Album Review: Nacho Picasso & Blue Sky Black Death – Exalted

Posted: May 31, 2012 in Album Review, Best of 2nd Q 2012, Hip Hop
Tags: , ,

There have been thousands upon thousands of rappers over the course of rap’s thirty plus years to pick up the mic.  Very few rappers have ever spit their rhymes as effortlessly as Nacho Picasso.  That’s not to say rhymes just roll of his tongue with speed, in fact, he generally raps relatively slowly, enunciating every syllable, in what a kindergarten teacher might refer to as an “inside voice.”  The effortlessness comes from the lack of energy he puts into trying to emphasize his lines.  He’s like the anti-Onyx, sort of like Buck 65 if Buck 65 had a defined rap cadence and was a bad man influenced by history, mythology, 80’s and 90’s sitcoms, comic books, cartoons, drugs, guns, Seattle, loose women, and more drugs.

Perhaps the most impressive feat from Nacho is that three albums deep into his saga the listener still knows next to nothing about him as an individual.  Sure the constant drug references, sexual depravity, pop culture references, and occasional allusions to an ambiguously troubled youth and family hardship, paint some picture of his life.  However, all of his material is so emotionless and couched in hyperbole that its difficult to know what, if anything, to take seriously.  Larry Mizell, Jr‘s take on Exalted alludes to his desire to see the “angst” and “depression” “the Mr. Scarface shit”  as he calls it, that is usually not far behind the hedonism, but he acknowledges that we don’t quite get it here.  John Bugbee recently made an adept comparison to Cam’Ron and MF Doom, both of whom write rhymes filled humorous pop culture references, but both of those artists have relayed much deeper tales of personal struggle through their music.  Whether they are fictional or not, is beside the point that there are emotions presented, personal struggles relayed, stories that point to their humanity in Doom’s case or loss of it in Cam’s.  While Nacho may drop lines like “been a bad guy ever since my dad died,” (“Bad Guy” off For The Glory) “kill yourself like my dad’s mistress,” (“The Gods Don’t Favor You“) “I’d like to thank my momma for my negligence,” (“Surf Nazis must Die“) these are fleeting references, and are countered by lines where he references his father in the present tense “my dad’s a mad scientist” and random familial references tied right into the absurd, “I got mob ties, like Mob Wives / I’m traumatized Steve Jobs died / My mom’s high and I’m hogtied” and “my father’s Dirty Harry, my mother’s Bloody Mary” (“Mob Ties“).

Regardless of whether or not Nacho really has a dead father, or if his dad’s mistress actually killed herself, from a literary perspective Nacho is what one would consider an unreliable narrator.  While one could argue the credibility of the narration of most, if not all, rappers is seriously compromised, that’s not exactly the point.  Whether a rapper is “real” in the street sense and spits straight non-fiction is not what’s at stake here at all.  The reality is that Nacho, as narrator constantly references frequent drug use, including various mind-altering substances like LCD, embalming fluid, and psychotropic mushrooms combined with pills, alcohol, promethazine, and weed, places him in a constant haze of distorted reality.  Nacho Picasso, also alludes to the possibility of mental illness “I know you’re bipolar, maybe I’m the same too” and of course through his choice of last name.  Nacho’s hyperbolic wordplay is rife with absurdity and seems much more concerned with creating a litany of self-indulgent personal inside jokes, the humor of which may hit the listener immediately or upon repeated listens depending on their familiarity with the subject matter, age, and how actively they listen.  It is very difficult to ascertain how much these lines are created as accurate descriptors of Nacho’s world, and how much of his work is autotelic, created just to be created, devoid of any real purpose or meaning.

Whether or not there is a greater meaning or purpose behind Nacho’s laundry list of snide punchlines, the unreliability of his narration puts him in a pretty elite group of rappers. Kool Keith frequently displays this quality, Eminem used to convey a sense of unreliability, Odd Future rappers live by it.  But very few rappers are as dedicated to it as Nacho has been across his albums.  Most rappers whether or not they are creating pure fiction, science fiction, or attempting to relay life events attempt to maintain a reliability to their narration, a consistency, a believability to the stories they convey, Nacho seems as unconcerned with this as he is with sharing his emotions, or bowing to mainstream rap ideals.  His development and acceptance of this from his days of creating straightforward narratives and conceptual tracks on For the Glory less than a year ago makes him stand out as much as his voice, impressive wordplay, dispassionate delivery, or complete lack of emotional attachment – all qualities that also set him apart from most rappers.

While all three of the Blue Sky Black Death collaborations with Nacho Picasso have had a dark, ominous ethereal vibe on the production tip, Exalted is the darkest yet.  While acknowledging that their work is by nature layered, airy, and majestic Exalted feels like the most minimalist album BSBD has put together yet for Nacho.  While some of that may be due to time constraints resulting from the quick turnaround between the recording of Lord of the Fly and Exalted, it provides even more emphasis on Nacho the rapper.  Where  Lord of the Fly had several anthemic tracks, only “Tom Hanks,” really stands out on Exalted as an anthem (there are several tracks with youtube and underground/cult single potential).  BSBD still does an excellent job of creating the appropriate spacey and ethereal vibe to match Picasso’s constant self-induced haze and preposterous posturing.  However, on previous albums the lack of familiarity at large with Nacho, may have caused BSBD to put a little more grandiosity into their instrumental work, just to guarentee that listeners would pay attention to the album, even if they weren’t comfortable with Nacho at first.  For the Glory felt a bit like a collection of material from Nacho and his Moor Gang affiliates, a bit of a demo tape with excellent production and a bit of smorgasbord of excellently produced potential underground singles, Lord of the Fly was over the top on a grandiose scale, absurdity couched in the epic, Exalted is the graduation of Nacho Picasso, the point at which BSBD feels comfortable letting the music take a complementary role allowing Nacho to take center stage.

All of Nacho Picasso and Blue Sky Black Death’s collaborations can be downloaded off of Nacho’s Bandcamp page.  You can read my review of Lord of the Fly and stream all of the albums if you like before downloading, the first two were free.  Exalted is the first album they have charged for, but it is well worth the $5 pricetag.

  1. Hey, thanks for the hat tip to our review on Thought on Tracks. We’re lucky to have JB on board. Nice review. Cheers!

  2. Liz Byrd says:

    I know the “real” Nacho (not his real name). You know his persona. I could tell but I’m not gonna.

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