Dusting Off… Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock
What is it?
Ask somebody what they know about Malcolm McLaren and, presuming they know who he is in the first place, they’ll probably be able to tell you that he was the manager of legendary punks The Sex Pistols, maybe even that he was in business with Vivienne Westwood as a designer and boutique owner.
A side of McLaren that is far less well known however is his ability as a musician. In fact, in total he released no fewer than eight studio albums, as well as a compilation, a remix album and two soundtracks. The first of all of these was his 1983 solo album, Duck Rock.
To put this album in some sort of context, Duck Rock was released against the backdrop of an emerging New York hip-hop scene that included artists like Grandmaster Flash, Boogie Down Productions and The World’s Famous Supreme Team, with the latter group featuring heavily on the album – their radio show based in Newark, NJ was one of the first dedicated hip-hop shows on the airwaves, and there are clips from the radio shows all over the album.
However, don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a straight up hip-hop album; Duck Rock is a curious and unique blend of African Soweto music, Brazilian Samba and hip-hop that combine to make this one of the most singular LPs of its era, in any genre.
When McLaren does surface on the record, he’s savvy enough not to attempt a Debbie Harry-style rap, rather he just kind of narrates over various parts of the record. Highlights include ‘Buffalo Gals’ and the super-summery ‘Double Dutch’. If there was ever an album that is perfectly suited to a sunny day, it’s Duck Rock.
Why should I revisit?
Despite the fact that Duck Rock isn’t really what you would describe as a rap album, its influence on the hip-hop scene is considerable. Fans of Eminem will no doubt recognise ‘Buffalo Gals’ (“two buffalo girls go round the outside / round the outside, round the outside”) and much like his work with acts like The Sex Pistols, Duck Rock helped bring the hip-hop scene into the mainstream. It’s also a great early example of the production capabilities of Trevor Horn.
Who will enjoy it?
If you’re a fan of all that early New York hip-hop and enjoy artists like The Furious Five, Sugar Hill Gang and KRS-ONE, there’s plenty to like here, but if you’re a fan of world music you’ll enjoy it even more. McLaren often polarised opinion during his lifetime, but his legacy and contribution to the music and fashion worlds are beyond question. Duck Rock is a fine example of the reasons why.