Seattle hip hop is too varied to have one immediately defining quality but dwell on it long enough and you’ll notice most of the city’s important acts have had a gray texture to their production, not necessarily somber but dark, hazy, listless. You see that especially well in the scene’s current avant wave, with Shabazz Palaces and all who have followed in Ish’s wake getting deep with gray matter, but it’s there even in the work of more narcotically minded folks like Nacho Picasso, a dude who paradoxically gets called “the Sith Lord of Seattle rap” by Vice but also multiple drug enthusiast mixtape series. The latest of these is the second release in his Blunt Raps series, a break from Stoned and Dethroned and thus from Blue Sky Black Death, the ominous production collective that have done a lot to help Nacho attain various royalty of darkness statuses. It’s a sly and self-deprecating release lyrically, while the production skews appropriately hazy but not as heavy as BSBD’s work, maybe because Nacho has dropped the coke fetish for dreamier liquid intake. Or as he puts it “I’ve been trying to go to other realms with DMT and shit. I really want to talk to the motherfucking lizards but they won’t let me in.”
Regardless of gatekeeper issues with hallucinogenic lizards, that shift in taste makes Blunt Raps 2 function as Nacho’s most accessible work, the beats as drenched in reverb as ever but now given a poppier sheen, more hooks, clearer vocal production. Nacho’s flow is still lethargic and sardonic, but it’s more prominent in the mix, making his twisty lyrics clearer so you get the full impact of his death courting style with minimal effort. On the more traditionally hip hop tracks, like Jake One’s ’70s hard soul flavored “Hoes Call,” Nacho spins hip hop posturing to fit his you only die once vibe, stating “They say life’s a bitch in a cheap dress/So I put that magnum on me as I seek death,” a dual layered metaphor where you can read that as the .357 style Magnum or the Trojan variety. “Hoes Call” is probably the closest the album gets to a musical expression of its exploitation cover, death and vengeance eroticized, that Jake One production pushing Nacho out of his slowed down comfort zone, suicidal braggadocio gone glitzy.
This doesn’t mean the old weird Nacho is gone, though. Raised Byy Wolves provides a fucked up spotlight for Bizarro Nacho on “David Blowie,” slowing down a sample from the track’s namesake until it sounds like a tortured demonic presence, Nacho coming on strong like a Big Bad Wolf over top. “Rain Drops” is more palatable, but Eric G gives it a horror score feel with the twinkling pianos and ominous bass and a synth pad that generates a rising sense of dread that doesn’t necessarily offset its smoothness but does make you think twice about the true intent of Nacho’s seduction techniques. You can even hear some of Nacho’s peers UDF rubbing off on him with tracks like “By Myself,” where the main sample S.A.T. utilizes has the spine chilling timbre of Khrist Koopa’s chimey production.
That said, if there’s a “hit” on Blunt Raps 2 it’s unquestionably “Big Ass Titties,” a faux-trap takedown that first popped up last year as a standalone single. Structured around a hypnotic plucky synth line, “Big Ass Titties” would be a blatant grab for club play if it wasn’t so goddamn strange, mixing standard lines about throwing cash at strippers with statements like “I told a bitch to come over/As long as she don’t bring no ebola,” all while that synth line worms its way deep into your brain. It’s paired with another S.A.T. produced track, the anthemic “Nacho Man,” a kind of warped synth ode to Nacho’s greatness, creating a blast of clubby cheekiness that gives the album an odd peak right before the more expansive and rock-oriented “Virtue of Ignorance” closes the album down.
Overall, you get the sense that Nacho Picasso’s dabbling in new flavors and highs extends beyond DMT vs Coke and on over to his musical style, making Blunt Raps 2 that rare experimental work by an artist that also holds up well as an introduction. Though it has some consistency issues as a result of all that experimentation, Blunt Raps 2 positions Nacho not just as a Dark Lord of a very dark scene, but also as a playful ambassador, a glib jester whose willingness to embrace Seattle’s frequently contradictory scenes as paradoxical puzzle pieces, finding ways to graft them together and create new shapes. Those DMT lizards might not have let them into their world, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover