Posts Tagged ‘Blue Sky Black Death’

2012 was a really great year for rap producers, probably a better year for producers than rappers, which seems to have been the trend for the last few years.  It is notable that 2012’s list sees the inclusion of several producers who work through primarily sample based means, several who work primarily in the field of original composition, and several who are equally adept in both fields or use interpolation to recreate previous compositions.  This strikes me as notable as I cannot think of a year where there was quite so much balance between the various modes of production.  2012 was also a tough year to select just 10 producers for this honor, as admittedly Roc Marciano, Ka, Harry Fraud, Willie Green, Aesop Rock and others had some very noteworthy production in 2012, but didn’t make the final cut.  As with the rappers, this is in no particular order.

Key Nyata “Suicide Capital” produced by Blue Sky Black Death

Blue Sky Black Death

It’s kind of amazing that it feels like this collective is still “proving themselves” in the industry given the number of years and dope projects they have to their name.  In 2012, BSBD dropped the final two pieces in the trilogy of projects they released with Nacho Picasso over a very tight time frame.  They then quickly retooled and put out projects with the new group Skull & Bones as well as Deniro Farrar before the end of the year.  They’ve got a ton of new material in store for 2013 as well, but it will be interesting to see if they can continue to garner some more major label placements like they did on eXquire’s EP this year.  Perhaps it’s a pipe dream, but it would be amazing to hear BSBD do a full length project with a vocalist who could really float amid the ether of their production the way an Ethelwulf, Future, or Chief Keef could.  Future and Keef seem like a bit of a stretch, but an EP with Wulf seems like it could happen if the two sides came to the table.  Laptop A&Ring aside, there really weren’t many producers who were on BSBD’s level in 2012 so as always it will be interesting to see where they take their game in 2012.

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Well if you haven’t done your shopping yet, you’re probably not sitting in front of a computer screen at this point, as it’s too late for overnight delivery or any of those other sneaky procrastinating means we use to slide a Christmas gift under the front door at the last minute, but here are a few December treats that can be had at little (or no) cost for yourself or others.

Blue Sky Black Death dropped two albums on the last day of the Mayan calendar, just in case it was their last chance to share their music with the world before it imploded.  The more polished of the two projects is their previously unannounced collaboration with Deniro Farrar – who certainly worked to build a bigger name for himself in 2012 – a short seven track EP entitled Cliff of Death.  The project is well worth the seven bucks, BSBD is currently charging on their bandcamp page.  It’s always nice to see how BSBD will tailor their approach to a new artist and Deniro certainly vibes quite well with them.  If you’re even the slightest bit skeptical, as always with stuff released on bandcamp you can test drive (stream) it as much as you like before purchasing.

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2012 has been an exceptional year for rap music.  It’s hard to think of a year over the course of the last half a decade that saw the release of so many excellent rap albums.  Remarkably ten of the albums that made the Hardwood Blacktop Top Fifteen for 2012 were produced by just one producer, in three cases (Grief Pedigree, Mista Thug Isolation, and Skelethon) the albums were entirely self-produced by the artist.  Also of note, only two of the top fifteen this year were released by Major Labels, granted there were a few major label releases that were on the cusp of this list (Live From The Underground, The Game’s Jesus Piece, Big Boi’s Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors, Nas’s Life Is Good, and Mr. MFN eXquire’s Power & Passion), a few others of some note (2Chainz, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, Self Made Vol. 2, Cruel Summer), and there’s still major label releases from TI and Chief Keef to contend with before the year is out.  That said, at this point we can be reasonably confident by the sheer excellence of these fifteen albums and by the recent batting averages of the two remaining contenders that in all likelihood this list will stand-up as HB’s Best of 2012 even after the release of Trouble Man, and Finally Rich.  What this tells us more than ever is that some of the best rap music these days is released for free (six of the list’s fifteen albums were at least at one point available at no cost), without major label financial or promotional backing (thirteen of fifteen), and that nothing beats the artistic clarity and vision of a rapper sitting down with one producer (or all by himself) and pouring his heart and soul into a project.  May 2012 bless us with as many substantial rap albums as 2012 did.

15 Most Noteworthy Rap Albums of 2012:

Ka “Vessel”

1. Ka – Grief Pedigree

It’s hard not to root for the underdog and Ka certainly qualifies as that given his interesting, but unheralded career as a non-central member of 90’s NYC underground favorites Natural Elements, and as a solo artist with a sparse guest spot discography, and one promising, but underdeveloped solo album.  It seems that he must have been galvanized by the success of close friend and collaborator Roc Marciano, who took him under his wing a bit on the production tip a bit during the creation of Grief Pedigree.  Interestingly enough though as we look back at the year, Ka championed the nearly drumless gritty sample without the boom-bap production aesthetic at a time when Roc reportedly told him “you might be in for some quiet shows,” and yet Roc ended the year by releasing an album where his own utilization of that rebellious percussion technique stands as the lone criticism from many purists on his excellent Reloaded.  Although Reloaded may have been a more polished and ultimately more musically stunning album, like good kid, m.A.A.d cityGrief Pedigree earns some points for it’s unusual vantage point.  Ka provides the unique perspective of an aging rapper, a veteran of the drug war’s trenches during the NY crack era, but who never made enough as a rapper or through other means to move out of Brownsville.  With Grief Pedigree, Ka combines Rakim’s approach to rhyming by using his words to craft complete rhythmic structures and patterns that you can almost visualize – like architectural designs or seismograph print-outs – with Nasty Nas’s ability to describe his surroundings so intricately that the listener begins to feel and smell the world being narrated around them.  The whole album is connects with the senses in a way so little music manages to do these days.  And then there are the bars.  A lot of rappers claim to be lyricists, and a lot of critics spend times trying to debate the merits of certain types of lyrics or punchlines over others.  That said, those who invest an engaged listen are rewarded with lyrical gemstones:

“I own the night, the heat’s my receipt”

“Stayed in hell all my life, I need heaven’s visa / Know it’s right, but can’t change over night, like Ebenezer”

In Kings county where the Queen never faked a jack/  the mac-10, and a 9, and my Ace is strapped”

In case you missed it: Here are the two pieces of the interview I did with Ka this year on the making of Grief Pedigree (Part 1: Track-by-Track, Part 2: Additional words)

And here is the entire album in video form in one place, like the rhymes and production, all of the videos are directed by Ka himself.

Ka – Grief Pedigree (the complete video collection in long form)

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The art of creating a memorable EP is a difficult task, especially in an era where music is consumed and left by the wayside at such a breakneck pace.  For one, the brevity generally means that in order for it to be a truly successful product there can be absolutely no filler.  If an artist attempts to make the product too cohesive it can end up sounding like one long song, but if an artist tries to showcase his versatility it often ends up sounding like a mess.  Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire has dropped some high quality mixtapes over the last few years, which seemed to showcase an unprecedented potential to occupy a space somewhere between Kool Keith and Jay-Z, Gucci Mane, Ghostface, and El-P as eX has dropped allusions to Clockwork OrangeWeird Science, and Philip K. Dick novels right alongside references to Cari Zalloni frames and Maison Martin Margiela kicks over everything from pop/r&b instrumentals to spaced out Def Jux type beats and somehow manages to make his approach appealing to a fairly wide array of fans.

Coming into the game on the heels of the most substantial drought of talented New York rappers in rap history, there are many who have, or will place, high expectations on eXquire merely out of a desire to see NY return to a place of prominence in the music industry.  Be that as it may, there is an ease with which eXquire navigates the rap world that is definitely unusual.  Few artists can pull off collaborations with trap rappers and nerd rappers, and seem perfectly at home with both camps.

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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“).

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“Phantom of the Opera”

The production duo known as Blue Sky Black Death (BSBD) has been a mainstay on the independent hip hop scene for over half a decade now.   While they’ve certainly worked with some of the more underappreciated-yet-talented independent hip hop artists like Jus Allah, Holocaust, Hell Razah, and Jean Grae, they had not brought an emcee into the fold more permanently until recently to really develop as an in-house artist.  That seems to have changed recently as Seattle’s Nacho Picasso has now put together two albums with them in the span of six months.  While his style and voice are both unusual, most emcees who make something of themselves have distinctive voices and personas, and Nacho already has both, in spades.

Whereas Nacho Pichasso’s debut with BSBD, For the Glory, certainly had more variety in subject matter and hints of a personal touch from Picasso, covering topics like his comic book knowledge (“Marvel“), extensive personal tattooing (“Sweaters“), (lack of) influences (“Walkman”), and gangsta pedigree (“100 G’s”), Lord of the Fly is almost completely stripped of the shreds of humanity Nacho had previously expressed.  If Lord of the Fly provides any personal insight it is generally couched in either grandeur or outright absurdity.  When you combine this with BSBD’s glossiest and futuristic soundscape to date, the album plays like a dystopian cinematic work of speculative fiction marrying elements of Clockwork Orange, Bladerunner, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Alfie. If For the Glory painted the picture of an eccentric, if not a bit nerdy, self-interested thug Lothario, then Lord of the Fly deifies Nacho, crowning him king of a nihilistic society on a planet of Barbarellas.

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