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Duckwrth Treats Hip-Hop As His Missionary Work

Duckwrth performs at 2018 BET Experience in Los Angeles. The rapper's latest project, <em>The Falling Man</em>, is due out May 17.
Aaron J. Thornton
Getty Images
Duckwrth performs at 2018 BET Experience in Los Angeles. The rapper's latest project, The Falling Man, is due out May 17.

Los Angeles rapper Duckwrth grew up with a foot in two worlds. One foot was firmly planted in his mother's Pentecostal household, while the other meandered around his neighborhood outside. The artist grew up trying to navigate between these two worlds and he uses his upcoming EP, The Falling Man, to look back and incorporate these competing forces.

Born Jared Lee, Duckwrth grew up in South Central Los Angeles in the '90s during the height of the West Coast rap boom. But as much as he was interested in the music coming out of his city, his mom tried to keep him away from it.

"A lot of the people coming up in our neighborhood, they were, like, joining gangs so she just didn't want me to be a part of a gang," he says. "But also, like, because I was raised religious, it was deemed as secular to listen to music that doesn't have to do with Jesus."

Duckwrth's sheltered childhood led him to spend a lot of time alone drawing, writing and eventually making music. The rapper unpacks some of his upbringing on the song "Soprano."

"It reveals how music was secular but I still was curious about the music I wasn't supposed to listen to," he remembers. "But for me it wasn't like in a form of rebellion I just was just curious about it."

Still, Duckwrth was enamored by the West Coast sounds of g-funk — from Snoop Dogg and Tha Eastsidaz to DJ Quik. "The notes in the progressions that they chose to play are literally like satisfying to the ear and to the soul," he says. "And it also kind of reminded me of, you know, the music I was allowed to hear, which is like, they for sure had Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire vinyls in the crib."

As an adult, Duckwrth mixes up genres and influences on the The Falling Manand wants to send the message that artists are just like anyone else: They go through the same emotions and can fall off their pedestal at any time. "Even if you listen to the song 'Love Is Like A Moshpit,' I'm literally emoting and I'm presenting my insecurities," he cites.

Though it's taken time, Duckwrth thinks his mom is warming up to the idea of his rap career. He says what's most important is that she understands he's helping to spread ideas on his own terms.

"This is my form of missionary work," the artist says. "It's me revealing, like, the realities right now. And it's also being able to speak to people, but with their language."

The Falling Manis due out May 17 via Republic Records. Duckwrth spoke with NPR's Ailsa Chang about incorporating religion into art, men showing emotion in hip-hop and more. Listen to their conversation at the audio link.

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Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Christina Cala is a producer for Code Switch. Before that, she was at the TED Radio Hour where she piloted two new episode formats — the curator chat and the long interview. She's also reported on a movement to preserve African American cultural sites in Birmingham and followed youth climate activists in New York City.