2012 may already be under wraps, but I wanted to make sure to take the opportunity to give recognition to one more release from what turned out to be one of the better years for rap music in the last decade. Cliff Of Death is a collaborative EP between North Carolina rapper Deniro Farrar and Thoughts on Tracks favorites Blue Sky Black Death. While Cliff Of Death is only a seven song EP, it is without a doubt one of the best track-for-track releases of the year.
I’ve only been vaguely familiar with Farrar’s music to this point, but it didn’t take long for him to win me over with his chilling performance throughout Cliff Of Death. Street rap is typically associated with testosterone-fueled bragging, however BSBD manages to draw emotional performances from the artists that they work with, and this EP is no exception. Right from the start with “Just In Case The World Ends” Farrar makes his perspective clear, he’s constantly trying to understand and outrun his troubled past: “Took my charge cuz the pack was mine / locked in a cell counting down the time / dropped out of school told momma all the time / that I’d go get saved but I’m always lying”.
On the almost autobiographical “This is it” Farrar plainly raps “sixteen years old I was on the block / fuck an education I was selling rocks / seventeen I bought an AK-47 / then they killed my n**** Cory hope he up in heaven…I ain’t have a childhood never played with toys / Momma did all she could but I made a choice”. Farrar’s honesty does more than just provide the perfect complement to BSBD’s contemplative production, it paints a vivid picture of what’s become an all too common modern American coming of age tale. While he may have “made a choice” it’s unfortunate that the bad choices he made were so available to him.
Farrar sounds downright soulful on “Pain” and “Can’t Take It With Me When I Die.” “Pain” features a smokey blues backdrop from BSBD and vocals from Deniro that demonstrate how his paranoia and stress have helped push him towards success. “Can’t Take It With Me When I Die” feels like the calm after the storm. It provides Farrar the opportunity to reflect on the lifestyle that brought him to the here, from an outside perspective of success: “Dropped out of school and I became a felon quick / Momma told me watch those n****s I was hanging with / I was hard headed couldn’t nobody tell me shit / all young n****s I’m a tell you this / there ain’t no love on these streets it’s a hit or miss / half the n****s selling dope never get rich / they wind up dead or in the pen now that’s that real shit.” The redemptive sound of “Can’t Take It With Me When I Die” might be a strange way to end an EP titled Cliff Of Death, but makes sense considering the emotional content of the project and ends up being an incredibly refreshing closer.
Even on songs like “Danger” and “You Ain’t A G” which sound more like traditional street bangers, Farrar’s straightforward style merges with Blue Sky Black Death’s custom tailored soundscapes to create something unique. “Hold Me Down” has the one guest feature in Nacho Picasso, and while it can stand alone as one of the best (or at least the most fun) songs from the project, it does sound a little out of place on an EP filled with introspective, confessional songs. Regardless, Cliff Of Death is easily one of my favorite EP’s of the year; a project that has simultaneously put anything with Deniro Farrar’s name on it on my radar and cemented Blue Sky Black Death as my producers of 2012. Pick up Cliff Of Death for $7 at Bandcamp.
Nacho Picasso hasn’t received nearly the amount of attention that he deserves in 2012. You could say it’s understandable, as it has been the best year for rap music since the early 2000’s and there’s been a lot of worthy artists stealing his shine, but I get the feeling that history will be a lot kinder to Nacho’s recent run than the hip hop hype machine has been to this point. Nacho and his production team Blue Sky Black Death have created their own unique sound in the last couple of years with a trilogy of full length albums that reached a creative high point in Exalted, a fact that that was even more astonishing considering they had just put out Lord of the Fly only a few months earlier.
Nacho’s drive to make each bar better than the next is the key to his success. His subject matter rarely strays from sex, drugs, and obscure pop culture references, but his consistently great writing (especially when it comes to hooks) gives his music a level of depth that’s unmatched by anyone you might consider a peer. His new nine-song mixtape (or “prixtape” as he calls it) Black Narcissus serves a couple different purposes, one to act as a stop gap between Exalted and his next collaborative effort with BSBD, and two to show that he’s capable of holding down a project without BSBD behind the boards.
The production is split between longtime Nacho collaborator Raised by Wolves and newcomer Eric G. While both producers seem to be more or less emulating the spaced out, layered style that has been BSBD’s signature since linking with Nacho Picasso, they do more than hold their own and prove that while Nacho may be a beneficiary of BSBD production, he’s not a product of it. Eric G produced my two favorite songs from the project in “Cover Me In Gold” and “Master Shredder”. “Cover Me In Gold” is an ode to excess and a great way to get familiar with Nacho if you’re unfamiliar to this point. The chorus says it all- “My ego’s enormous, ignore my ignorance/ Cover me in gold till I feel I’m important/ Steal all my fortune, I feel like an orphan…/I’m drugged out in Florence, ignore my performance…/A mean drug assortment with Natalie Portman, cover me in gold till I feel I’m important”. I’m not exactly sure how that chorus reads to someone who hasn’t heard it a hundred times, but I can assure you if you listen to Black Narcissus a few times you’ll be repeating it (and many more memorable Nacho-isms) to anyone willing to listen. Embrace your inner asshole and pick up Black Narcissus from Bandcamp.
Written by John Bugbee
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