Say what you will about Macklemore, his fun party raps stand out from Seattle’s legacy. Nacho Picasso, on the other hand, does not. While he has swapped tattoos for flannel and (thankfully) blunts for needles, his ear for dark, creeping beats and his sardonic, hedonistic rhymes make more sense for the Emerald City. He even flipped the hook for the Meat Puppets’ “Lake of Fire” (later covered by Nirvana) on his Exalted album. Nacho’s latest project, High and Mighty, finds him taking some chances. The uptempo party jam “Duck Faces” with Bay Area hotshot production crew League of Starz is a notable change of pace. But the vibe is still dark and smoked out, some shit you could see a current-day Layne Staley (RIP) riding out to. I caught up with Nacho by phone shortly after his debut show in Brooklyn at 285 Kent.
Noisey: How is High and Mighty different from your other albums?
Nacho Picasso: It’s a little different … I was experimenting more, so to speak. With other albums I was comfortable and working with one producer, usually with Blue Sky Black Death. And I got my flow in my comfort zone and I rode it out. So this one I got to try new things and see what my limits were, if I had any. I got to work with a lot of different people. It definitely made me better.
You born and raised in Seattle?
I was born in San Francisco. I don’t remember too much of that, I moved up to Seattle when I was three. It’s all about where you learn the game from. Tupac was born on the east coast but he’s so west coast because that’s where he learned his game. I learned how to talk, rap, fuck, and shit out here.
Your music is dark and gloomy and Seattle is dark and gloomy. How does the city influence your sound?
Yeah it doesn’t just come out of nowhere. Grunge was influenced by Seattle too. Niggas is feelin like that … that’s the mood that’s set out here. In LA people are how they are, in New York people are aggressive and shit, in Seattle we’re depressed.
Why is Seattle so gloomy?
I don’t want to blame the rain but it probably has something to do with that. We don’t get enough vitamin D … is that the one the sun gives you? I mean in Seattle you deal with a lot of passive aggressiveness, a lot of sarcasm, a lot of intellectuals who might insult your intelligence.
When people think about Seattle rap, they think about Sir Mix-A-Lot and Macklemore. Obviously it goes way deeper than that so tell me about the Seattle scene a little bit.
For me, I didn’t identify with the rap scene so much. I felt like it was a little safe for me. It was always there and it was always good and it was always supportive, but the content seemed a little safe. So when I came out, I wanted to go against the grain and piss everyone off. But they’re still supportive and it didn’t really piss anyone off!
It’s diverse out here. You got all different types of aspects. You got conscious niggas. You got niggas that want to rob your mom’s purse. We’re west coast but we have a lot of influence from everywhere. Some guys got a lot of east influence, but a lot of Seattle’s like the Bay. We’re just finding ourselves as a sound.
Tell me about the Bay influence in Seattle.
Growin' up there was a lot of bay influence. Even today, you go up to a kid who was barely alive when Mac Dre was alive and ask him who his favorite rapper is and he’ll say Mac Dre. We used to have a lot of artists down there come through here.
How did you link up with League of Starz?
I had a little help from Jake One. He reached out and we did “Duck Tales” and they loved it. We meshed.
So besides Seattle depression who else influences your music?
I grew up bumpin Mac Dre and Cam’ron. And before that it was Tupac and Big L.
Growing up on the west coast, how’d you get into Big L?
When I was young I heard that 6 minute freestyle with Big L and Jay Z. But I was already a Cam’ron fan from 8th grade and I had done my reasearch—him and Big L were in a group. But I liked all them Harlem niggas growin' up though, because they were flashy and loud.
I liked the wordplay too. I’m all about lyrics though, I don’t even listen to rap that much anymore. I can listen to any genre and break it down by lyrics and shit. Indie rock, blues, whatever. I get inspired by any genre.
So what non-rap stuff influenced you?
My mom’s a dread so I grew up on reggae. Her and my grandma had me listening to reggae round the clock. My mom used to be backstage with Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers. I met Buju. But I identify more with Al Green and Isaac Hayes. I had an auntie that bumped all that old Motown shit and I was stuck on it.
That Cadillac music.
Yeah that heron flow.
Is weed legal out there yet? I know they passed a law.
Yeah weed is legal as fuck! It was always kind of legal in Seattle. It wasn’t legal but it was the bottom of the barrel. Like I could get my weed back from Police if, like, they didn’t care. But now that it’s legal … I’m actually on my way to the dispensary right now to get some pimp weed. That’s the best weed, we call it pimp weed. It’s what pimps should be smokin. You just walk in and you pick your own weed out like goin to a candy shop.
What are the hottest strains in Seattle?
Man I’m a nigga who will come in—instead of buyin a quarter, I’ll buy like seven ten bags, trying to figure out what’s the best. Last summer was the summer of Girl Scout, like Girl Scout cookies. You could taste it. You could switch all the blunts up and pass me some Girl Scout and I’d know it was Girl Scout from the taste. Right now I been blowin Bubble Kush for the last week because I like to fall asleep.
Man, we do OK in New York but you guys are spoiled.
We’re hella spoiled. It’s hard going out of town when you’re used to Seattle. But I still smoke the shit out of it. I gotta smoke for my nerves. I’ll smoke whatever. We’re in Mexico I’m gonna smoke that dirt weed. I don’t give a shit.
You gotta smoke for your nerves? Does that tie back into the Seattle depression?
I get angry and I get irritable. And if I don’t smoke I have these fucked up nightmares.
Yeah. Even if I don’t smoke all day I gotta smoke before I go to sleep. I been smoking since I was nine though. My mom always told me weed wasn’t a drug. So now it’s a snack. I feel like anything that’s gonna calm me down. You know how niggas get high and when they’re sober they’re like “why’d I do that shit?” I get high and say “why the fuck did I do that shit when I was sober?” It balances me out.
How many tattoos do you have?
I lost track in high school.
Have you ever had an interview where you weren’t asked about your tats?
Yeah maybe one or two.
Skinny Friedman is a DJ and writer living in Brooklyn. He's on Twitter — @skinny412