DNA Picasso (aka Devin Nyshawn Arnold), a mainstay of the Denver rap scene, has long admired Pablo Picasso. He also sees the painter as the fine-art equivalent of one of his favorite contemporary hip-hop artists.
"The first thing I liked about Picasso was his versatility. You couldn't box him in," Arnold explains. "I related that to Lil Wayne. We saw him do gansta rap, then he started breaking out his guitar, going into the rock feel, performing with live bands and changing what rap could be. So in terms of actual artists, Picasso was that for me."
While Picasso obviously served as the inspiration for Arnold's MC name, the artist's famous "Blue Period" also heavily influenced Arnold's new album, The Color Blü, which was released on March 2.
Picasso's Blue Period was an unexpected deviation from his past work and the aesthetic trends of his time, as is Arnold's The Color Blü. "The Blue Period was cool to me because I saw the vulnerability in it. Everyone who knew [Picasso] for what they knew him for didn't like the Blue Period, because [the art] wasn't something they could hang up on their walls. It wasn't what people wanted their guests to see when they walked into their houses," Arnold says.
He relates the qualifications of art back then to the standards of popular music today. "The state of the rap game right now is that everyone wants to hear that hype shit and that hood shit. There's a specific type of rap that is getting pushed out right now," he notes.
The problem, according to Arnold, is that the tough-guy rappers who are currently en vogue tend to encourage and perpetuate toxic masculinity. "I feel like a lot of artists — predominantly male artists, and more predominantly Black male artists — don't have the room to be themselves. If they take that room, they get called feminine. All of a sudden, people make it seem like it's feminine for a man to show their emotions or to be emotionally literate," he laments. "So with this project, I was really wanting to be vulnerable and talk about the trials and tribulations of love. I got a whole bunch of love songs on there, and it's all about Dominique."
"Coming from foster care and being adopted, remembering back on those days when I was passed on. I didn't think I deserved love," he reflects. "I didn't know who my parents were or why I mattered. A lot of people don't even know that shit about me, because it wasn't something that I was proud of. How are you proud of the fucked-up things that happened to you? How do you hold that as a tool instead of it being used as a weapon against you?"
Christina offered to help him track down his biological mother, a gesture that blew Arnold away. "No one had ever said that to me — 'I'll help you find your roots and your story.' I was like, 'Whoa, this is different,'" he recalls. "We actually ended up finding out who my mother was. Then I found some of my uncles through Ancestry.com, and fast-forward to being with her for almost three years, we did all these things that I thought could never happen. I was not looking for love, and then I found it. Dom says she didn't fall in love, she rose in love. Before she said that, I couldn't explain it, but I agree. We rose in love together, and we're still rising."
In that sense, Arnold's Blü period differs from Picasso's. For Arnold, blue represents far more than just sadness — it means celebrating the whole emotional gamut. "On the project, sometimes I'm referencing trying to get [Dom], or wanting to keep her, or being thankful that I have her, or being fearful of losing her. I wanted to show that it's cool to be in love, because it is. To actually be loved, and not just do the dance, is otherworldly," he emphasizes.
Opening himself up to true love gave him the courage to explore negative emotions, as well, such as grief. "In the song '100,' with Chris Cart3r, I say, 'Don't even cry when I'm cutting onions.' And really, I had so many friends die over the last couple of years, and it's been hard for me to pop out to funerals, because I just didn't want to feel that way. Even now, I struggle with being sad," he admits.
But he's come to realize that sadness is an integral part of life, and says he has a new appreciation for blue, as both a color and a feeling. "My association with blue changed. Not even just the color itself, but the vibe, energy and mood of blue," he explains. "What's crazy is, you need that shit. You need to know what it's like to feel blue. Knowing what heartbreak is makes being in love so much grander. I understand and appreciate the color for what it is now instead of being afraid of what blue brings."
While the album came from love, not every track is a love song. Arnold also reflects on his career as a musician and shares some of his industry frustrations on "100," "Lost Souls (Intro)" and "Give Thanks (Outro)."
"I don't want to let things go unsaid. In the 'Outro' song, I could've talked so much shit about people in the city. When I wrote that song, I named names. And then I took out the names and rewrote it. I didn't want to give them any energy," he explains. "I feel like if I don't get my shit off my chest, it's going to come back to haunt me. Even if I'm sugarcoating or not dropping names, not being malicious in a dissing way to people, I definitely wanted to talk about my journey and what I've been going through, and the shit that I've overcome to be able to stay here."
The Color Blü marks the start of a new chapter for Arnold, one that he intends to continue developing. "I wouldn't even say I'm going all the way deep [on this album]. I think I'm just scratching the surface of the places I can go. As a man, I'm still growing into knowing it's okay to emote and be emotionally intelligent," he says.
Now Arnold's goal is much deeper than fame and fortune. "I want to connect with people and find my tribe. Isn't that what this music shit is all about? If I don't ever play in front of stadiums, that's fine," he concludes. "If I'm filling up small venues with people who are really there to connect and get lit but if I put on something that's real will still cry with me, that's cool with me."
The Color Blü is available now on all music platforms. Follow DNA Picasso @dnapicasso for updates about an album listening party in the works.