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Nacho Picasso Is the Sith Lord of Seattle Rap

Nacho's music springs from the dark, depressive side of Seattle. But like Kurt Cobain, his twisted lyricism is balanced with an offbeat sense of humor.
April 2, 2015, 9:00pm

Photos by the author

Seattle rapper Nacho Picasso is a self-proclaimed scumbag. The antithesis of the city's other hip-hop superstars, he's grimier than Macklemore and raps lines that would make Blue Scholars blush. Nacho's music springs from the dark, depressive side of Seattle that once birthed the grunge movement—but his twisted lyricism is balanced by humor in the same way Nirvana's music once was. He recognizes how shitty things are, and simultaneously realizes that there's nothing you can do but shrug and laugh.

Nacho's humor and witty turns of phrases come fast and frequent, but they're always a little hard-edged with cynicism. Sonically, his music follows in the footsteps of Def Jux alumni El-P, Cage, or Cannibal Ox, along with fellow Northwest collectives like Oldominion and Grayskul. The majority of his work has been with the production duo Blue Sky Black Death—VICE premiered their most recent collaboration, Stoned & Dethroned, a few months back. BSBD's trappy, layered beats fit seamlessly with Nacho's dark flow.

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I recently met up with Nacho at a weed dispensary in downtown Seattle. The tattooed rapper looked like he had just stepped off stage, decked out in goth-gangsta attire. We walked around Seattle a bit before Nacho stopped, lit a blunt, and told me about his new record and how he uses humor as a way to ease his pain.

VICE: Hey Nacho. Let's start at the beginning. Why'd you start rapping?
Nacho Picasso: The whole reason I started rapping was because I wanted to hear myself in my El Camino. I wanted to hear people rapping about what I was goin' through, and nobody was touching on that in Seattle. So in 2010, I just made some shit with my cousin Raised by Wolves and my boy Eric G who's now part of 9th Wonder's council. That was Blunt Raps, the first shit I recorded. Locally, it blew up and got a little cult following of shitheads and scumbags.

Right after Blunt Raps, I dropped For the Glory with Blue Sky Black Death. A lot of people think For the Glory was my first album, but that was just the first one that I started getting noticed for outside of Seattle. Locally, Blunt Raps was a cult classic. That was the first shit that got me noticed around here.

What were you doing to support yourself back then?
I've only had one job my whole life, and I haven't worked since 2006. I tried it, and I just wanted to beat everybody up. It just wasn't my thing. Before that, I was just doing whatever I had to do to get some money.

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What were you listening to growing up?
I remember being in elementary school when Doggystyle came out. My mom put it in my Christmas stocking. I grew up on reggae cause she was a dread, but as soon as I was old enough to pick my music, I chose rap. I had a cool mom, to a degree. She was more like a peer than anything else. There weren't many rules, but she also didn't do everything she was supposed to do as a mother. There were positives and negatives, but I always had options—except for rock music. She used to get pissed when I'd go in my room and turn on Nirvana or Godsmack.

You grew up during the height of the Seattle grunge era. Musically, that's still the scene everyone associates with the city. How deep were you into grunge at the time?
I wasn't as much into it as I was influenced by it. Seattle's not so segregated, so you could be from the hood and go to school with all races. So I had friends that were rockers and punks and skaters. Everywhere you went, you heard grunge. Even the hoods wore flannels. But you have to understand—grunge didn't make Seattle, Seattle made grunge. It's in the air. Kurt Cobain felt those feelings cause he was out here. It's all created by the atmosphere out here.

What do you listen to now?
Weird-ass indie rock. There was a point in my life where I didn't listen to anything other than Dipset and Mac Dre. That's what I identified with. For the most part now I listen to everything but rap, because I rap so much. When I do, it'll either inspire me or that shit'll be so lame that it'll make me wish I never picked up a pen and pad. It's not a spectator sport for me. It's like being a boxer and watching a boxing match when you're not on the bill: You just want to punch the shit out of somebody and end the fuckin' fight.

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Seattle's been put into the hip-hop spotlight lately by acts like Macklemore and socially-conscious groups like Blue Scholars. You represent a much different side of the city. How do you look at that polarity? Is it a rivalry or more of a necessary balance?
I'm just as much a reflection of Seattle as Macklemore. Everything has two sides. I definitely am Seattle's dark captain, and Macklemore is the man on the other side. It's all love, though. After the game, teams shake hands. I respect everything they've done for the music scene in Seattle because without them, there wouldn't be a scene for me to rock.

You're definitely darker. You're like Seattle's Sith Lord.
That's just how I rap, man. It's hard for me to hear music telling you to tie your shoes and take your vitamins. I do what comes naturally to me. I feel like Stoned & Dethroned is my darkest album yet. Partly because I felt like I was lightening up a bit. I wanted to give the core fans something.

Your stuff is a little sinister, but you always keep a sense of humor about it.
I had a really fucked up childhood. I was always in and out of CPS and shit. They took me from my mom when I was 11. Shit was so fucked up with my family, but we always laughed. If I don't laugh, then I'm going to cry. The humor in my music is just how I talk. It may sound like I am trying to hide it with all of that stuff, but really that's me letting it out as best I can.

To what extent does your music influence your life and vice versa?
My life has definitely influenced my music cause that's real shit. I don't go into a studio feeling like I need to make a song because that's what's popular and I need to get a certain crowd. I just go in and say what I've been doing all week!

Cocaine is referenced quite a bit on Stoned & Dethroned. Are you doing a lot of drugs?
I've been on some binging lately. I just do what I want to do. I'm not saying that's right, and I'm not telling anyone else to do it, but like Mac Dre said—"I ain't hurt nobody but my body." I like to experiment. 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. Everybody else gets to them, but they're not letting Nacho in.

What are your plans for the rest of 2015?
I just dropped Stoned & Dethroned. I just wrapped up my first EP on Harry Fraud's Surf School label, and we're looking to put that out before the summer. I got a shitload of songs I don't even remember making—I got like three mixtapes I'm sitting on for the in between time… Then probably start working on my full-length Nacho Picasso/Harry Fraud album.

Looking forward to hearing them. Thanks man.

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