In today’s world where Rap is stereotyped as fun centered around partying and lavish fantasy, cherished gems about troubled life such as Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message” wouldn’t stand a chance. Ugly Heroes is comprised of producer Apollo Brown and emcees Red Pill & Verbal Kent, all known for prior underground pursuits now uniting to save souls as their name suggests. Fleshing out a theme less explored in modern Hip Hop, the trio’s self-titled opus responds to an increasingly unstable social climate where they seek much needed refuge from the daily grind.
Updating the creative formula of El-P and Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, Ugly Heroes brings Detroit’s Apollo Brown and Red Pill together with Chicago representative Verbal Kent to process the harsh realities of their hometowns. A primarily abysmal depiction of circumstance, “Desperate” deals with contemplation of suicide as Red Pill explains, “The mind wanders when you’re poverty stricken / And only hope you’re holding onto is a lottery ticket.” Meanwhile, “Long Drive Home” finds them struggling to maintain sanity amongst the same conditions of “Graves” which expresses high resentment towards the workforce and being in debt. The pair battle against their own insecurities and a grim outlook, unlikely inspirations to the layman searching for light at the end of the tunnel.
Though mainly carrying the weight of giving a voice to suffering, Ugly Heroes offers slight reprieves and a glimmer of hope, so as to not wind up a depressing experience. The hard laced “Heart And Soul” combines the album’s gritty feel with a touch of romance, and “Just Relax” is a rare calm moment where Red Pill and Verbal Kent build up a confidence that fully takes over on the closing track “Push.” These selections balance out the heavier material just a bit, as the project would become otherwise unbearable.
On the production end, Apollo Brown serves as a perfect foil with gloomy beats that channel matching energy from Red Pill and Verbal Kent’s dark recesses. Altogether Ugly Heroes is a cohesive and moving effort presumably designed to help listeners overcome hurdles, a narrative that ultimately aims to be greater than wallowing within the status quo. At times tough to digest, the group risks alienating more than they invite anyone brave enough to be influenced by their story.