Posts Tagged ‘Independent Hip Hop’

“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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“Cold loaded, waiting for a reason/praise me when I’m dead, make bread while I’m breathin’/Can’t take it when I’m leaving/Judge me too quick, mistake me as a heathen/cause I had tools moved weight it was thievin’/when I was broke out the gate, I was grievin’/had a cold heart cause my apartment was freezin'”

– Ka, “Cold Facts”

It seems like every few years you come across a New York rap album that avoids the impulse to sound remotely modern, and yet somehow manages to navigate the pitfalls of the misguided intentionality of “nostalgia rap” (see Termanology, Celph Titled, and numerous releases after about ’03 or ’04 from washed up NYC golden age rappers).  In 11 brief tracks, Grief Pedigree manages to cement itself into an elite group of 4 or 5 rap albums from the last half a decade that manage to remove modernity from the auditory equation, without sacrificing the authenticity of the listening experience.  It’s a very rare group of records indeed that can make you feel like you’ve stepped into 1995 musically, without asking you to reminisce or revisit – they just take you there.

It would be a total anomaly for an emcee with Ka’s aptitude for DIY artistry and 92-98 grimy New York authenticity to appear out of nowhere and Ka is not unlike NYOIL (UMC’s), MF DOOM (KMD), and Roc Marciano (Flipmode and The UN), hailing himself from the 90’s group Natural Elements.  Like the other emcees on shortlist, Ka has a unique skill set on the microphone and shows a dedication to his craft both on the mic and on the boards that is seldom exhibited in the quality of the artistic output among modern rappers.  For example, the rhyme schemes and vocal cadences are so thoroughly structured that at times the committment to the practice feels equal parts eccentric and devout.  Religious and spiritually inspired imagery and advice litters the album without coming across as overbearing or preachy, much in the way that 5%er linguistics and lessons were woven through the fabric of Wu-Tang albums for years.

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