In 1971, Chris Burden had himself shot in entrance of a stay viewers. Burden, an set up and efficiency artist, carried out a chunk that he referred to as Shoot, and your entire efficiency was about Burden’s willingness to endure a gunshot wound and his viewers’s willingness to let it occur in entrance of them. An assistant shot Burden within the arm with a rifle, from shut vary. An eight-minute video of the capturing survives on the web — an early instance of a form of excessive transgressive physique artwork that’s echoed down by way of the many years. When Lil Ugly Mane carried out yesterday at Oblivion Entry, a pageant named after considered one of Ugly Mane’s extra experimental albums, he did it in a Chris Burden Shoot T-shirt. It was exhausting to not take some form of message from that.
I did not count on to see Lil Ugly Mane carry out at Oblivion Entry. I don’t suppose anybody did. Ugly Mane, who got here up by making shadowy lo-fi murk-rap about medication and despair and loss of life, documented a lot of his previous few weeks on Instagram, however he’s since deleted all of it. The stuff on that web page was deeply regarding. When Ugly Mane introduced an American tour a number of months in the past, he stated that your entire enterprise was mainly his personal private nightmare, that he didn’t need to be doing it. In his Instagram tales a few weeks in the past, Ugly Mane wrote some deeply upsetting issues — issues that I truthfully don’t really feel comfy relating right here. His tour was shortly cancelled. However right here he was, in Austin.
Lil Ugly Mane has at all times been a mysterious determine. Within the early ’10s, when his web legend first unfold, Travis Miller was a Richmond punk who was deep within the harsh-noise realm, making tiny-run experimental cassettes which may promote a number of dozen copies. Miller invented his Lil Ugly Mane persona as a method to mess around with the aesthetics of Southern underground rap, particularly ’90s stuff from Memphis and Houston, and he fell in with Raider Klan, the shadowy group of Florida children who have been messing round with the identical sounds. Ugly Mane may’ve been an outsider within the rap world, however this was a second when an outsider may make an actual affect. Ugly Mane may actually make beats, and he may actually rap — speaking visceral violent shit in ways in which paid homage to older types with out slavishly recreating them. He additionally processed and down-pitched his personal vocals, turning his personal presence into abstraction. Earlier than he began taking part in stay exhibits, individuals didn’t even know that Ugly Mane was white.
Within the decade since Lil Ugly Mane launched his underground-landmark 2012 album Mista Thug Isolation, Ugly Mane’s darkish and elusive model has grow to be large enterprise. Acts like $UICIDEBOY$ and Ghostemane, who got here out of a number of the similar underground circles, at the moment are touring arenas, however this was by no means going to be Lil Ugly Mane’s means. As a substitute, Travis Miller obtained deeper into extra experimental sonics and extra susceptible lyrics; his 2015 album Oblivion Entry is a doc of a person falling aside. At occasions, Travis Miller has walked away from Lil Ugly Mane solely, releasing black steel or free jazz initiatives underneath completely different aliases. At occasions, he’s gone darkish and launched nothing. Final yr, he performed Oblivion Entry with a large animatronic canine as his backing band.
Lil Ugly Mane’s 2022 Oblivion Entry set was the stuff of prompt web legend. Initially of the evening, an orange animal mascot, a price range model of a Chuck E. Cheese house-band critter, advised the group that Lil Ugly Mane couldn’t carry out that evening and that he, the classically educated Thermos Grenadine, would take his spot as a substitute. Ultimately, Ugly Mane got here to the stage and obtained right into a sketch-comedy back-and-forth with Thermos. He did carry out songs, however the songs themselves didn’t appear to be the purpose. Lil Ugly Mane was on another shit. You would hear it in his final album, 2021’s Volcanic Hen Enemy And The Voiced Concern, an surprising and pretty-great tackle Folks Implosion-style ’90s breakbeat-slacker indie rock. He wasn’t going to do something that made sense.
When Lil Ugly Mane introduced his return to Oblivion Entry, no one knew what he’d do. Then it appeared like he wouldn’t be there in any respect. After the previous few weeks of scary, chaotic Lil Ugly Mane information, it was a real shock to see the Oblivion Entry bookers announce that Ugly Mane’s set would occur as deliberate: “We fully perceive and worth the significance of searching for assist when wanted. The selection was his whether or not or to not play OA23 and we absolutely supported both resolution he made.” Till I noticed Lil Ugly Mane step onstage, I didn’t actually suppose he’d be there.
Lil Ugly Mane performed on a daytime invoice with one other rap enigma, the ridiculously prolific Rochester street-rap maniac RXK Nephew. Nephew’s stay present additionally appeared like an open query; artists who stay on YouTube don’t at all times do their finest work in stay efficiency. However Nephew’s bodily, herky-jerk music sounds nice in a membership state of affairs, and he had a faithful core of followers up entrance leaping round to all of it. The present was hectic and sloppy, with Nephew rapping over his personal recorded vocals and spending a lot of the present in shadows in the back of the stage. Nevertheless it was nonetheless participating and enjoyable. It was a rap present.
When Lil Ugly Mane made it onstage, it was nonetheless a rap present. I’ve been advised that Ugly Mane introduced all his animatronic animals all the way down to Austin, however they by no means made it to the stage. As a substitute, it was simply Ugly Mane and a DJ, delivering a full-on rap set that principally drew from Mista Thug Isolation and that didn’t even contact on Ugly Mane’s extra far-out latest experimental stuff. And it was nice. Ugly Mane smashed it. I wasn’t anticipating that.
Lil Ugly Mane can rap. Onstage yesterday, he was comfy and commanding. He’s obtained a deep, in-the-pocket drawl that truthfully sounds higher with out all of the delay and tape-hiss results that Ugly Mane makes use of on report. The MSI tracks hit like anthems, with the entire crowd chanting alongside. And Ugly Mane seemed good. I half-expected him to be wrapped up in bandages, however solely an Allen Iverson-style Nike capturing sleeve prompt that he’d endured any latest bodily trauma.
Ugly Mane talked about it, although. Early on, he stated, “This track is about dying.” Then, after a protracted pause, he nearly shrugged, “It’s an possibility.” After some time, he talked about that he’d simply cancelled a tour that he didn’t need to cancel: “I been in a fuckin’ facility for slightly bit now. I simply obtained out like three fuckin’ days in the past, so right here I’m.” This was by the use of introducing a track about how “substance abuse impacts psychological well being,” some extent that he made time and again. He advised individuals to not let that get away from them. He additionally gave rest-in-peace shoutouts to Gangsta Boo and Ted Kaczynski, and he advised us, “French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard stated the invention of the ship was additionally the invention of the shipwreck.” (Which may not be an actual quote, however he positively stated the phrases “French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard” onstage.)
Lil Ugly Mane has by no means been a secure determine. That’s been key to his enchantment. You’re listening to rap music from somebody who by no means envisioned himself as a rapper, speaking with authority in regards to the darkest depths of human expertise. Proper now, he appears to be in an particularly unstable piece, and it’s price questioning whether or not going to see him play stay is collaborating in somebody’s self-destruction — nearly like going to take a seat within the viewers whereas Chris Burden has himself shot. However Ugly Mane was triumphant yesterday. He placed on a crowd-pleasing set. He accepted love from his viewers and gave love again. He seemed robust, and it was nice to see. I hope it wasn’t simply an act. I hope he’s doing OK.