I meet Duckwrth — born Jared Lee and no relation to Kendrick Lamar, whose last name is Duckworth — at his home, a sun-worn, Victorian-style cottage in South L.A. Walking in, I see stacks of clothes all over his living room. He is arranging T-shirt orders into boxes, decorating the inside of each box with a fake red rose. He tells me he's contemplating adding a flash drive of songs as a bonus gift.
“I like putting in a little extra something in my orders,” says Duckwrth, a rapper, singer and sometimes self-producer with eclectic tastes that range from Motown to punk. “When I buy something, I like it when I get a little something more.”
His first release, I’m Uugly — tagged on SoundCloud as "funk wave" — led Duckwrth from obscure artist to opening for Anderson .Paak. “Boy,” Duckwrth‘s new single and latest work since his debut, is off his forthcoming album, Xtra Uugly, which will be out, he says, sometime before the end of summer. He describes his newest effort as an exploration of the ugliness that follows you from the 'hood and beyond. “You’re in the 'hood, you leave the 'hood, you then get what you want, and then you realize shit's still ugly,” he says. “But that’s OK.”
Xtra Uugly also explores gender roles through tracks like “Boy,” something that was partly inspired by the deaths of Prince and David Bowie. Duckwrth looked up to the way both artists embraced their feminine energy. “They had both energies, and they both had both genders,” he says. “It gave them a certain power. I’m always studying energy. I’ve always been interested in energy.”
Duckwrth was raised in South L.A. and grew up in a religious home where his parents insulated him from the outside world of gangbangers and crime. His home was filled with gospel, classical music and jazz. As he got older, he discovered Bad Brains and the whole punk scene, and even took a liking to metal, listening to Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. He frequented punk shows and the local backyard punk scene, and even got lucky enough to go onstage with The Casualties once.
“Jorge [Herrera] was doing a cover of ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ and he calls out to the crowd, ‘I want one of you motherfuckers to come sing with me.’ I was going HAM in the crowd and he was like, ‘You.’ So I went up and grabbed the mic,” Duckwrth remembers. “This was before I started performing. When I got up, I forgot all the words! So I started skanking and then I staged dived."
Living in South L.A., Duckwrth noticed that gangbangers didn’t have a space to express emotion, or any type of sensitivity. “'Boy' is creating that safe space, and I angle it toward dudes, even though it's for both sides, the female and male energy,” he says. “This is something that I just recently understood because for so long I’ve had this energy. I was raised by nothing but females.”
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His father left when Duckwrth was 8 years old. “He got kicked out,” Duckwrth says, bluntly. “He also had a music career, but his music career didn’t take off the way he wanted. He was always pursuing music, along with other females and shit. ... He was kinda of a knucklehead,” he adds, forlornly.
Duckwrth didn’t want to stay put in South L.A. and decided to move to San Francisco for college. He ended up staying for eight years. He then moved to New York for a short spell before ending up back in South L.A. Leaving South L.A., Duckwrth explains, helped him discover himself. “[San Francisco] is a trippy place. People walk around naked. They have bondage fairs. All because it’s so liberal you can be who you want to be. It opens you up to who you really are. It becomes like a mirror to yourself.”
San Francisco was also the setting of his first psychedelic experience, when he did shrooms at the How Weird Street Festival, a small electronic music festival. “It would be the simple things that would trip me out. When the high hit, I was looking at fake grass. The fake grass freaked me out. I was like, ‘There shouldn’t be fake grass here, man!’ Then I look up and there’s a woman with a boa constrictor around her neck. And then I told myself I really had to fucking go,” he says, chuckling.
After his time away, coming back home to South L.A. has been crucial for Duckwrth. He feels like he finally found his voice. “I’ve stepped into my own, my whole perspective on life," he says. "Like my spinal cord has gotten straighter. I’ve gained a certain power.”