Certain slang terms are so dated that you can't hear them without being transported back to another era. The word "swell" immediately brings to mind the swing era, while "groovy" makes one think of the hippie subculture of the 1960s. And in hip-hop, the term "fresh" takes you back to the 1980s, an era when Run-D.M.C., the Fat Boys, and Whodini were on top and breakdancers were all over the streets of Manhattan and Philly as well as Hollywood. In the 1990s, the term "fresh" sounded quite dated and was seldom heard on rap recordings anymore, but Ugly Duckling use it repeatedly on their debut mini-album, Fresh Mode. The L.A. group made no secret of its dissatisfaction with much of the hardcore rap of the late '90s, and by saying "fresh" repeatedly, Duckling were longing for what they saw as a more creative era in hip-hop. Comparable to alternative rappers like De La Soul, the Pharcyde, the Jungle Brothers, Digable Planets, and A Tribe Called Quest, Duckling favor a quirky, jazz-influenced approach on tunes like "Einstein's Takin' Off," "Now Who's Laughin'," and "Everything's Alright." The CD is full of references to 1980s and early-'90s rap hits, and Duckling pay homage to everyone from Run-D.M.C. and Biz Markie to Rob Base. The end result is a derivative and nostalgic effort, but a likable one nonetheless.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson