(TRIGGER WARNING: The album contains mentions of Drug Use, Graphic Violence, Self-Harm, and Misogynistic Language)
The depths of the internet underground are a primordial soup, constantly stirred by an ever evolving procession of new artists. Like a digital Protestant Reformation, music hosting sites such as Bandcamp and SoundCloud have given musicians a direct link to the consumer. Without ever having to placate the standards of record labels, bands and musicians of fringe genres can now be heard in all their unapologetic, inaccessible glory by whoever is inclined to listen.
Enter Lil Ugly Mane, the enigmatic Renaissance man from Richmond, Virginia. By all appearances a former metal and hardcore scenester who got his musical start with a harsh noise solo-project titled Across, Shawn Kemp (Ugly Mane’s government name) began making himself truly known in 2010, through his Bandcamp presence. Going by his given name, he produced two albums worth of atmospheric hip hop instrumentals. In the same year, he also introduced us to his alter ego.
Using Lil Ugly Mane as a identity-erasing, anonymous persona, Kemp began dropping codeine-infused, Three 6 Mafia-inspired tracks in the throwed-and-slowed tradition of DJ Screw, and the late 90s southern gangsta rap underground. Ever the auteur, Kemp used Lil Ugly Mane as an avenue to push both his graphic design work, his ingrained skills as a producer, and his reluctant talents as an MC.
Creating all of the post-internet, grindcore demo-meets-gas station mixtape art for his albums, the Ugly Mane aesthetic could be best described as the accident-prone intersection of Memphis/Houston gangsta rap at it’s trillest, and the anti-social values of black metal and early industrial.
It’s like if we lived in a bleak, fantasy world where Pimp C and Varg Vikernes met in prison and decided to drop a demo together instead of killing each other. This description, no matter how oxymoronic, fits both the visual aesthetics displayed by the Lil Ugly Mane project, and Kemp’s signature production style.
With a utilitarian sense of purpose, Ugly Mane uses whatever means necessary to drop high quality tracks with a lo-fi grit, as if by compulsion. In the rare, and rewarding occasions that Ugly Mane decides to rap, his lyrics are typically centered around a dissatisfaction with himself, the world and other people. He flows over his beats with a natural and relaxed drawl, lamenting about his own paranoia and the poisonous thoughts that haunt his mind.
His approach to writing is never intellectually encumbering, his lyrical approach being a sort of literate ignorance, implementing authentic regional slang, with the genre’s problematic knack for offensive levels of violence and misogynistic language intact. He illustrates the Lil Ugly Mane persona as a self-medicating drug dealer, currently torn between the street life and an intellectual, existential crisis. There’s a lot going on, and the more you unearth about the mystery man behind it all, it’s sincerity begins to shine through.
The Weeping Worm, released on October 27th, is technically the epilogue of the Lil Ugly Mane story. A collection of b-sides, unreleased material, and a single featuring the up-and-coming sensation Antwon, it is, according to the official Bandcamp, Kemp’s finale release as Lil Ugly Mane. Running near 25-minutes, it is more of an EP than an album, but it serves as the perfect epitaph to sum up what has been a prolific four year career which has seen both national touring and collaborations with various other artists.
In its six tracks, lulls us with its chill, jazz-meets-trap opener, flowing gently into the previously released single, “Underwater Tank”, a minimalist masterpiece that is as creepy as it is enchanting, featuring the soon to be infamous Antwon, and really showing less-mature imitators like Yung Lean how it’s done.
“Passion Sceptre/Dert Mystery” is a turbulent ride down Ugly Mane’s stream of consciousness, acting as the perfect example to demonstrate all of Ugly Mane’s finest assets. A moody track who’s tone evolves in an organic progression towards the hair-raising “Hideous Disfigurement”, which is my favorite track off of this EP. This is Mista Thug Isolation at his ugliest, featuring a grizzly, unkind beat that sounds as if Kemp was trying to write the soundtrack to a gunpoint robbery, combined with a flow that is both effortlessly cool and pure evil.
The album is concluded by “Days Like This” and “Hello”. Featuring fellow Richmond native Nickelus F on the mic, “Days Like This” could have been on the radio during Hip Hop’s golden age in the early-to-mid ‘90s. Its jazz horns and organ riffs show that Kemp’s appreciation and approach towards hip hop goes beyond just hi-hats and Screw tapes. This song hints at things to come for the still young producer, as the final track, titled “Hello” is just a two-second bit of noise that sounds like the start of a track. The proceeds raised from The Weeping Worm are supposedly going towards the funding of his future musical endeavors, which means that Lil Ugly Mane was just the start. With new bridges built and word still spreading, the future could, and should, be bright for Shawn Kemp.
For now, though, let us appreciate the dark demise of Lil Ugly Mane.
You can download and stream all of Lil Ugly Mane’s tracks at liluglymane.bandcamp.com
This is his only public outlet, accept no substitutions.
Emory is a RVA-based writer, hard femme, and heavily-tattooed queer who’s always on the look out for a house show where she might crash the mosh pit and discover her next favorite band. When she’s not over-analyzing pop culture, you can find Emory with her head in the clouds, brain-storming her next creative endeavor, or just staring blankly into space.