Los Angeles rapper/singer Duckwrth could be the next big thing in alternative hip-hop. He’s musically diverse, lyrically positive and charismatic onstage. Only trouble is he’s not willing to play by industry rules.
“It’s pretty hard to playlist me,” he said this week. “I’ll be doing a track one minute, then I’ll break into some R&B (stuff), then some punk. So that makes it pretty hard to throw me into a category. I grew up in South Central L.A., and that gave me a real spinal cord when it comes to the industry — I have no problem saying, ‘No, I’m not doing that.’ Even on the aesthetic — if something is supposed to be the color red and the color orange is being used, I’ll still stand up for myself on something that minuscule.”
Born Jared Lee, 30-year-old Duckwrth was raised by religious parents who played in a Christian soul band and forbade him from seeing live music until he was 16. He quickly made up for lost time, hitting punk as well as hip-hop shows. His first single, 2014’s “Super Soaker,” with the Cleveland band The Kickdrums, was a punk-rap fusion that addressed police brutality in black neighborhoods.
“When I made that, I was living in New York and protesting, so that was my lifestyle, my everyday. I’m very reflective so I take a lot from society and what’s going on around me. I’m back in L.A. now, with a producer who’s a lot funkier. It’s hot out there, so now my (stuff) has more sunshine and ice cream.”
Though obviously inspired by OutKast and N.E.R.D., Duckwrth’s influences go back a lot further.
His latest single, “Michuul,” shouts out to Michael Jackson, and he admits to borrowing a couple of Jackson’s moves.
“Michael to me was the opening door,” he said. “There was a time when people at my shows weren’t moving the way I wanted them to move, so I had to restructure myself and the way I perform. Michael was one of the best, but I wanted to explore what made him the great one — it wasn’t just women, there were grown men at his shows passing the (hell) out. It’s about his stance, his spinal cord, the way he pronounced his chest and put it out there. Dancing is like a posture, it’s a very big energy that can lead to people screaming and crying.”
Another thing Jackson and Duckwrth have in common is that they both reveal their vulnerable side in lyrics, not a common stance for hip-hop.
“Positive music can only go so far before people start calling you preachy,” he said. “It seems a lot of pop music on the radio now is about people showing their feelings, but the other side of that is ‘I’m going to drown myself in drugs now.’ And that’s not me — I mean, I did mushrooms when I lived in San Francisco. But I’m more stimulated by things like the textures in a brick wall, or the way fruit has a pungent smell. That’s what gets my endorphins running.”
Duckwrth, with Dean Spencer and GLAM, at Sonia, 10 Brookline St., Cambridge, Sunday. Tickets: $13; ticketweb.com.