Lil Ugly Mane - Oblivion Access
“What’s it all mean? / What’s he saying when he says it? / What’s the underlying topic? / What’s the motive in the message?” — “Intent and Purulent Discharge”
Lil Ugly Mane doesn’t want me to write this review. He would rather people just leave him the fuck alone. The notoriously introverted artist has unsubtly ousted fans and critics on the closing track for his latest and apparently last album Oblivion Access. The aptly titled “Intent and Purulent Discharge” is probably his angriest song to date, with the above refrain repeated ad nauseum. It is a clear and direct message to the writers and fanboys who hypothesise about his body of work. Ugly wants to ensure that those listening understand his frustration with the music business and the reasoning behind why he’s getting the fuck out of there before he gains any further popularity.
It’s a pretty fair sentiment for him to have, and as a result, I feel weird writing this. Despite a wealth of quality music forever available to purchase, stream or illegally download, artists seem to be making less and less money from the music they create. The whole music making exercise seems pointless and futile, but for Ugly and those like him it’s an exercise akin to exorcism; it’s the removal of inner demons via art. And yeah, I know, I’m one of those pop theorist fuckers Ugly hates, forever tripping over themselves to understand and intellectualise his music. I buy into the buzzwords. I illegally download. I compare him to other rappers. I’m curious of the motive in his message. I’m wholly part of the problem.
But fuck, people need to hear this music.
For the uninitiated, Lil Ugly Mane is just one of several monikers for prolific Richmond, VA local Travis Miller. In 2015 alone, he has released a wealth of unbelievably quality albums: an instrumental mixtape, a collaborative rap record with Nickelus F, and a genre-bending, 130-minute compilation titled Third Side of Tape: Volume 3. His fourth and final 2015 record, Oblivion Access, is the finale to the conclusion of the Lil Ugly Mane moniker that began with his 2013 masterpiece single “On Doing an Evil Deed Blues”. Throughout that seven-minute monolith single, Ugly spoke of his nonchalance toward rap and his frustrations with the music business. “On Doing an Evil Deed Blues” is the spiritual precursor to Oblivion Access and the opening sentence to a tale that ends with his latest record’s disgruntled closing track.
“I got some records, cut some samples, made ‘em mine / I wrote some raps, I had a couple fire lines / A couple labels asked me if I want to sign / But rapping ain’t my grind, I just used to like to rhyme.” — “On Doing an Evil Deed Blues”
Back in 2013, the Lil Ugly Mane fandom had only just begun to swell. Throughout that year he released a wild collection of singles and compilations that combined Memphis rap revivalism with Death Grips-esque noise and experimentation. However, Travis Miller never really wanted any of that hype and just as it seemed like he was getting started, he announced his early retirement. It was a move that seemed like he was pushing his fans away rather than inviting them into his chaotic world (as Death Grips have done, repeatedly).
In many ways, Lil Ugly Mane’s output is the antithesis of fellow controversial, experimental hip hop legends Death Grips’. Travis Miller is a shy white guy who likely works alone in his basement, combining old school analogue beats with handcrafted noise interludes. Death Grips, however, belong very much in the schizophrenic digital world of beeps, memes and buzz, fronted by MC Ride, a loud, foreboding figure who fronts the group like a black Satan.
Both occupy the “experimental hip hop” plane, sure, but Ugly seems tired and bored, rather than hyperactive and restless. His music sounds sluggish and expendable, evident of his cynic demeanor. But the sheer quality, quantity and expansive creativity of his music far outshine that of any of his peers and once you dive in, his music is actually quite far from throwaway.
The songs on Oblivion Access are straightforward bursts of manic-depressive energy, each track as intriguing as the last. Snippets of noise and chaos separate the beat and rap tracks, jarring the listener and reminding us that this is not supposed to be a pleasant experience.
This is an intentionally difficult record, yet it’s Lil Ugly Mane’s most cohesive since 2012’s Mista Thug Isolation. Oblivion Access seems designed to be both divisive and inclusive. Airy, almost club-friendly singles like “Drain Counter” and “Persistance” nestle neatly alongside violent, piercing outbursts like the fuck-off opener “Ejaculated Poisoned Wrench” and the 90-second ear-splitter “Compliance”. The entire project will just as much invite new listeners to his music, as it would push them away.
Travis Miller describes Oblivion Access as the “shit and cum and blood and piss and sweat and flakes of dead skin and hair collecting by the drain. Too thick and clotted to fit through the trap”. Though these words surely ring true while listening to the filthy depravity that is Oblivion Access, it’s actually really a much bigger and far more beautiful record than he describes, especially once taken into context with the rest of his body of work. Sure, “Slugs” and “Intent and Purulent Discharge” are nasty, totally fucked tracks, evident of his nihilistic grievances and frustrations with the world, but there’s something really inspiring about his message, something that leaves us hanging on to every grotty word he spits.
Obviously, I sincerely hope Ugly doesn’t stop making music. His output has intrigued me beyond anybody else of recent memory and I am addicted to his frenzied mystique. If you are yet to jump into his back catalogue, do yourself a favour and dive in, right the fuck now.