In a popular sketch from his eponymous TV show in 2004, Dave Chappelle spends a night on the town with Wayne Brady, the affable and famously inoffensive actor, singer and comedian. In the sketch, though, Brady shows a different side. He’s a pimp. There’s a drive-by. He bullies and manipulates Chappelle and eats his cheese sandwich. At one point, they talk about life as black actors in Hollywood and the need to stick together in an industry that stacks the odds against them.
That sketch served as the inspiration for Black Actors, the latest EP from Pittsburgh-based producer and rapper, NVSV (pronounced “Nasa”). The four tracks take aim at the music industry in Pittsburgh and beyond; the regional camaraderie (sincere or not) between artists in a given genre; the discrepancies between public and private personas; and the roles that bravado and vulnerability play in hip hop.
But that’s below-the-surface stuff. NVSV’s songs don’t pronounce their intentions too clearly. At face value, his lyrics tread familiar territory like blunts and swagger, but repeat listens reveal a more complex, ironic character. There’s a dissonance to both his lyrics and his production that gives the music a peculiar, provocative edge.
That dichotomy can be chalked up to NVSV’s production style, which is, for a lack of a more descriptive term, dark. It’s not dark in the way of the threatening self-confidence of gangster rap — it’s closer to something like discomfort. If that description is unclear, listen to “Drinks on Me,” from NVSV’s 2017 full-length Mystic. It has an amelodic minimalist beat, built on warbling de-tuned industrial drums, which NVSV counteracts with a chilled-out, steady-handed flow.
Mystic, which was released earlier this year by Library Collaborative, is full of clever contradictions like the ones in “Drinks on Me.” It’s a loose but tangibly themed record that serves as a good introduction to NVSV’s curious talents and unique voice. There’s no lack of material to follow up with: He writes about eight beats a day. Though two releases deep into 2017, he’s already planning a project for “no later than November.”
Mystic is available on Apple Music and Spotify. Black Actors is available on Soundcloud.