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I got lungs like a vacuum

A vacuum cleaner cleaning a carpet

Image: jarmoluk via Pixabay

  • Track: Bang for the Buck
  • Artist: Ugly Duckling
  • Album: Bang for the Buck
  • Year: 2006

UPDATE 13 August
A friend of mine, who in fact introduced me to Ugly Duckling, decided to contact the group about this post. I’ve no idea why, but I’m glad he did. Andy Cooper emailed back some lovely encouragement, and went to the trouble of clarifying a few things. How nice of him. So at the relevant points below I’ve added in these revisions.


Last time out, we waded through a lot of bird-related similes like an undergrown curve-billed curlew. Today we continue this avian theme, sort of, with a track from Californian trio Ugly Duckling. This could lead you to believe I painstakingly plan this blog out, but…actually, let’s go with that. It was totally deliberate.

Ugly Duckling’s approach to hip-hop is rooted solidly in the late 80s and early 90s. DJ Young Einstein (real name Rodney Pleasant, which I think nullifies the need for a stage name) lays down funky, jazzy samples for the two MCs to trade verses over. Dizzy Dustin and Andy Cooper pass the mic back and forth more than a bus driver’s flip-flop. This track’s transcription on Genius doesn’t name the MC rapping each bit, so I’ve had my best guess. It’s made all the more complicated by the fact that to my middle-Englander ears the two sound more or less identical. Most of the time it’s hard enough to tell if Andy Cooper and Dizzy Dustin are alternating lines, let alone verses. 

Bang for the Buck is the opening track from the 2006 album of the same name. It’s not their most memorable outing (that would be the bizarrely brilliant liquified meat fast-food concept album Taste the Secret). Bang for the Buck is pretty typical UD (as the cool kids call them) fare: a three minute head bopper based on an irresistible bass loop. This loop is lifted from an (to me) obscure 1969 track by former King Crimson members. Some lovely scratching from Einstein really ties the track together.

Dizzy and Andy C (as the cool kids etc.) are masters of the simile. I listened to a fair amount of their back catalogue recently, and this tune leapt out as being full of simile goodness. Both MCs have an impressive lyrical dexterity that suits each other beautifully. 

Ugly Duckling hatched in southern LA during the early 90s, a time when the West Coast was dominated by gangsta (sic) rap. UD’s approach couldn’t be more different, focusing on funky tunes with playful, funny lyrics. Forgive me for this, but you could say they are more interested in the craic than the crack. Our possibly the quack. This feeling that they didn’t fit into the West Coast scene gave rise to their name. Bless them. 

Ugly Duckling, and this album in particular, hold a special place in my hip-hop heart. In 2006 I’d just moved to London, full of the avarice of youth and intent on enjoying myself. Ugly Duckling encapsulates that feeling well, and they do a damn fine energetic live show too. They’ve not released an album in nearly a decade but continue to tour. If you get a chance, I’d urge you to check them out (world-battering pandemics permitting).

Update straight from the duckling’s mouth
Andy C pointed out that Ugly Duckling no longer tour. If you never got a chance to see them live, you missed out. Spotify told me that they were playing in London next year. But on closer inspection it turned out their algorithm had confused the group with a children’s ballet based on the fairy tale. I like the idea of at least one confused hip-hop fan turning up.


Incoming underwhelming name drop anecdote alert! Bizarrely, I once met Dizzy Dustin at a pub in Camden. I pointed out to my then girlfriend that we were on a table next to a relatively obscure rapper, but said it a bit loud. One of his entourage overheard me and insisted on introducing us. Despite him being really nice, it was one of the most awkward moments of my awkwardness-crammed life. It’s not the sort of anecdote I can tell often (or indeed show off the photos Dizzy insisted we take) because most people don’t know who Ugly Duckling are. But that’s their fault, not mine. And I don’t need better anecdotes thank you.

Anyway in the off-chance anyone is still reading, I suppose we’d better get on with looking at some of their quacking similes. 

The lyrics

View full annotated lyrics on genius.com

[Intro]

Once again
Here we go

[Verse 1 – Andy Cooper]

My soul is not for sale
Got a one track mind goin’ off the rail
As I save the day what I mean to say
Is Ugly Duckling’s on the way like a green beret

A nice simple one to start us off. Green berets are the colloquial name for the US’s special forces, and as such are often on their way to invade countries or kick some terrorist butt or whatever.

Uh-huh, no Grammys or platinum plaques
No chicks with fake noses or plastic racks
Just raps over tracks made of classic wax
I’ll pass Dizz the mic then he’ll pass it back

The reason why it was easy to identify who’s rapping in the first couple of verses is that they kindly name each other. It’s a shame that they don’t do this throughout the track really, but I suppose it would get tiresome. This self-deprecating lyric is fairly typical of UD; they wear their ‘underground’ label with some pride. As someone who’s not expecting any blogging awards (is there such a thing?) soon, I empathise.

Young Einstein is known for ignoring newfangled digital tech and always plays using vinyl and turntables. Classic is right.

[Dizzy Dustin]

Hey! What’s happenin’? You ready for action?
Hands get to clappin’, the place is packin’
B-Boys backspin to DJ scratchin’
The roof is on fire and I’m holdin’ the matches
Flows so cold it’ll run to your nose
I’ll stomp a mud hole and muddy your clothes
I’m harder than the hardest, hard as hard can get
Andy C heat it up like a bag of briquettes

And here comes Dizzy, crashing through the club with the gusto of a crazed arsonist/clothing defiler. Not the sort of action I’d normally be seeking out, but I’ll take what I can get these days.

When I don my extra-thick simile specs and take a look at Dizzy’s similes here, there are actually three. Two of them (essentially ‘I’m as hard as the hardest thing’) are tricky to categorise, but they all count. At least the third one is easy to understand. Although I’m starting to think that we should keep the flammable stuff away from Dizzy.

Update straight from the duckling’s mouth
Andy C pointed out something that I really should have noticed. ‘I’m harder than the hardest, hard as hard can get’ is a quote from the Jungle Brothers classic track Straight out the Jungle. I’m embarrassed to have missed this, and have docked myself five hip-hop nerd points.


[Andy Cooper]

Some cat gave us a bad review
Well I read what you said and I laughed at you
But that’s cool, do what you have to do
We don’t give a rat’s ass if you clap or boo

This modesty is relatively rare in hip-hop. It’s especially unusual to see it in a track that is basically about how great Ugly Duckling is. It’s a strange paradox that probably isn’t worth extensive analysis. I wouldn’t know where to start anyway.

Here comes the first of the track’s two hooky bits. There’s not a great deal to say, although I did look up the history of the phrase ‘bang for the buck’. It’s not very interesting, but did get some unfortunate connotations with the nuclear race in the 50s. This post is on the verge of giving you less bang for the buck, and it’s free.

Update straight from the duckling’s mouth
Andy C: ‘”Bang for the buck (dollar)” is a famous American sales term (think of used car lots) meaning the customer will get a lot of value for the price he or she pays.’ Nice one Andy.


[Hook]

We got bang for the buck, bang for the buck
Locked and loaded up with bang for the buck
Bang for the buck, bang for the buck
Right get on the cut and let’s bang for the buck
Bang for the buck, bang for the buck
Locked and loaded up with bang for the buck
Bang for the buck, bang for the buck
Locked and loaded up, let it go!

Here’s where my attempt to identify the specific MC goes a bit awry. But hey, I’ve had a go. I think it’s Dizzy that starts off the second verse. And he’s on simile fire here, which is fitting for someone who I now suspect to be a pyromaniac.

[Verse 2 – Dizzy Dustin (I think)]

On your mark get set now I’m ready for rhymin’
I‘mma catch wreck like trains collidin’

Nice. To wack ears, ‘catching wreck’ might sound like a bad thing. It actually means to gain respect you idiot (ok, I admit it, I had to look it up on Urban Dictionary). This is one of those incongruous similes where the comparisons don’t match. But the point is it sounds cool and is a clever sort of simile-pun hybrid. Unless the arsonists that Dizzy hangs out with do give props for causing train crashes. That might be it.

I stick to my guns like gum in the holster
And come high noon you’ll get hung like a poster

The rhymes might be tenuous, but you’ve got to give some credit (does one throw wreck?) for this bit. This whole section weaves together a few disparate ideas into something that somehow works. I think of a classic Western ‘wanted dead or alive’ poster here, hammering home the imagery. Or maybe that’s because I’ve just been looking at the pictures of UD dressed up as old-timey Western characters on their charmingly old-fashioned website.

I’m straight to the point like a bayonet
Mics melt in my hand like a Raisinet
I spit random words like I had Tourette’s
You want bang for the buck? Place your bets

This is the kind of simile density I live for. Six in eight lines is spectacular stuff. 

Like a ferret on poppers, I’m in danger of disappearing up my own arse here. But allow me to try and do a bit of proper (i.e. GCSE English level) analysis.

Using figurative language so readily and expertly is of course the opposite of being straight to the point. I doubt that’s missed on Dizzy, and again we see the self-effacing sense of humour come through with the line about Tourette’s syndrome. But the point is that this clearly isn’t randomly thrown together. It’s rhyming that appears at first glance to be superficial, but does have depth. Apart from the Raisinet line, that is. (In the US, that’s what they call chocolate-covered raisins, and to be fair it’s way cooler). 

[Andy Cooper]

I got bang for the buck like a prostitute
In the group with the rep you cannot refute
As I move to the light I’m in hot pursuit
For success in my sight so I got to shoot

Someone had to say it at some point. Being painfully woke, I worried for a minute that this might be borderline misogynist, but Andy C doesn’t specify that this is a female prostitute. And ‘sex worker’ wouldn’t have rhymed. In your face feminists.

And it’s locked and loaded, hammer cocked exploded
Best not to hold it (hot) you get scolded (stop)
Then reload it, definitely
‘Cause on stage the mic’s like a weapon to me

I like that Andy Cooper takes the military/weapon ideas from the Dizzy’s verse and runs with them. That’s important too: it again shows that thought has gone into the structure. Plenty of hip-hop groups will go from MC to MC with little to connect the verses. Indeed the album cover (which has the same title) features a cartoon joke revolver shooting out a dollar bill. It’s probably simpler if you just take a look yourself

This simile is about as gangsta rap as UD gets. No wonder they didn’t fit in with their Long Beach neighbours.

[Dizzy Dustin]

Einstein rocked the fat loop before he wore a tracksuit
Back in the day when Brother J had his black boots
I got lungs like a vacuum
And I’mma blow it up like your bathroom

Shout out to a fellow rapper there (Brother J of X Clan, who I’ll admit I’d never heard of until now). I’m assuming that Dizzy is referring to a vacuum cleaner here, as comparing your lungs to an emptiness of matter seems overly modest, even for Ugly Duckling. 

The second simile is a bit harder to unpick, unless we accept by now that Dizzy simply enjoys watching things burn. I did wonder if he’s making a gross toilet-based gag, but don’t really want to think about that. He’s a large man.

Update straight from the Duckling’s mouth
In his email, Andy C confirmed that this is indeed a reference to ‘taking a foul smelling crap’.


That’s it for similes in this tightly-packed track. Just one more hook and a classic clapping-based outro, and we’re done.

[Hook]

I got bang for the buck, bang for the buck
You wanna knuckle up I got bang for the buck
Bang for the buck, bang for the buck
Einstein on the cut, BANG!
Bang for the buck, bang for the buck
Locked and loaded up with bang for the buck
Bang for the buck, bang for the buck
Locked and loaded up, let it go!

[Outro]

If you like what you hear then clap
Put your hands in the air and clap
If you like what you hear put your hands in the air
And clap
just clap
If you like what you hear then clap
Put your hands in the air and clap
If you like what you hear put your hands in the air
And clap
clap

Lovely stuff. This is a strong showing, and puts UD firmly in the Europa League of Similes qualifying places. Sandwiched between legends Nas and Wu-Tang, these are far from hip-hop underdogs in my book. A book based on similes per minute, admittedly.

I appreciate it when an artist uses straightforward and literal similes (I’m looking at you here Beastie Boys). It makes understanding the references and cataloguing them for future generations of hip-hoppers that little bit easier. Thanks guys.

The stats

Similes:14
Words:557
Words per simile:39.79
Length:3m 11s
Similes per minute:4.40
Burnt out buildings left in Dizzy Dustin’s wake:118

4 Comments

  1. GirthyMcW

    Just a few typos in there content editor. Still, I am very hip-hoppy to ready this elongated analysis of a great track by such underrated artists. Over a decade later the mighty De La Soul and D.J. Shadow teamed-up to produce ‘Rocket Fuel’, which IMO is a total rip-off this track. If not at least, a pirating of UD’s unique passion like Mike Skinner‘s gone outta fashion.
    Do I get a bonus point?!

    • Rayner

      I assure you that any typos are either intentional or figments of your imagination Girthymcw. There are certain similarities for sure. Actually I’ve been trying to find a good De La Soul track with lots of similes, if you know of one feel free to let me know https://ihhsdb.com/suggest-a-track/.

      Definitely worth a bonus point that.

    • Rayner

      Yeah it’s a lovely bassline. Like riding a Raleigh Chopper over cobblestones during an earthquake, it’s impossible to not bob your head.

Leave a comment. Bonus points for similes.