If you happen to be new to underground rap there is a solid chance you have not heard of Lil’ Ugly Mane. Although his name, artwork, and song titles may lead you to believe he is just another trap artist this could not be further from the truth. Lil’ Ugly Mane is a producer, a lyrical mastermind and one of the best rappers I have had the pleasure of listening to in quite some time. If you are indeed unfamiliar with his work ‘Mista Thug Isolation’ it is an outstanding introduction to his craft.
Lil’ Ugly Mane brings a sound and style that is reminiscent of early 90’s hip hop. However, his modern lyrical style is not as straightforward as a lot of early rap was and this is one of the things that separate him from the common rabble. Sure, he raps about money, bitches, drugs, guns and killing people, but the way he goes about doing it fluctuates in immensely creative ways. If you are casually listening to a track you’re going to be able to tell what he is talking about to an extent but that is only the tip of the ice berg. Cleverly placed unopened Easter eggs are jammed in between the lines that define perceived song meaning in every track on the album. Whether it is a criticism of pop culture, a reference to desire to never become famous or an outline of the underlying sense of depression he is internally facing. There a plethora of intelligent slang riddled segments that have the potential to change your perception of any given song.
While his intellect is clear he also manages to throw down a few lines that are silly to say the least. “Bitch you heating up, like a bagel in the microwave,” is an example of the goofy side of his lyrics. It isn’t as blatantly silly as it appears in context of the song however as the surrounding lyrics are clever and exuberant; this just shows that Lil’ Ugly Mane doesn’t rely solely on violent themes and a murderous attitude to sharpen his lyrical craft. ‘Slick Rick’ is filled with instances of hilariously cheeky lines that come across as a mixture of humorous and outlandish. His flow is really outstanding as well as he has a very great laid back/ lazy flow that allows him to deliver lines in his very cold hearted/heartless manner, in probably the most effective way. He also has the ability to spit out high speed versus concisely and on point line by line.
To be clear, Shawn Kemp is Lil’ Ugly Mane, Lil’ Ugly Mane is a Moniker of Shawn Kemp and Shawn Kemp produced this album. That being said the production on ‘Mista Thug Isolation’ is by far the most impressive thing about the release. Absolutely nothing is lacking in any of the beats. Each has a uniquely distinct feel, groove, rhythm and melody. If this album had been released as an instrumental it would have been a stellar release so the high quality vocal performance being so on par with the production substantially enhances the intensity.
The dark beats, eerily creepy beats seem to be the most stand out in the grand scheme while the more relaxed instrumentals moderate the momentum of the album in a tasteful manner. The jazzy vibes keep the laid back tracks that much more chilled out and the featured saxophone leads in the first few tracks of the album add to the texture superfluously. Despite the seedy themes the best way to describe the feel of the album is chilled out. Even when Lil’ Ugly Mane letting his manically cold hearted feel and lyrically creating uneasy tension the instrumentals contrast in an effective way to keep it from feeling totally over the top. This internal disagreement is what makes the album work so exceptionally.
Despite the heaps of praise exhibited above, ‘Mista Thug Isolation’ is not without flaw. A few compositions presented on this album come across as unnecessary. Because Lil’ Ugly Mane manages to include his own brand of black comedy across the majority of his work some tracks come across as short, silly, and devoid of any substance that is fresh in terms of the album. ‘Lookin 4 Tha Suckin’ is of one of these. It is based by a wonderfully chill and quite understated beat but in some kind of way it is wasted. It just does not have any of the things that make Lil’ Ugly Mane an interesting rapper aside from the obvious comedic value it presents.
When it comes to individually excellent tracks this release is full of them. ‘Wishmaster’ has standout lyrics, flow, and production. It isn’t anything outside of the style that Lil’ Ugly Mane presents but it is a prime example of what he can do. Simply said it is a cold, clever and badass song. ‘Cup Fulla Beetlejuice’ is akin to ‘Wishmaster’ in that sense as it a great example of the style employed across the album and the best of what Ugly Mane does with it. The second verse of ‘BITCH I'M LUGUBRIOUS’ is outstanding. The lyrics, the off putting maniacally violence depicted and the speed Ugly Mane is spitting is both intense and impressive. Some of the songs are pretty average, but in the grand scheme of the album they are sort of necessary to keep all the great tracks from running into each other.
Lil’ Ugly Mane is easily one of the greatest underground rappers in recent Hip Hop. He makes music that has meaning, it stands for something, and it’s an escape. It is clear that the music is therapeutic for Lil Ugly Man to create as well as being totally enjoyable to experience. His skillful delivery and cheeky humor make it easy to digest his storytelling and the production makes his music that much easier to stand behind. Ugly Manes’ desire to remain underground is what separates him from so much of the music flowing through society and becoming quickly forgotten. This album is a statement and the meaning of that statement is open for interpretation. You won’t find gimmicks or catchy hooks on this album, you will just hear real, well thought out music for what it is and that is what makes Lil’ Ugly Mane’s ‘ Mista Thug Isolation’ such an outstanding release.