RV Rapper Bleubird Finally Fires "Cannonball!!!," His U.S. Debut
On a recent Monday afternoon, Bleubird is on a mission to find the perfect pair of shoes and hat. They need to match a blue-and-orange suit the Fort Lauderdale-based rapper purchased at the Oakland Park Flea Market. The gaudy ensemble is coming together for the filming of a Kickstarter-funded music video for "Pimp Hand," an ironically titled single off his forthcoming U.S. debut, Cannonball!!!.
New Times has been invited along for this fashion hunt, and a heavily tattooed, bespectacled Jacques Bruna (his birth name) opens a door covered with kitten stickers to greet us at his Sailboat Bend home. He shares the historic two-bedroom duplex with his best friend and a variety of pets, including several cats, two birds, and a catfish in an outdoor pond. Parked outside is the "Freeebird" — yes, with an extra e — a small RV given to him by Grimm Image Records to travel in and document his experiences on the road.
Inside his makeshift bedroom, he hops between the computer underneath a loft bed setup and his cell phone. The process of juggling calls and emails and updating his various social networks has been particularly overloaded with tasks this week as Bleubird gears up for a monthlong European tour with Minneapolis-via-Florida rapper (and Cannonball!!! producer) Astronautalis.
"You've got to see the bracelets I picked up," Bruna says, revealing two silver-cuffed creations with rhinestone tiger heads on them. "And this is my pimp hand ring," he adds, flashing a red-and-gold sparkler on his pinky finger. Expressing admiration for the Asian woman who sold him his aforementioned suit ("She had the same suit in pretty much every color combination and even offers matching shirt-with-tie sets"), he pulls out a plastic-wrapped shirt and holds it up to his suit's knee-length, checkerboard-patterned jacket.
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Suddenly, he disappears into the bathroom and giggles like a schoolgirl. When he emerges, he's wearing the suit's awkward-fitting pants. "Do you think this is how they are supposed to fit?" he asks in the midst of our laughing fit as he struts around the living room. "Hopefully, she can do something about all this leg room."
This nomadic lifestyle and rapping career wasn't necessarily the path Bleubird set out on more than a decade ago; it was more something he grew into, much like his hip-hop namesake. While living in Orlando and attending college, he met Wesley Pentz — now better-known as Diplo — who took him to see a Das EFX show one evening. It was there that Bleubird was introduced to the Nature Kids, a New Smyrna-based band that would end up taking him on tour and providing him a new musical outlet. In 1999, he quit school and his job, broke a lease, and left Orlando in the rearview mirror to set out on tour with his new pursuit.
"Once I found out what I wanted to do, nothing else has mattered since then," he says. "It's like this monster that I can't really control. And I've just been so driven to do it that everything else fell to the side."
After the impromptu fashion show, we climb into Bleubird's primary form of transportation, the Freeebird. A pair of fuzzy white dice hangs from the mirror; the dashboard features an assortment of plastic animal toys and kitschy accouterments. In the back, there's a full-sized fridge covered in stickers, a completely functional stove, a flat-screen television, and floral-print curtains made by a friend. There's also a futon-style bed sitting upright, but after having had one too many people in the back, it doesn't work as well as it used to.
While stopped at a red light, he rolls down the windows and flips a switch on the center console. A familiar tune blares from the outdoor speakers. It's the sound of an ice cream truck jingle. "Apparently it's illegal for me to have this," he says. "But the funny thing is that I got it from AutoZone."
Cruising down Broward Boulevard to the Swap Shop, Bruna describes an assortment of outlandish memories from the past few years of traveling cross-country in the RV. From surfing for the first time in Halifax to basket crab fishing in Maryland to even a hot-tub party filmed by Tegan & Sara's Tegan Quin, there's never a dull moment.
In addition to his wild Hunter S. Thompsonesque road-warrior stories, he discusses the time he was invited into a youth prison in Portland, Maine, to teach a rap workshop — something he'd always wanted to do. He considers it to be one of the most intense experiences he's ever had. "I've performed in front of thousands of people, in crazy foreign countries by myself, but when it came to doing a spoken word in front of six kids... I choked — twice," he says with a laugh. "But I really took a lot away from it, you know, as much as I gave. It really impacted me."
As we walk through the Swap Shop parking lot, Bleubird stops in his tracks at the sight of a teal-and-white 1978 Lincoln Continental with a giant swan on the front of the hood. "Shit, this would be so perfect for the video," he says, snapping a photo on his iPhone.
Bruna knows the Swap Shop like the back of his hand — which comes as no surprise, since he's been visiting the flea market for decades. "My friends and I used to always go see the circus, but we'd get up before the elephants went on," he says. "You know, to make people think we had a real issue with the elephants" — midsentence, he points to a holographic portrait of a nude woman morphing into a tiger — "I can't believe nobody has purchased that yet. It's perfect."
Despite his constant touring and taking residence in cities all over the world, including Berlin and Montreal, Bleubird will always call Florida home. The 34-year-old rapper grew up in Pembroke Pines, raised by a Jewish mother and an Italian father who provided a fairly traditional life for him and his older brother, who is now with law enforcement. Bruna reminisces about his father's strict feelings about videogames, rides in the back of his brother's bass-thumping Volkswagen Beetle, and his hip-hop-themed 13th birthday party. His family labeled it a "confibitz" — a combination of a confirmation and bar mitzvah.
The following Saturday afternoon, the "Pimp Hand" video shoot commences in Miami's arts district with more than a dozen people participating. While Bleubird and a motley crew run amok on the streets of the graffiti-covered Wynwood, his police friend has been standing by since 7 a.m. to ensure that the production isn't shut down.
Around noon, Bruna's parents — his father decked out in a gray Bleubird T-shirt — arrive on the scene in a black SUV filled with trays of home-cooked pasta, salad, and chicken to feed the famished music video team. With so many supporters in his corner, the question remains: Why has it taken this long for a U.S. record release from a rapper with a decadelong career? Bruna rattles his brain for an answer but explains with confidence that it hasn't been due to a lack of effort. And he feels the path taken was for the best.
Cannonball!!! will be the first of the Fake Four Inc. label's releases in 2012. With this deeply personal album, Bleubird set out to make something he's never created, and production by Astronautalis and Radical Face brought out a more melodic sound with live instrumentation that contrasts sharply with the gritty beats he used in the past. It includes "Geihe 1977," dedicated to the small village of Bonfigliara, Italy, where his father is from and named after the bottles of wine his grandfather made the year Bruna was born.
The project took well over a year to finish and required Bruna to continue what he's done for the past decade: move well outside of his comfort zone.
"I really took a huge leap of faith with making this album," he says. "But at the end of the day, I'm happy with what I did. I can live with myself. I didn't go too far to where I'm like, 'Wow, that's not me.' I can still see it as being me."
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