Max Bell was a Blowedian in a past life.
If Busdriver is the adenoidal vocal gymnast and Open Mike Eagle is the smooth and laid back “dark-skinned art baron,” then Nocando is the man in the middle (and the man at the helm of Hellfyre Club), with Busdriver’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and Mike’s ability to meticulously articulate.
Bred in the trenches of the freestyle battle scene (see his ’07 Scribble Jam win), where every punch line needs to land, to be heard in order to ensure victory, Nocando never mumbles, never stutters. While Busdriver might be too fast for some, and Mike too soft-spoken, Nocando has always rapped like there was a crowd ready to scream and yell, ooh and ah after every bar. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
His latest EP, Tits ‘N Explosions, released gratis via Hellfyre Club’s Bandcamp, comes on the heels of a number of fantastic guest spots (see “Werner Herzog”), countless nights spent freestyling/MCing at Low End Theory (L.A., San Francisco, and Japan), and hours upon hours spent co-hosting the Shots Fired podcast with this website’s EIC. (ed. note: bias admitted, obviously. But the rapping is good, admit it.)
As far as the EP being akin to a Michael Bay film (his words, not mine), it’s too honest, intelligent, and self-aware.
Despite the tired and oft-misappropriated cliché of “the title is fitting” bit, the title of the EP is more than apt here. Promoter and self-avowed frequenter of titty bars, strip clubs, and what have you from Oakland to Osaka, the first half of the title is relatively self-explanatory. Though, as per usual for Nocan, his infatuation with the opposite sex is still on full-display.
With respect to the second half, one only has to look at the opening track “I Guess So,” where Nocan catalogues the changes in his personality and bank account. Things are much better for Nocando in 2013 than back in 2010 (the year of his Alpha Pup debut). He is the head of his own record label, Low End Theory is big as ever, the list goes on.
Given his job as resident MC at Low End, many beats seem on the EP seem tailor-made to rattle the chests of the perspiring patrons packed into the Airliner every Wednesday. Prime examples come in the form of “Tits ‘N Explosions” and “No Sweat.”
The former sounds like under water G-Funk from another planet and, at its most frenetic, the trap version of the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack. The latter (“No Sweat”), with bass-pounding pockets of trap, contains some Nocan’s best rhymes (“If you disagree just eat a dick or read my dossier/I’m a Black Star, but not in that Mos Def or Kweli way”), and the vocals from Pigeon John on the hook are also great, as he’s always been adept at more singsong stuff, I think.
Though the first lines of Jimmy the Lock were “I write songs about myself all the time,” and that’s still relatively the case (see “More Credit” for some autobio), Tits ‘N Explosions marks a conscious effort on Nocando’s part to discuss the world outside of himself.
“All Over a Bitch (AOB)” is as catchy as Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s” (the parallel is there), but much more emotionally raw. It’s about the crazy things men do for women (“all over [bitches]”) and the crazy things women do to men, all while remaining fun enough to become an anthem, something for guys to chant on their way to the club, bar, Vegas, etc.
Nocan’s move outside of himself is also evident on the “Last But Not Least.” It might be the most emotive of all the songs here, both the beat and the content. It’s a series of sketches, portraits of all the hardworking and damaged characters bouncing around in Nocan’s head (“Mista small-business/Mista took out hella loans/Mista screaming at the bank over the telephone/Mista just put his house up/Mista got a second mortgage”).
For a free release, there is little to no filler. However, there are a few songs, a few fuses that fail to spark. “Smile and “No Romance” serve as case in point, though “Smile” is the better of the two, as Nocan is still rapping. Unfortunately, “No Romance” is one of the major missteps on the EP. It sounds like Nocan spent too much time with Kanye’s (Yeezus?) 808’s and Heartbreak.
The track is an admirable attempt at that sound/style, but it feels as if the auto-tuned crooning and lyrics are a stretch here— references to YG’s “Toot It and Boot It” are balanced with Biggie’s most famous line about fellatio—given that the sound and content doesn’t really lend itself punch lines. For now, Nocando should probably stick to releasing straight rappity rap. That’s not to say he couldn’t possibly develop the sound and aesthetic on display here, but that any tracks of this ilk should stay in the vault until they are more fully fleshed out.
On the whole, this is a more than solid offering from an MC whose sound, rapping ability, and songwriting have only risen since his debut. With his next official album, Jimmy the Burnout, slated for release this year, Tits ‘N Explosions should serve as a more than listenable and replayable prelude for the unfamiliar, and another well-crafted chapter in the catalogue of the rightful Project Blowed descendant.