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