Published on December 7th, 2013 | by Daniel Rahe3
UGLYFRANK In the Eye of the Beholder
“Don’t fuck me over, Dan Rahe.”
Those were the last words UGLYFRANK said to me after our interview, and they have stuck with me. I’ve spent the 5 weeks since that night contemplating how to write the best possible article about him.
To put it bluntly, I admire the guy. He is one third of Tacoma’s most impressive hip hop ensemble, ILLFIGHTYOU. Their eponymous first record came out in June and was one of my favorite releases in any genre – and perhaps one of the best records to come out of the musically fertile Pacific Northwest – this year, with beats almost too good to be true and three rappers delivering untouchable performances. Several of its most memorable lines came from UGLYFRANK, an irrepressible dynamo of a man.
The group has fans across the country, including Comedy Central’s “Workaholics” star Blake Anderson, and has drawn rave reviews from big publications like Vice, Vibe, and Seattle Weekly. They’ve always had their eyes set on a bigger prize than 253 credibility. They transcended Tacoma before they even made a name for themselves here.
Thanks to the charisma of UGLYFRANK, EvergreenOne, and KhrisP, ILLFIGHTYOU has a mystique of easy confidence and self-aware humor when they perform, as if they are tapping into an otherworldly knowledge inaccessible to the rest of us. It gives you the sense that they’re going to be big.
My conversation with UGLYFRANK, who is probably the most natural “rock star” figure I’ve met in Tacoma, confirmed what I suspected after meeting KhrisP a few months before – the charisma and artistic commitment follows them offstage.
In his lyrics, UGLYFRANK tells you exactly what he wants you to think of him. In the track “92” he says, “I’m crazy, dangerous, mental,” in his low, simmering, intensely rhythmic drawl. Halfway through “Batcave,” he confesses, “Body count: a hundred / Pierce County cutter / Hit the block and smother.” So, you know, murder. And it’s followed up a few lines later by a guilt-inducingly hilarious description of bludgeoning: “I got thirty (more or less) soldiers to turn your dome into a doughnut.”
Of course, there’s more to the story than his in-your-face style. He loves what he’s doing, and has the utmost respect for who he’s working with.
“EvergreenOne – he’s a better rapper than me,” Frank says, “I mean, we’re better at different things … But a lot of times, he’s pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey, are you sure you wanna do that?’ And he was right.”
When speaking about the aforementioned KhrisP, Frank is unequivocal. “That’s my dude, man,” he said, while explaining to me in detail why I should listen to the lengthy experimental beat collection his friend and bandmate made (which is indeed amazing, but no longer available online). “I started listening, and I wrote lyrics for three of those tracks before I even knew what I was doing,” he said.
FRANK is evidently as prolific in his output as his friend Khris. While ILLFIGHTYOU formulates its plans for the future, UGLYFRANK is working on a solo project.
“The original plan was for it to be three tracks. Then I made five. Now, it looks like it’ll be nine. I mean, fuck, I have twenty-two songs, but I’m gonna pick the ones that mean the most to me and develop those,” he says.
Working on a solo record has re-focused his competitive nature. A collaboration like ILLFIGHTYOU thrives on the kind of one-up-manship an artist simply doesn’t experience when working out a solitary vision. “On the ILLFIGHTYOU tape, I was just trying to out-rap Glenn (EvergreenOne),” he admits. “But on my own shit, I’m looking for that feeling when you lay down a track and say, ‘I can’t believe I just did that. This holds up. This stands on its own.’”
He’s trying to give himself the chills.
It was visibly difficult for him to explain his perspective on his work. “You’re gonna think I’m just off on a rant now,” he joked, “But you’ll get it. When you hear it, you’re gonna say, ‘He’s actually on to something.’”
Though FRANK will be supplying all the verses for the upcoming record, his supporting cast is familiar. KhrisP wrote all the beats. The studio magician behind the ILLFIGHTYOU tape, multi-instrumentalist John McRae of The Breaklites, is handling the recording. It’s a reliable core of people who seem incapable of putting out boring music.
Despite his established community of collaborators and compatriots, FRANK remains ever the curious, discerning artist. He has diverse tastes, but is not easily impressed. He told me, “A lot of times, people recommend shit to me, and it goes in one ear and out the other. I gotta say, though, I saw Phinisey sing at the Rockwell Powers show the other day and, dude, that guy can actually sing. He was killing it, and that shit was live. I was thinking, ‘Dang, that’s incredible.’”
FRANK is serious about music, serious about writing, serious about the persona he’s crafting. But he doesn’t have a big head. “Too many people think they’re famous. You can make a record and get a lot of people watching your video on YouTube, but you’re still getting up in the morning and going to your real job. And really, still, nobody’s heard of you.”
After saying that, he was quiet for a few seconds before adding, “Actually, I don’t give a fuck about all that. I just want to live the kind of life where I can wake up at one in the afternoon, call up Khris, and he’ll tell me he’s at the studio. I’ll tell him I’ll be right there. Then I’ll pull up on him in a nasty-ass Ferrari. That’s what I want. And it’s gonna take a long time to get there. Right now, I’m just a speck of fly shit on a piece of dog doo-doo, man, and there’s a long way to go.”
The tone of the ILLFIGHTYOU record was decidedly surly, with the guys piling on lines Vibe magazine described as “middle-finger-in-your-face rambunctiousness.” At times, it’s gleefully berzerk, while insinuating real struggles at others. Given that reputation, it would be easy to dismiss UGLYFRANK as an apostle of dirty street rhyme, especially with ILLFIGHTYOU’s most recent addictive single, “Potty” proudly declaring, “I’m on a mission for pussy, money, and liquor.”
But even in that (admittedly offensive) druggy, clever, boastful, violent tune, UGLYFRANK keeps one foot in the cartoon world and one foot in reality. His verse meanders from humor to sullenness to anger with no rest between:“Fuck yes! We the fuckin’ best. Fuck yes! I could really give a fuck about anyone’s suggestion. I’m plotting on overdosing. I’m in and out of depression. I popped a zannie and I’m sweating, angry, and flexing. My heart is heavy and hollow – a cocky kid with a weapon. You don’t gotta like it, but you know you respect it.”
ILLFIGHTYOU is built on juxtapositions, and each rapper in the group has his own two sides to showcase: EvergreenOne rocking childhood trauma and his disgust with pretense, KhrisP melding aggressive style with mind-boggling wit, and UGLYFRANK somehow mixing absurd violence with lonely, desperate sadness. Put it all together, and you have a group that invokes the assertive, defiant spirits of punk and hip hop, that leans as heavily on its messy humanity as on its rapper heroics.
Frank tells me he doesn’t watch much television, but spends hours obsessing over beat tapes, and often stays up until two in the morning to write. Nevertheless, his performances sound spontaneous, almost like stream-of-consciousness. It’s a careful construction. It’s part business, part magic, and I don’t understand the first thing about it. As Frank put it in “Gertrude,” “How the fuck do you ‘feel’ me? I can hardly fuckin’ feel myself.”
I may not endorse half of what the guy says, but I wish more people in Tacoma knew about UGLYFRANK and ILLFIGHTYOU. Despite being called “innovators” by the kinds of people who know what that means, their exposure here has suffered from this city’s troubled relationship with live music and hip hop. I eagerly await the day I can see ILLFIGHTYOU in a Tacoma venue, and in the meantime, I’ll definitely be one of the first to pick up Frank’s new record.
P.S. “I Do Need You” by Bell Biv Devoe is his favorite love song.