge fan of the old Memphis sound, the old New Orleans sound.  But above everything I think the Gravediggaz fucked me up when I was a kid.  To this day, when I’m making rap music, I’m making new Gravediggaz records in my head.

JB: What about outside of rap music.  You seem to sample from pretty diverse sources, what do you listen to when you’re not listening to rap?

Lil Ugly Mane:

Lately I’ve been listening to all the tough guy mid 90’s hardcore shit I got into when I was 11.  A lot of Next Step Up, I’m always listening to old power electronics shit like Atrax Morgue. I don’t know, a lot of jazz, I don’t really listen to any music I’m not trying to sample anymore.  I’m constantly digging.

JB: You’re working on a project right now where you ask random people to send you their first beat ever.  What’s that about and what was your impulse to do that?

Lil Ugly Mane:

Yes. I got so many beats, so many, like a stupid perverse amount of beats.  I’m excited to listen to them.  I’m setting aside a day this week to just do that. I want kids that are merely listeners of music to start to make it. I feel like that’s what’s wrong with hip hop and a lot of forms of music now.  There are too many pre-requisites, there isn’t any experimentation, and the experimentation that does exist is trite and dull in that sense that exists entirely to be “experimental”. What made the “golden age” of hip hop so great was the amount of experimentation that was happening. People turned the turntable into an instrument you know.  Kids were just deciding to be producers or DJs cuz they wanted to. Now there are industry standards. There is a business end of it. People tell themselves they can’t do shit, people keeping making the same beats over and over. I feel like in order to go into something new, you have to start at the bottom, you have to start at the stages of learning to understand music. I look at some of my old beats and I’m like ‘GOD DAMN what the fuck was I thinking?’ But at that time, I was fucking bobbin’ my head hard as shit. In order to move forward I think we need to go into that zone of completely raw creation that has no enforced standard of how it should sound, and the easiest way to get there is through a very first beat.

JB: That’s an interesting idea.  And you plan to rap over them and release this via bandcamp right?  

Lil Ugly Mane:

I plan on releasing them on bandcamp with full credit to those involved. Not really sure if I’m going to rap on them, I would ruin them.  There is gold in my inbox right now.
JB: With regards to the notion of industry standards dictating things, doesn’t it seem like the lack of funding from major labels has lead to an increase in underground/independent music that is less concerned with those standards?

I think the opposite about recent trends in hip hop actually. I think that there is more hope than ever about getting signed for kids.  Labels are starting to realize they can’t really compete with the internet and are starting to give lots of “other”/”underground” rap a chance in an attempt to keep the turd floating. I think 80% of the people rapping are under some sort of delusion that they are going to make it. And I mean I think in order to make good music you have to be somewhat delusional about something, but I think “getting signed” and having label support even if it isn’t major, is still a huge part of what compels people in rap, and that’s just not what drives me.

JB: In connection with that project, you stated on your facebook page that you wanted people to “stop only listening to music. stop applying the standards of the radio and popular opinion to yourself and your own creations. alienate everyone but yourself.”  Do you create all of your music in a kind of critical vacuum – with no outside input?

Lil Ugly Mane:

Oh yeah, completely. That’s what I meant about being delusional. My motives for sounds I choose, the conceptual choices I make are entirely mine, and it sounds right to me. If I release something tomorrow, that doesn’t compare to my last tape, and people say I fell off, it’s not really an issue for me because I know that whatever product I put out is exactly the way I want it to sound. So if someone doesn’t get it, sorry. I never want to play for an audience, I don’t ever want to keep repeating the same shit because people are feeling it. What makes something compelling or interesting is the fact that it doesn’t let you get comfortable, and that’s a good barometer for me when i work on things. But yeah, complete critical vacuum.
JB: So do you think your next project will sound a lot different to folks than Mista Thug Isolation or Playaz Circle?
Lil Ugly Mane:
For sure. I think both of those records are different too, but that wasn’t ever the intention, I just make whatever is sounding good to me – sometimes it make sense, sometimes it doesn’t – but it’s all cohesive to me. Even if looks like a different beast, the bare bones of it are gonna be the same, I’m still coming from the same places.

JB: Talk a little bit about your creative process.  What’s your process for making beats? Where do you find samples?  Are you scouring youtube for shit?  Digging in vinyl?  

Lil Ugly Mane:
I’m all over the place. I’ll rip the sound off of VHS, a Family Matters rerun, records, tapes, youtube, a parking lot, drum machines, horrible midi rack synths, anything that can make a noise really. I also force myself to sample shit at random. Like I’ll pick a record and a song and tell myself that I’m gonna make a track out of something, you have to start doing really weird shit to make it work, and it always turns out more satisfying for me.

JB: What do you use to make your beats?

Lil Ugly Mane:

I’m on fruity loops most of the time. People hate on that program, but you can get anything you want out of it, and I usually record beats live to tape. Like I’ll play them out in fruity loops using a controller or the keyboard into a tape deck. It sounds more free, that one snare that doesn’t match up right sounds so good to me. It sounds real,
but like I said, I get sounds from everywhere, FLstudio is just the sequencer I use.

JB: Do you approach the process differently when you produce for yourself or when you produce for others?

Lil Ugly Mane:

Not really. Beats aren’t ever getting exported unless I’m 100% with the way it sounds. No matter who’s getting a beat, above everything its gotta be a Shawn Kemp beat.

JB: Sure, but do you ever produce something thinking – Supa might sound great on this, or maybe this would fit Ethelwulf?  Or do you just play them beats and they pick shit out?

Lil Ugly Mane:

What’s funny is that i probably made like 20 versions of SupaSonic in its entirety. I sent Supa like 5 or 6 beats and he sent back the acapellas, and I built all the beats around his verses. “Radiation(Lung Pollution)” was produced that way. It was originally recorded on an entirely different beat and I ended up scrapping it and making a whole new beat around it. I don’t work with a lot of people honestly, cuz I’m hard to work with. Supa is the homie for sure for puttin’ up with me. I work on my own time, I’m relentlessly unwilling to compromise, but in the long run its for the greater good. I’m not gonna half ass some shit if we’re working together. If you are gonna rap on my shit, I’m gonna make sure it’s the best it can be.

“Lap of Luxury” Antwon (produced by Shawn Kemp AKA Lil Ugly Mane)

JB: Why do you think you and Supa and you and some of the Raider Klan artists have clicked so well?

Lil Ugly Mane:

I just think there is common thread. Raider Klan and Sortahuman are undeniably different than most things happening in the rap game, especially this time last year, before Purrp got signed and  this sound started to saturate everything. But all those dudes are willing to take risks musically and that’s how classic shit gets created.

JB: Do you think Purrp getting signed indirectly kind of watered down that sound?  There definitely are a lot more people trying to do something in that vein now, then there were a year ago.  I ask because it kind of goes back to your point on people doing shit because they think label money might be down the road.

Lil Ugly Mane:

I mean with any sort of thing that pops up and gets big there are going to be opportunistic people that are gonna jump in whatever direction that the money is going. But Purrp needed to get signed, he was already blowing up without it. There wasn’t much labels can do at that point. But that’s why I think its important for people involved to still take those risks musically. hip hop is the only form of music that you are gonna put on a flash back lunch and its like shit from 2002, hip hop is constantly evolving but its not always progressing. its not always growing and thats what needs to happen and you can only do that by taking risks

JB: I always like to get artists to walk me through a couple of their songs, just in terms of their inspiration and creative process and what the song is really about for them.  Let’s start with Twistin‘”

Lil Ugly Mane:

“Twistin” was a track that sort of materialized, Zel had hit me up and I sent him a batch of beats and he sent me back the “Twistin” shit first and I didn’t even think I realized how dope that track was gonna be until he flowed on it.

JB: “Bitch I’m Lugubrious

Lil Ugly Mane:

That was a track that had like 40 past lives as other tracks, too.  Remade that track 30 times, the final version made the most sense.

JB: “Slick Rick

Lil Ugly Mane:

“Slick Rick” is just the product of me listening to Too Short while im going to sleep.

JB: “Throw Dem Gunz

Lil Ugly Mane:

The verse on “Throw Dem Gunz” was originally intended for a beat that Purrp sent me in January of 2011, that I never ended up finishing. That beat is probably one of my favorite beats I’ve ever made.

JB: You unplugged from the internet in May and didn’t really get back on for a few months.  At the time it sounded like you were going to try to move your music through hand to hand, back of the trunk, maybe a physical newsletter, type channels why was that?

Lil Ugly Mane:

Yeah, its all the same motives, I think the internet is a great machine, but I think certain elements of the life are being lost. I think the physical relationship with music is one of them. I miss the hunt, I miss not knowing how to find something, and I miss the exclusivity of certain types of community. I miss finding a band or a rapper and feeling like that way MY shit. I could honestly look around at fools at my school and know that I had something that they didn’t. I was a part of something that they couldn’t be unless they put in that same effort. Everything is immediate now. That gratification doesn’t exist. I had real intentions to do a newsletter, but I think I misjudged the response I got or how known I was. I literally got over 1000 emails for people wanting to get signed up, and ends just didn’t meet. It’s just me, you know? I don’t have interns and shit. I still plan on doing something in that nature at some point though.

JB: You stated a little earlier about “never want[ing] to play for an audience”  Do you ever do shows, or is that something you just aren’t into?

Lil Ugly Mane:  

I’ve done three Ugly Mane shows now, but I’m just not into it. Really, I’d rather just release music when I finish it, and every now and then play a show if one of my friends is setting it up. I do what I do for the actual audio output, I don’t feel a need to have a physical presence. It’s secondary to me. It’s not important.

JB: I know you don’t like deadlines, but do you have a title for your next album and a general idea of when it might be ready?

Lil Ugly Mane:

No title for the next tape. I would expect to see it though within the next two months.


Lil Ugly Mane “Freestyle”

  1. Darko says:

    Good shit from Ugly Mane… Twistin’s one of the coldest murder tracks I ever heard. we’re waiting for that next tape in Misery mane

  2. swamp says:

    ugly is an inspiration, the guy is repping for some different shit out there and its about time someone did

  3. […] case you missed it, here’s Hardwood Blacktop’s Interview with Lil Ugly Mane this year.  You can pick up Lil Ugly Mane’s Mista Thug Isolation for free on his bandcamp, […]

  4. […] you bookmarked that Lil Ugly Mane interview [interview]. Any thoughts you would like to […]

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