Be it food, art, or even someone’s personality, the best things in life tend to have layers. And that’s exactly what makes Nacho Picasso and Blue Sky Black Death’s third full-length album, Exalted, an overwhelming success. Whereas preceding albums For The Glory and Lord of the Fly brought a high level of gothic cerebral boom-bap, Exalted expands on their blueprint and displays a team truly at the top of their respective game.
On its face, Exalted is a 13-track collection of stark, booming, and highly quotable ear worms-that-could with oddly catchy hooks and killer pacing. Blue Sky Black Death and Raised By Wolves, the latter of whom produced three tracks, are masters of their craft, with their craft being churning out moody, thick, and atmospheric trap-cum-cloud rap instrumentals. “Mob Ties” is like musical molasses, creeping along with howling synthesizer strings and hair-trigger drums while “Kickin’ Out Windows” thumps and hisses into its Beastie Boys-sampling chorus. Later, Blue Sky Black Death round out Exalted‘s sonic haunted mansion “Joey Gallo”, which boasts more snapping snares and rapid-fire hi-hats that swell amid shimmering keys and synths. And as they fade, a foul-mouthed Ben Kingsley arrives to usher you out of the album with a quote from 2000 gangster flick Sexy Beast.
The beats and select movie samples serve as a murky, complementary canvas (sorry) for Picasso, whose verses house gut-bustingly hilarious punch lines and blunted mental assessments. On album standout “Swap ‘Em Out” alone, the Seattle rapper drops lines like: ”I know you’re bi-polar/ Maybe I’m the same, too/ We the same two/ Baby I’m the same, too.” Shortly thereafter he spits, ”Black Tyler Durden/ Swervin’ off bourbon/ Mama’s little burden/ Won’t let you get a word in.” He also makes a reference to being as high as retired NBA player Sam Perkins, who looked perpetually weeded.
It’s at this point that Picasso’s twisted brilliance begins to emerge and show itself, though some detractors might choose to complain that Picasso never really switches from his monotone cadence. While he does dabble in sing-song schemes on cuts like “Tom Hanks” and “Haile Selassie”, there’s a reason he sticks to his cutting baritone: He’s a stone(d)-cold dude preaching his tales of getting as high as humanly possible, running through female after female, and feeling pain for all the shit he’s experienced. Listen closely and you’ll hear multiple references to death in family — particularly his father’s passing — and the marks those deaths, and subsequent self-medicating ways, have left on his brain.
When he’s put up with so much bullshit and pain and conquered it through a haze of drugs, liquor, and women, how else should he sound? Just let dude embrace his demons and get through it however he needs to, deadpan delivery or not. As he says on “The Gods Don’t Favor You”: “Lone wolf catch me howlin’ at the moon/ I be bumpin’ Howlin Wolf probably chowin’ down on shrooms.” It’s when you reach that layer of Picasso’s rhymes — his self-destructive, rapping-with-a-smirk edge — that you’ll realize he’s one of the best lyricists to appear in the past few years.