Ugly Heroes is comprised of two rising emcees, Verbal Kent and Red Pill, and one veteran producer, Apollo Brown, who set out to create rap music that embodied the spirit of the diminishing blue-collar workforce. “It’s the person that works on your car. It’s the factory worker that’s counting parts all day, smelling like oil and grease,” Brown says. “That individual that provides for their family, makes a living and is a human being — that’s a ugly hero.” Ugly Heroes’ debut, self-titled album takes a hard look into a life of grueling work: clocking in long hours, drinking afterward and somehow maintaining enough strength to continue.
Christina Lee caught up with Ugly Heroes to talk about the album’s premise and main inspirations, plus the worst day jobs they’ve ever had.
Why did it feel important to create music about and for these everyday people?
Red Pill: My father’s worked his whole life, I’ve worked since I was 12, so this is something that most people do. I know there’s this whole idea to talk about poverty and struggling [in hip-hop], but what we’re trying to do was to make it more about the regular person. Most people don’t deal drugs or smoke or do some type of crime. They’re going to work every day, struggling, trying to put food on the table, and at the end of day, most people find a little hope and happiness from families and friends. That’s always been a point in my life, to talk about how I grew up and write about it in my music. So when Apollo talked about Ugly Heroes, it made so much sense with what I was doing.
Verbal Kent: It’s good for hip-hop, to approach a project like, “This is who we are. This is who we do.” It’s important, and it’s something I’m proud to be a part of: three regular people getting together. And hopefully it’s something that people appreciate as something that’s missing in rap music today.
Apollo Brown: I agree, I think it’s good for hip-hop to have regular, relatable people. Not everyone comes from poverty. Not everyone is rich, not everyone has rims or gold chains or a big house and stuff. This is a regular album for regular people. There’s no gimmicks.
What’s the worst day job that you’ve ever had?
Brown: It was probably working at a Rent-A-Center. I was trying to move out refrigerators and washer-dryers out of storage units; I’d open them and find roaches inside the refrigerators. I’ll be like, “How do people live like this? How can we take this back?” It didn’t make any sense. It was horrible. It was all manual labor and just horrible hours, literally 12 hours.
Kent: The first time I applied for an office job I went into a group interview, with eight to 10 people in this room. This guy was talking to us about the job and what we’d be required to do, and it was to generate leads, set up appointments for brokers to basically rip off people. I got up and left. I couldn’t. I’ve never worked in an office, and I pride myself on that.
Brown: Cold calling is horrible.
Pill: The worst job I’ve ever had was working McDonald’s for two months. It was fast food, and fast food’s terrible. Most people bust their ass, and it’s shit out, like hardcore hard. The pay — I could mostly live off of it. It was a lot of hours. But hands down, it’s the worst work I’d ever did. I’d come home and smelled like a fucking hamburger. It felt like fucking animal torture.
What were some personal experiences that came to mind during the album’s making, whether the music mentions it or not?
Pill: Being able to talk about it with random people that we’ve never met, and the album coming out so good and how that mindset come across, I think it’s an awesome testament to how relatable it is. Whether people want to hear about it on record or not, everyone does go through something like this, and when I write music, I write about what I think people go through. I think that’s part of why people of a different demographic can come together and create an album that has a cohesive message.
How much influence do you think your respective hometowns have in Ugly Heroes?
Brown: Detroit and Chicago, they’re blue-collar cities. They’re filled with the type of people that we talk about, who work in the cities every day to put a roof over their heads. I can look out my window and be inspired to make a certain sound, because of the character in the city. I don’t think I’ve seen a blue sky or sun in the past six days, so that develops a certain mood as well. It doesn’t have to be Detroit or Chicago. Growing up in the Midwest, it gives you a platform to speak about how most of us are working: friends, neighbors, uncles, aunts, everyone. How about you guys? Help provide the words.
Kent: I came to Detroit, and Apollo Brown put me on a little tour of the city. We drive out, and he showed me, basically, what was left of Detroit. It makes you understand where this guy’s sound comes from. After the tour I went home and wrote the rest of what I had going into this project; it really opened me up. And being in Chicago — it’s a segregated place. There’s many parts of Chicago, so much culture and so much hustle, it’s easy for someone to be inspired. I was so lucky to have inspirations from both.
Pill: I apologize, but I have to go back to work.
Brown: I hope it treats you well, peace.
Kent: What Red Pill was going to say is that he thinks Verbal Kent is smart.
Brown: Just give him the same answer for every question. Can you speak for Red Pill?
Kent: No doubt.
Verbal Kent, what stuck out in Detroit?
Kent: Well, Apollo doesn’t live in the ‘burbs — he lives in the city. Take a right from where he lives, and all of a sudden, you’re going to see this abandoned buildings filed with memories and graffiti everywhere. It’s so urban, there’s concrete everywhere. Then it’s like, “Oh, let me show you where the mayor is. There’s a block of abandoned buildings right there, right where the mayor lives.” Just going through what Detroit used to be and to see what’s going on now, to go through this time frame of where people used to be and where people are going now, why people work and why they don’t, to see how the city operates, you feel privy to all that.