is one Ugly God seems to have mastered. On a hazy March afternoon in Austin, the clouds do a shoddy job at concealing the Texas humidity. Just outside of the YouTube installment for the 2017 South by Southwest music festival, the then 20-year-old rapper is seated as comfortably in the backseat of a black SUV as his tall frame will allow, with his knees occasionally brushing the leather on the seat in front of him. Peering straight ahead through his wire-framed glasses, he is more than prepared to deliver a matter-of-fact answer to any question in this interview. His demeanor rests on the cusp of unaffected and intrigued; his interest piquing and waning with his own interpretation of each probe. For this particular inquiry, his seesaw hits its high point when he is asked why he degrades himself daily with the name “ugly.”
“It’s ‘degrading?’” he asks, halfway amused at the assumption before proceeding to explain. “People hate realizing their flaws so much that I point out a flaw in myself, and you think I’m degrading myself. I’m not degrading myself; it just is what it is, and it ain’t what it’s never gonna be.” To a question about what his mother thinks of her son referring to himself as “ugly,” he fires back with a question of his own: “I’m her son, what she gon’ do?”
People hate realizing their flaws so much that I point out a flaw in myself, and you think I’m degrading myself.
The “flaws” he perceives — or that other people might perceive — may include his deep brown skin, or his wide nose, or his particularly pouty, pink bottom lip or his nearly monolid eyes. But taken collectively, these “flaws” are the making of a buzzing star, with two million Instagram followers, over one hundred million SoundCloud spins, and a XXL Freshman cover. Of the latter coveted opportunity, the rapper told the magazine, “Everything I have is organic. Everything is real. I built everything by myself. My following is real, my fan base is crazy. I’m a genuine person — can’t see through it.” This organic following was built on the foundation, for lack of a more fun term, of f**klessness. “I say what I want freely. It may hurt feelings, some people may feel some type of way, some people may feel like it’s not hip-hop. F**k it.”
Ugly God, born Royce Davidson, insists he hasn't had room for f**ks since birth. Pivoting from his Indiana origins, to Mississippi, to Ohio, to Texas, to Louisiana and back to Mississippi, fluidity became necessary for such frequent navigation — and for him, fluidity and f**ks did not go together. The benefit? His notable ability to think against the grain. “I’ve been in schools where I was the only Black person, and I definitely learned a lot from that. After that, I moved to where people were just like me, and that was real different. It just taught me a lot in so many aspects, that everything is just not one-sided. So I can truthfully say that I can think for both sides, and I can understand how both sides feel about stuff. Not just black and white, but just coming at shit in different angles and s**t.” Press play on Ugly God’s music and “different angle” is an understatement.
was surely a sign of things to come. With a faint synth serving as the only barrier between quotes like, “And if she gay I tell her I'm a f**king d**e yeah / Yeah b***h, I'm a d**e / Strapped up like a d**e / Manmade like a dike,” the two-minute track was an early indicator that Ugly God outright disregards the mold. Further planting his feet in defiance was “B***h,” where the song’s title is repeated 17 times on its hook. Taking a trip further into the archives will turn up a song titled “Beat My Meat,” where the young rapper talks about — you guessed it— masturbation. The song's standout line? “I could f**k Beyoncé, but I’d rather use my hand, damn.” It is no surprise, then, that his debut mixtape, The Booty Tape, includes song titles such as “Stop Smoking Black & Milds,” “I’m a Nasty Hoe” and “I’m Tryna F**k.”
“My music is dumb n** music, honestly,” Ugly God says with a shoulder shrug to match his nonchalance. “I mean, not to me, because I know what I mean behind it. But to somebody listening shallow, it’s like, ‘What the f**k? This n***a just don’t give a f**k.’” This idea is illustrated on the ironic opener of The Booty Tape. Sampling audio from a viral video by YouTuber CUFBOYS, the mixtape’s intro features CUFBOYS’ mother reacting to her first encounter with Ugly God and his music. “This guy, number one, he's not that attractive,” she says half-incredulously as her son listens in amusement. “And then all he wants to sing about is dumb stuff. I don't know how to even say it. He's singing, like, pornographic stuff.” Directly after the criticism, Ugly God enters the track with unapologetic confidence, tossing out bars like, “I go to yo' crib, put my d**k in yo' sister,” and “2016, b***h I coulda been president.” There really seems to be no instance in which Ugly God gives a damn about his naysayers. And for the remainder of the project, the lack of concern continues. So much so that he wrote a diss track against himself, “F**k Ugly God,” just to beat everyone to the punch. Taking to Twitter, he wrote: "F**k it. Im dropping an Ugly God disstrack tonight. F**k that b***h a** n***a Ugly God. When I see him its on sight."
To Ugly God’s musical credit, he produces a majority of his blatant displays of IDGAF. “I break bread with myself,” he says of the monetary advantage to creating his own backdrops. Preferences aside. it’s clear that the young star is no dimwit; in fact, he previously pursued a degree in computer engineering and web development at the University of Southern Mississippi before switching gears to rap. Leaving school with a 3.8 GPA, the former A student insists that grades are not an indicator of intellect. “The dumbest n***a on Earth can be book smart. Book smart ain’t s**t,” he says, placing very little breath between his points. “It’s so many dumb a** people that have straight A’s, ‘cause you don’t learn s**t. You don’t learn about life s**t.” Choosing the rarer opportunity, a music career, Ugly God ensures that he will pick up where he left off in school eventually — after he finishes the “dumb n***a music” thing. A process on which he actually takes him time; The Booty Tape took him eight years to create.
My music is dumb n***a music, honestly.
If I ever feel pressure to make music, I’ll stop.
makes him more talkative than the previous fifteen minutes. While revealing that his then-nameless mixtape was eight years in the making, Ugly God redirects his blasé attitude toward the notion that artists must increase their output to keep up online. “That’s why I barely have an archive, cause I really have to feel something,” he says, “In a year, I have like nine or ten songs, and they just came to me. I’ll fuck around and make one song this year; if that’s what it is, that’s what it’s gonna be.” And to make things even more clear, he turns his head to make eye contact before declaring, “If I ever feel pressure to make music, I’ll stop.” In an industry filled with demands — more and more because of the almighty internet — Ugly God insists that he, and everyone else, is still in charge of their own sanity. “I ain’t never smoked or drank ever before,” he says as though to inform whomever wasn’t aware. “If you need something to ‘keep you sane,’ that’s f**ked up. To me, if it’s something outside of you or how you feel about something, to keep you sane? That’s f**ked up.”
I’m a legend to me. I don’t give a f**k if you think I’m a legend or not.
The truth is, no one really knows what Ugly God’s endgame is. From a computer engineering hopeful to a viral rap sensation, it seems he might have the last laugh. “I’m not gonna tell you,” he says plainly about his ultimate goal. “You not gonna know. My best friend not gonna know. My mama not gonna know. But you, my best friend and my mama gonna see. Don’t take it personal.” One might guess that it’s simply to make a mark similar to that of internet rap pioneer Soulja Boy, who Ugly God himself deems to be “f**king legendary.” But that assumption would be incorrect — because he already considers himself in that same light.
“I’m a legend to me. I don’t give a f**k if you think I’m a legend or not.”
Ugly God is Ugly God and there’s power in that. As sure as there was in a certain rap legend being an Ol’ Dirty Bastard.