Nacho Picasso & Blue Sky Black Death: Interview
“You ain’t even got enough tape for these fuckin’ ghost stories.”
I shouldn’t have taken the stairs. I walked up six flights to the First Hill apartment of producing duo Blue Sky Black Death and arrived badly winded. I was there to meet with gritty Seattle rapper Nacho Picasso. I didn’t get a chance to look around the apartment as I walked in, but I saw the handgun on the counter. It was big; really fucking big. I shook hands all around and we sat down in the living room, gathered around a glass coffee table designed to showcase a collection of early Mad magazines. The gun and the comics are at the heart of rapper Nacho Picasso’s mystique. The mix of hard-as-fuck lyrics about comic books spit by a guy with nerd glasses and body-wide collection of hardcore tattoos. That’s the Nacho Picasso blend. Roll it and smoke it.
I wanted to interview Nacho because his music had kept me up at night, cracking up at his insane one-liners and marveling at the kind of guts it takes to rap in such a hood style about his favorite Marvel superheroes and Greek gods. I sat down to talk with him and the two members of Blue Sky Black Death, Ian and Kingston, who produced his recent mixtape Lord of the Fly. Blue Sky Black Death finished each other’s sentences while Nacho sat back with a constant spliff in his fingers, his gold-encrusted-with-diamonds grill flashing as he grinned.
Is it cool if I record this? I always ask.
Nacho Picasso: Yeah, we’re cool with everything.
Kingston: As long as you don’t work for the police.
NP: Man, you’re gonna need to record it; it was a long night. I’m a little mumbly today. Got my Ozzy Osbourne on.
What were you doing last night?
NP: Workin’ on some music, and then… ladies. Ladies tend to keep me up, once I leave the studio. Friday night I pretty much always try to work on some music with these guys. I party enough, I’d rather work on Fridays.
Where are you from in Seattle, where’d you grow up?
NP: I grew up primarily in the CD. I grew up in the South End as well. Like sophomore year, the Genessee, Rainier area. Actually, I was born in San Francisco, but I moved here when I was three, in kindergarten.
You know, you don’t rep your city that much in your music. I mean, you do, but compared to someone like Macklemore, who’s kinda become the poet laureate of Seattle…
K: I think [Nacho] does, but he doesn’t use it as a gimmick. He has a lot of Seattle references in his music, but he doesn’t like do a cliché video in front of the Space Needle… be corny about it. That’s not his market.
NP: Everyone knows I’m from Seattle. But I’m not gonna rap about Seattle every day. There’s a lot goin’ on in my head. I learned how to rap in Seattle, so whatever I say out of my mouth is gonna be a reflection of my mind.
Ian: Obviously we all love Seattle. There is Seattle stuff, but we’re also going into this knowing that we’re gonna market it beyond Seattle.
K: A lot of people are real happy with just getting famous here, and there’s nowhere to go here. But with BSBD [Blue Sky Black Death] we didn’t move here to make a scene, or to be involved in a scene. We moved here because it’s cheap and we can make more music. Cheap rent, you know what I’m saying? We don’t look at it as a regional thing, but we definitely have that in the music. A lot of it’s deliberate. With the visuals, there’s a lot of Seattle brands, and a lot of references. And the sound…
I: We try to make it, like, dark-Northwest.
K: We try to cultivate a sound. What we think Seattle sounds like.
I: Yeah, it’s weird because all the hip-hop here is super-happy, but it seems like there should be a lot of dark shit because it’s the Northwest…
What’s your take on hip-hop in Seattle? It seems there’s this indie clique that kind of “accepts” what hip-hop is gonna be accessible to the mostly white indie crowd, and it’s not music like yours that’s gonna be accepted… They’re still kind of getting over the Blue Scholars, that really “conscious” hip-hop. How do you fit into that, or do you feel like you even give a shit?
NP: Well, I really don’t give a shit, for the most part. At this stage where hip-hop is, anyone can have a story. It’s always gonna sound different. There’s hella different styles. I don’t fee like there’s a certain style that you gotta do… I got bars for days, man, so anyone don’t want to sound hip-hop, come see me. But at the end of the day, I just make music. I just do it. I feel like shit’s kinda changing over. Like these younger cats; they’re getting off the Blue Scholars-type hip-hop and just doin’ what feels natural and feels better. And I’m kinda fuckin’ with that a little more.
What’s weird is that there’s two industries butting heads. There’s straight up hip-hop and then there’s indie. And it’s all fine and good, but then you heard about all this shit that went down with Odd Future getting banned on tours… Are you worried about that? Like your rap is gonna butt heads if it goes into the indie world?
NP: Yeah, I don’t give a fuck, c’mon we can do it! I got a hard head…
I: When we did the “On a Bitch” song, we were like, “Man, people are gonna be super offended by this,” but it was done in such jokiness…
Have you gotten flak from that?
NP: Nah, nah, all the bitches like that song the most.
I: Yeah, all these people – fans – that I thought would be more into the conscious stuff, that’s their favorite song!
NP: Yeah, they get the humor in it. It’s cynical, it’s not to be taken too serious. But it is on a bitch, y’know!
K: Yeah, I dunno, Odd Future has different subject matter.
I: Yeah, [Nacho’s] not rapping about rape! I don’t get offended by anything, because everything’s been done by this point. I mean, rap was more offensive in the 1990s than it is now.
Like what’s an example of that?
NP: Not offending me, but offending the general public. Shit like Two Live Crew, Ice-T, “Cop Killer”; c’mon man, that shit was getting banned. That shit was offensive to the general public. Not to me, I loved it, but to the country.
I: And the lesser-known stuff that was popular in the Bay Area, like Brotha Lynch Hung.
I: Dude was rapping about eating babies, way before Odd Future discussed this stuff.
K: There was a million layers of that shit before Odd Future. They didn’t pioneer anything, they’ve just been doing a style that’s been done to death since forever.
Well, let’s talk horrorcore. Do you feel like you fit in with horrorcore? Does that jive with what you’re doing?
NP: Not really. I don’t got a problem with it… I definitely got like a dark side. I was born the day before Halloween. I believe in ghosts and all that scary shit. I’m definitely a spooky motherfucker. So it does carry on into the Sweeney Todd tradition and shit like that. I don’t go into it thinking let’s get some horrorcore shit going, but sometimes it goes down that road. [Laughs]
Have you seen a ghost?
NP: Fuck yeah, man! Don’t even get me started, man. You ain’t even got enough tape for these fuckin’ ghost stories. We’ll get into that another time. There’s some ghost shits out there, man.
I watch a lot of those ghost adventure shows, and…
NP: Me too! That’s all I watch!
I: Have you seen Paranormal Witness?
No, I like the guy that’s all roided out, what’s he called… [Zak Bagans from Ghost Adventures]
NP: With the gelled hair? He pisses me the fuck off! I don’t think that nigger’s ever seen a ghost in his fuckin’ life, man! I saw a ghost and I couldn’t yell, I couldn’t run, I couldn’t do anything. I fuckin’ froze. And I done seen some shit… I’m gonna go on one of them shows. Celebrity Ghost Stories. I can’t wait. There gonna have to give me a whole episode!
[to BSBD] You guys hooking that up?
K: Oh yeah, we gotta make him a celebrity first, then we’ll see how much interest they express.
So what was it like growing up in Seattle? What kind of music did you listen to?
NP: Well, shit I listened to of course primarily gangster rap, West Coast, growing up. I was a big Mac Dre fan later, like through high school. I fucked with Cam’ron. I listened to everything. We listened to a lot of rock music too, just growing up in Seattle. How could you not hear Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and shit? I love the blues. My mom’s a rasta, so I grew up on reggae. A little bit of everything. I don’t even listen to rap too much no more.
I love your “Marvel” song and the video is awesome as well. So in the Marvel vs. DC debate…
NP: Fuckin’ with Marvel man. The DC characters that they do have are filthy, there’s just too few of them. Batman’s just a ballin-ass dude with hella scraps. I love Batman, but what the fuck’s he gonna do, you know? He’s just a regular dude with hella money. And Superman. I hate him because he has all the powers. That’s just retarded, you can’t give him all these fuckin’ powers.
I: Yeah, he has no weaknesses.
NP: It’s a wrap. Marvel’s deep, their roster’s retarded.
What did you read as a kid, coming out of Marvel?
NP: Hella Wolverine. Hella Venom. I didn’t like Spider-man too much. I liked Venom…
Well Spider-man was a vehicle to deliver Venom…
NP: Man, I fucked with Venom. I always liked bad guys. I had hella Sabertooth spinoffs… My mom’s friend owned a comic book store in the University District, I wanna say “Planet X” or something, back in early 1990s, mid 90s, when I was in elementary school, and this motherfucker let me walk up in there and get whatever I want. So I was comic booked in, I read everything… Spawn! Even though he was ugly as fuck, I knew he was black, so it made it that much better. I was like “Oh, he’s black, man! Even though he’s ugly as fuck and they never show his face, when they do the flashbacks, he’s a brother!” Fuck with Spawn, man!
Yeah there aren’t a lot of black superheroes. They make efforts, but…
NP: And they’re always fucking weak.
Well Black Panther, I mean c’mon: Black Panther.
NP: His backstory’s cool, he’s like an African king…
NP: Storm, she’s bad as fuck, I love her…
Yeah, with the fuckin’ mohawk, dude? Remember in the 90s when she had no powers and she just beat the shit out of people? That was like the only thing she did, just beat on people.
NP: Yeah, but they’re from Africa, y’know? They’re like the cool African ones. But as far as African-American superheroes, they always dropped the ball. I fuck with Cage, ‘cause he was in jail and shit. Basically he’s a black Captain America. They did the same test on him as they did with Captain America, but they were doing it to prison cats. So he’s just a hood dude. He don’t even got no suit, he’s just wearin’ a black T-shirt and jeans. Fuck with Cage, bro… He be fightin’ Thor and shit in a fuckin’ tall tee! That’s my dude, man.
So, talk about the collaboration between you guys. Because the album you sent me, Noir, was so different from the beats that you’re making with Nacho. Do the beats come first, or the raps?
K: A lot of times we’ll just play a beat for him and he starts writing, and then we’ll record the song and do a ton of post-production and kind of create the song around what he did.
I: A lot of times we’ll just totally remix it. It’ll be on a totally different beat.
K: Yeah, keep the drums but just totally change all the music to go better with it. Just matching the content of what he’s talking about with the sound of the music. Even if it’s a good beat, if it doesn’t go with [Nacho’s rap], then we’re not gonna use it.
I: Also, I think we’re kinda known for all of our albums being totally different. When working with rappers, we’re always trying to tailor our sound to them, rather than finding rappers that will sound good over our stuff. And we wanna just create a totally different sound for him that goes with his personality.
I: He likes rapping slow, and I love making slow beats. I love DJ Screw, all that Southern stuff.
K: Just druggy, atmospheric, layered music. We’ve always kind of made that sound.
I: We’ve done more East Coast-sounding beats too, with East Coast rappers, but every project is different. These last two albums really surprised people and probably lost fans that didn’t really get what we were doing.
K: But gained different fans…
I: But gained a totally different following too.
The past two albums came out so close together, you didn’t think to space them out more?
I: No, because it seemed like [that’s] how the new listener is. Basically, they have ADD and they need to be bombarded with reminders that we’re relevant.
K: You have to keep feeding them… Because after a few months people forget about you.
I: You can do an album a year if you’re Kanye West. But if you’re trying to get a name for yourself, you need to really hustle.
K: That’s why we made so many videos. Five videos for the first project, two already for this one, and this is all within, what, four months apart? Most people do one video per album.
NP: Luckily we got ADD too… We’re almost done with a new album. I rap in my sleep, I don’t do nothin’ else. I don’t have a day job; I would never get one. [Laughs]
Well, let’s talk tattoos, what’s the tattoo you’re gonna go get?
NP: I gotta go get this freaking Pam Grier finished. [stands up to show off tattoo] This motherfucker Bishop, shout out to Bishop at Art Core Studios, he’s booked like crazy. He used to be my personal tattoo dude. I started getting tattoos by him like 10 years ago. Now he’s all popular and shit, and I gotta book hella shit in advance… We’re gonna be gone a lot in March, and I wanna be able to take my shirt off. And I hate having incomplete tattoos. The bitch only got one arm right now! [Laughs] He needs to draw another fuckin’ arm in. I got a fuckin’ handicapped Pam Grier on my goddamn chest, so I gotta go get this shit finished.
K: You got an amputee version.
NP: Right? Where the fuck is your arm at?
Has blaxploitation influenced what you’re doing?
NP: Ah, I’ve seen every one. From Sweet Sweetback’s Revenge to fuckin, Petey Wheatstraw the Devil’s Son[-in-Law]… I even had a Rudy Ray Moore CD of Dolemite singing songs. Remember, Jarv [Jarv Dee, local rapper, hanging out in the kitchen]? We stole that from your pops. Rudy Ray Moore… He could’a been a rapper man, what the fuck! Look up “Hot Nuts!” He’s a fool, man. He’s like Nacho. I woulda loved to do a song with Rudy Ray Moore. This motherfucker’s talking shit, ah man. I don’t think anyone can judge me. Judge him, man. Dolemite says some raw-ass shit. Motherfucker had a song called “Hot Nuts.” Get the fuck off my dick, man. He’s from the 1970s.