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Friendship Over Fame: Hip-Hop Crew UglyFace Highlights the Power of a Collective

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A group of rappers pose for a portrait photo
From left, Kevin Farpella, Andre Mosley, Aaron Temple and Aric Jones of UglyFace stand for a portrait in Richmond, California on March 10, 2023. (Kori Suzuki/KQED)

It’s easier than ever to feel out of sync with others. The past few years have brought an alarming rise in purposelessness and a lack of belonging among young people. And despite social media’s promise of constant connectivity, studies show that it makes us feel lonelier, especially when TikTok stars, Instagram fame and polarizing Twitter debates all promote individual glory over collective growth.

UglyFace — a rap quartet of former high school homies who’ve since grown up and kept in touch through music — wants none of that.

“The popular thought is to push individualism, but that just creates division,” says Andre Mosley, a founding member of the group. “We don’t have to step on each other’s necks to be big. We can all be our own version of big. There’s a bunch of stars in the sky, they all get to shine and coexist. Why can’t we?”

Originating in Tracy in 2007, UglyFace is leaning into free-spirited collaboration without any end goal, other than to connect with each other and their audience. Their latest effort, FIND YOUR TRiBE, is proof.

Initially released as Episodes 1 and 2 in January and February of this year, FIND YOUR TRiBE (the lowercase “i” intentionally de-emphasizes individual ego) is a monthly series of multimedia content — audio, music and visuals that document their countless hours spent kicking it, goofing around and recording.

The projects span 21 and 32 minutes, with 26 and 17 tracks, respectively, and embrace a fragmented stream-of-consciousness approach. Imagine watching YouTube videos, while listening to a dope rap album, while overhearing your best friends’ opinions and peeking inside a notebook of someone’s sketches. While it might sound overwhelming, the end product is cohesive — more artful than haphazard — and surprisingly effortless to digest.

A group of local rappers wanders along the coast of the San Pablo Bay
From left, Andre Mosley, Aric Jones, Kevin Farpella and Aaron Temple of UglyFace walk along the waterfront in Richmond, California on March 10, 2023. (Kori Suzuki/KQED)

The group is made up of Mosley (a baritone vocalist and playful lyricist who often sings the hooks), Aaron Temple (a versatile rapper, producer, singer, videographer and sound editor who provides an anchor for the group), Aric Jones (the group’s third rapper, producer, songwriter and singer who originally hails from Chicago) and Kevin Farpella (a wizardly producer, writer, and audio engineer who brings it all together at his guest house in Tracy, which has been converted into their recording studio).

With stylistic qualities that range from Chappelle’s Show (which utilized comedic sketches as a form of social critique) to Thrasher Magazine (with an in-your-face DIY aesthetic), FIND YOUR TRiBE feels expansive, inviting multiple audiences to mingle with it. During our conversation, Temple cited Spice 1’s “187 Proof” music video, which features claymation, as inspiration. Farpella credits early Kanye West production as his guidance. Jones is a Bone Thugs and Twista enthusiast. Meanwhile, Mosley pays homage to Northern California icons, like E-40 and Mac Dre, through his wordplay. It’s an amalgamation of all that flavor.

A group of local rappers stands in front of a wall with graffiti in Richmond, CA
UglyFace stands for a portrait in front of an abandoned building after recording content for their online series. (Kori Suzuki/KQED)

As a unit, they’re paving a way for a hyper-blended genre made up of low-budget storytelling, group therapy and good ol’ sound system-rattling slaps. Collectively, they’ve become a contemporary rap ensemble built on deep trust, versatility and quirky experimentation — allowing for vulnerability to shine from different angles.

“Nobody wants to be stuck in one role,” Mosely says. “Sometimes we want to make a beat, or sing, or rap, or make a movie, or a podcast. I grew up in the choir, but I don’t want to just fucking sing everyday. Sometimes I want to make a video. It helps us to not become fatigued in one role.”

That multi-layered approach is obvious on an album that isn’t afraid to veer outside the box. Slow-crooning tracks like “OFF HAND EP2” bleed into snippets of podcast excerpts like “AUTOCORRECT FYT.” Chippy conversations about who’s the best Tech Deck user on “SKATE FYT” are preceded by the playfully upbeat and optimistically worded “Instructional Song EP2.” From moment to moment, the project is spontaneous and largely unscripted: It’s basement-comedy in the form of a visual documentary. It’s a smoker’s lounge soundtrack with Bay Area argot. They even include faux commercials, like “GHETTO ASHTRAY PSA,” reminiscent of ‘90s rap album skits.

“I was just trying to get in where I fit in with my ideas,” says Temple. “We thought of it like we were making a show. It’s just a mix of our jokes, car shit, tapes on financial advice, cooking advice, our interests, opinions and views.”

Currently, they’re working on future evolutions of their project — EP3 and EP4 are nearly finished — and have been in talks with DJ Toure of the Hieroglyphics for potential expansion and collaboration. No matter how it manifests, at its core, the series is a reminder about the importance of fostering our friendships and sharing that joy with others.

But the project doesn’t only highlight the idyllic elements of community-building. At times, the songs and accompanying videos highlight the messy challenges of artistic process and group dynamics. Perhaps most notably, a four-minute argument between Temple and Mosley is included on EP2 as “THE FIGHT FYT,” an unfiltered display of anger and hostility between group members. (It ends in genuine daps and apologies.)

“We almost stopped filming but it happened, it’s real, and they reconciled,” Farpella tells me of the fight. “The feedback so far has been heavily geared towards that argument, about how it even helped some listeners learn strategies about how to communicate more effectively when they’re angry. I was honestly surprised.”

Like a ‘90s VHS skate video with bloopers, injuries and outtakes, it’s all part of their cascade of caught-on-camera moments presented naturally, with minimal editing. The result is endearing, provocative and relatable, utilizing footage that other internet creators might dismiss due to a perceived lack of cohesion.

a local rapper texts his friend on the phone
Aric Jones of UglyFace wears a hoodie reading “Tribe”, part of the title of the group’s latest series. (Kori Suzuki/KQED)

They’re also learning and growing — in real time. In one of UglyFace’s more innovative approaches, they’ve invited listeners to fill out surveys, so that anyone can provide feedback or request what they want to see or hear next from the group. In doing so, participants gain a 1% share for any song of their choice in the group’s catalogue (a process that involves fans receiving a check, as they explain on “ONE PERCENT SURVEY FYT”). It’s reminiscent of what Vallejo rapper LaRussell has done in recent years with his “pay what you want” model; still, it’s a “fan empowerment” tactic that is far from common in the rap game.

“We like to do protype things, just off the feeling and vibe,” says Jones, the only member who’s no longer local; he’s currently living in LA. “[FIND YOUR TRiBE] is still in the pilot phase, but we’re not afraid to fail or go down other avenues. People don’t always like to be vulnerable like that.”

A group of rappers stand in front of the San Pablo Bay
Friends since high school, the members of UglyFace stand on an island in front of the San Pablo Bay. (Kori Suzuki/KQED)

The result  is a rare rap collaboration that is rough-edged, unfinished and imperfect, without any over-curated bullshit, but nevertheless worthy of being shared. In our age of symmetrical crops and sparkling filters, it’s a breath of fresh air to see strangers messing around — and messing up — while wandering towards something new.

‘FIND YOUR TRiBE’ EP1 and EP2 (albums and compilation videos) are currently available on all streaming platforms. EP3 is scheduled to release in the last week of March. Follow UglyFace online for livestreams and announcements about their album-making process.

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