Album Review: Nacho Picasso ‘Exalted’
The music that rapper Nacho Picasso makes with Seattle production duo Blue Sky Black Death is hard to classify. BSBD has steadily built a cult following over the last five years, largely due to a string of hypnotic, instrumental hip hop albums, including last year’s excellent Noir. While they’ve worked with several talented MC’s in the past (including Wu-Tang affiliates Holocaust and Hell Razah), Nacho Picasso is a different animal all together. While his subject matter (sex, drugs, and pop culture references) is nothing new, and his asshole persona is not really one I can relate to, he possesses a Kenny Powers-like charm that you just can’t ignore. That and bars…a lot of bars. Amazingly, Exalted is the third full length album Nacho Picasso and Blue Sky Black Death have released in the last year. Their stunning debut For The Glory was released for free last fall and quickly caught my attention due to BSBD’s layered production and the high quality videos they created for its many anthems (“Marvel”, “Sweaters”, “Numbnuts”, etc.). They quickly followed up with the otherworldly Lord of the Fly earlier this year, another free album that saw Nacho and BSBD sharpen their respective crafts to fine points.
While Nacho may have grown up on the music of Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube, it’s pretty clear that at some point he started listening to a lot of Cam’ron and MF DOOM. Similar to Cam and DOOM, Nacho seems to write his rhymes for himself first. His intricate references give his music layers of insight and humor that reveal themselves upon multiple listens. Even though Nacho’s rhyme schemes and wordplay stylings have precedents, his laid back, conversational flow doesn’t really sound like anyone else. Instead of chasing regional styles or trends, or trying to diversify his sound with every project, Nacho has chosen to stay in his lane and try to perfect what he does best…making his own self-described brand of “ignorant music for intellectuals”. “Swap ‘Em Out” may be the best example yet of his sinister ladies-man persona. Nacho describes what, for him, seems to be a familiar situation, a girl threatening to leave him- “They act like they walkin’ out, I help ‘em and I lock ‘em out”, followed by her begging for another chance- “After that, she runs from me yelling out “I hate you!”/ Then she apologizes, “Baby I don’t blame you”/ “I know you’re bi-polar, maybe I’m the same too!”
It’s Nacho Picasso’s humor and self-awareness that allows him to get away with his crass rapping persona and still maintain a strong likeability. “Public Enemy” is another anthem that contains some of his most evolved wordplay yet. Labeling himself a dirt bag and a degenerate on the chorus, he sets himself apart from other “bad guy” rappers with the line- “Fuck a Maybach, I belong on a pirate ship” and shows how deep his reference pool runs when he describes himself as “a dog faced gremlin, Steiner, Rick”. His ability to write catchy hooks consistently shines through on Exalted, especially his warning to major label A&R’s on “Tom Hanks”- “Hey record labels, hey big wigs, you want to eat with me you better bring a big bib/ We Tom Hanks in ’88, big kids”.
If Nacho was just a loveable asshole with a knack for writing hooks and clever one-liners, he wouldn’t be nearly the artist that he is. What separates his music from others shooting for the same aesthetic is the insightful, fractured glimpses he gives us into his past and his acute awareness of how his past affects him. On previous albums we learned that “In elementary, I used to pinch my Momma’s trees” and “I’ve been a bad guy, since my dad died”, helping to reveal the roots of his slanted worldview. On my favorite song from Exalted, “The Gods Don’t Favor You”, Nacho delves deeper- “With the mask on my face call me Stanley Ipkiss/ You don’t like it, kill yourself like my Dad’s mistress” and “Lone wolf catch me howlin’ at the moon/ I be bumpin’ Howlin Wolf probably chowin’ down on shrooms”. Nacho’s demons make him the man he is and also give his music its unique qualities. While his subject matter and perspective will make his music unbearable to some, his talents are obvious and his raw honesty combined with his unique storytelling make him one of the most exciting young rappers I’ve heard in a while.
Nacho Picasso’s quick ascension to the forefront of Seattle’s indie hip hop scene has been remarkable, but there’s no way he would have gotten there without the help of Young God and Kingston from Blue Sky Black Death. Nacho’s cousin Raised By Wolves assisted BSBD on the production of For the Glory and produced a few songs on Exalted, but the consistent, yet diverse, sound that’s been achieved on all three albums is a direct result of BSBD’s highly evolved production. Their beat for album opener “Bloody Murder” infuses elements of G-Funk and hard reggae to make the type of track that almost any style of rapper would love to rock over, and is a perfect example of their genre bending abilities. BSBD’s beats have always been musical, but their style has become so eclectic, it’s tough to put them in any kind of a box. The varied percussion on “Mob Ties”, creative sample usage on “Scooby Snacks”, and haunting Middle Eastern rhythms on “Villains In My Circle” all help propel those songs and make them incredibly unique. Check out the slew of killer videos that BSBD’s Kingston has made for the first two albums. Cop Exalted for 5 bucks.
Written by John Bugbee