Artist Introduction: Lil Ugly Mane
By: George Reeders
I first saw the name Lil Ugly Mane in seeing his coveted t-shirt online, bearing the title of the rapper’s most beloved and cohesive album: Mista Thug Isolation. I didn’t expect to stumble upon one of the most talented artists I’ve ever heard.
Richmond, Virginia-born Travis Miller produces an incomparably eclectic body of work. Also under the Lil Ugly Mane moniker, Miller released a project by the name of “Third Side of Tape”. It was comprised of 6 tracks, all around 20 minutes long, each named Side 1A, Side 1B, Side 2A, etc… It contained, however, an impossibly unique amalgamation of rock, techno, metal, house, punk, rap, and ambient music.
Miller proves to be an intensely creative and polished producer, usually crediting himself under his producer alias “Shawn Kemp”. His mastery of mixing doesn’t compare to his creativity in finding samples. As for Mista Thug Isolation, the album presents a creamy (polished) blend of instrumentals featuring the light and heavy, the melodic and grimy, all unified by pristine contemporary production. Miller gave an insight into his creative process in an interview with Mishka Bloglin in 2012, “when I make a beat now, I […] try to make sh*t that I don’t even got to rhyme on for it to sound right.”
While (I feel that) his production puts other rappers to shame, Miller’s powerful and intricate lyrics stand unparalleled. His rhyme schemes are amazingly complex. Miller’s content ranges from gory club bangers to heartfelt discussions on mental health and drug abuse. He has, however, always remained dedicated to being a pure artist:
Never liked the limelight, never was compatible
Only press you gettin outta Ugly is the lateral
People too concerned with strictly adding up their capital
But dollars are collapsible, so y’all ain’t even rational
But just to keep my motives in the open, never wanted no exposure
Never needed to be noticed, never bothered with promotion, kept the photo out of focus
The mental state was humble though the rhymes was ‘brag-a-docious’
Wandered with my hoody up down narcissistic avenues
Vastly captivated turned rapping into stacking loot
But why pursue that gratitude if nothing is an absolute
The aptitude is too acute to navigate my attributes”
– “________”, Three Sided Tape Volume One.
In Mista Thug Isolation, Miller sports a pitched-down voice and adopts the persona of a hardened gangster. On the surface, the listener is presented with a consistent series of heavy, warped verses with an impeccably frozen flow. Some tracks like Radiation (Lung Pollution), Bitch I’m Lugubrious, Lookin 4 Tha Suckin, and Breeze em Out deliver light, airy, and twisted ballads reminiscent of early Three 6 Mafia. Others like Serious Shit and Throw Dem Gunz provide beautiful, sweeping jazz inspired instrumentals with cold choruses. Finally, we’re left with the mangled, eery gangster rap tracks like No Slack in My Mack and Twistin, featuring a verse from Denzel Curry. Every lyric feels chilling, each rhyme hits the spine. The album is filled to the brim with memorable lines, yet Miller says himself:
“Player I’m the coldest, matter fact the boldest
I be in the future while you rappers on that old shit
Every time I spit these motherfuckers wanna quote shit
But I don’t write lyrics I write books full of potions”
–“Cup Fulla Beetlejuice”, Mista Thug Isolation.
Miller seems hell bent on escaping the lime light. He avoids interviews and press like the plague, performing live only a few times. One of his most lush and ethereal instrumental complements some of his most genuine and profound lyrics in “On Doing An Evil Deed Blues”, where he orates his reasons for leaving behind “Lil Ugly Mane”. He gracefully strings together bars describing his initial passions for writing lyrics, presenting an honest picture of the process of creating rap music:
“I used to like to rhyme when it was all about linguistics
When Big L verses was like decoding hieroglyphics
Back when my mission was still fillin composition books
Workin how I spit the hook and how my mic position look
Adolescent crook, lost up in the maze, Frankie Beverly
Rapping in my book was a phase that weighed heavily
Rearranging bars and then they properly placed
Whole pages scribbled black from all the sloppy mistakes”
– “On Doing an Evil Deed Blues”, Single.
Hilarious, graphic, profound, and revolutionary, Lil Ugly Mane stands as a glimmering spot in a sea full of internet rappers. The most recent Lil Ugly Mane project released on April 22nd, 2018: thing s thatare stuff. Check it out on his bandcamp, and I couldn’t help but suggest that you take a deep dive through his discography and discover as I have one of the most interesting and expansive artists of our generation.
For my favorite Lil Ugly Mane track, check out “Uneven Compromise”.
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