A character in the albums prologue poses the question “What’s a hero feel like?”. From the jaded responder, “I dunno, man.”. If he were to elaborate he’d probably say “not like the movies.”. Real-life heroes don’t have the infinite aerobic capacity to traverse mountains inside of an hour, hairstyles that stay stubbornly perfect despite repetitive roundhouse kicks to the face, or the reflexes to survive a one-on-ten, retina-scorching laser gun shoot-out.
Verbal Kent and Red Pill know this all too well. When they enter the booth, they don’t re-emerge as the Man Of Steel. They recite verses at a tangent to the escapist fantasies of Hollywood, and even much of Hip-Hop for that matter.
The gritty lyrical content of tracks like “Push” see Kent and Pill more concerned with keeping their tired, stinging eyes open between jobs in an unforgiving climate to put food on the table, whereas tracks like “Heart and Soul” and “Never Go” detail holding onto friendships, relationships, and even sanity with dwindling purchase. Whilst there are classics within the Hip-Hop cannon that have covered these topics numerous times, the earnest nature with which the duo rhyme keeps it from feeling tiresome on Ugly Heroes.
Production-wise, the soul record sampling artisan Apollo Brown personifies the albums themes by blending forlorn harmonies with drums that progress stoically, as though they themselves are against the odds. Aside from stand-out beats like “God’s Day Off” and “This Is Life”, there’s isn’t anything particularly grand here, but that’s probably part of the albums sombre point. These are bread and butter beats that allow our protagonists to clearly tell the albums story over. Ultimately your enjoyment of said story will probably depend on how relatable you find it, or indeed if the hard life is actually escapism for you.