One of hip-hop’s greatest and most undervalued traits is its ability to be hyper-referential and unashamedly, wholeheartedly funny without losing any notions of the seriousness of the craft, without making the art itself anything like a joke.
As he’s truly come into his own and ascended to the top of his game this year, it’s something that Nacho Picasso has demonstrated he understands perfectly well, and that he has even begun to personally encapsulate. You’re likely to laugh out loud a good few times through Black Narcissus, but that doesn’t mean that the overall tone of the record isn’t bleak and somber, rapped with dead-eyed resignation and lyrically flecked with regret and a ferocious nihilism.
The music that Nacho is spitting over here doesn’t scale the same peaks as that on this year’s brilliant Exalted, his third album with production duo Blue Sky Black Death, but that’s more a testament to those guy’s great work on that record than a slight to the producers on this one. The beats here are less cohesive and a little sharper, lacking some of the syrup thick murkiness that made the beats on Exalted so compelling, but they are in a similar vein, moody and packed with heavy-set pitched down synths that feel all but ready to drag you down into the abyss. When it’s at its best, the production here, (which comes courtesy of Raised Byy Wolves and Eric G, by the way), actually provides if not a better then certainly a rawer landscape for Nacho to roam. And it suits him just fine.
With his name the only one on the cover this time around, though, it’s definitely Nacho’s show, and handles the single billing just fine. His pen is marginally less sharp than the last time he surfaced, but it appears right now that this guy on a bad day can still turn phrases better than most.
Everything that made Exalted one of the lyrical stand outs of the year is present here in force. References to old cartoons, (“master like Splinter”, “Nacho’s modern life so muh’-fuck Rocko’s”) and double-take political jabs, (“shaved my beard but a n***a still dictate”) sit alongside another of his trademarks, a warped and overblown narcissism that is no less tongue-in-cheek, (“when I die she imbibe my sperm and try to learn, all of my prophecies until I return”).
When he gets a little more serious and descriptive, dude can get almost literary: it’s dope enough saying that he has “a mouth full of cotton and a head full of cobwebs”, but when he puffs his chest and declares “my bitch be the baddest, supplies drugs on campus and fucks like a mantis, rips the head off her lovers then sniffs up the dandruff” you have to simply wonder how he comes up with this stuff.
The fact that all of these avenues are explored in the same dazed monotone drawl shouldn’t work, but it does. Nacho isn’t the first rapper to rely largely on a single well-defined technique, and the fact that the humor and the darkness are recited in the same half-hearted drawl as ever with this guy adds to the records atmosphere and character.
Even before he dropped this half-hour mixtape, Nacho had already quietly positioned himself as one of the more slept-on, underground heavy-hitters of the year, with an ability to flex a greater lyrical muscle than many of his more well-known peers. But when what you might have slept on is so singularly great, even a simple reminder should be more than welcome.