Editorials, Print May 16, 2023

It’s OK To Feel Blue, Just Don’t Rap About It

by Landon Ungerman

DNA Picasso Deconstructs Vulnerability in Hip-Hop with his New Album “The Colour Blü


If you happen to run into Denver rapper DNA Picasso on the street, chances are he’ll be dressed in a bold, colorful hoodie with a dazzling chain hanging off his neck and a mouthful of gold teeth, ready to strike up a conversation about anything imaginable. But there’s one thing missing from the artist’s vivacious look: the color blue – and to DNA, it’s the color that seems to matter most.

When Devin Nyshawn Arnold takes on the identity of DNA Picasso, the confidence and glamor that come with it exude a degree of control and self-assurance that set apart the life of the artist from the life of the person behind it. “As much as I’d like to believe there is no difference between the two, DNA Picasso is my persona. That’s who people see and think I have everything put together,” he reveals in an interview with BandWagon. For Arnold, the creation of “DNA Picasso” represents a liberation from the constraints of being raised by other people, particularly as an individual who endured the instability of foster care and erratic relationships. “I get to take control of DNA Picasso, but Devin belongs to other people too.”

DNA Picasso photographed by Landon Ungerman

Pablo Picasso’s Influence on the Album

A reclamation of DNA’s purest self came with the release of his album, The Color Blü, in March 2023. DNA explains, “I just wanted to be real. I wanted to come out with a piece of art.” The project was nothing short of art. In fact, both DNA Picasso’s stage name and the name of the album draw from one of the greatest artists history has known: Pablo Picasso. The album name refers to Pablo Picasso’s “Blue Period,” a shift in his creative style characterized by monochromatic shades of blue, darkness and turmoil. Similarly, elements of DNA Picasso that aren’t typically on display took center stage in this album, as he employed a vulnerable, soft approach to its themes and style. The Color Blü was DNA’s emotional deconstruction of what hip-hop expects of an artist, as much as it was a vulnerable reach for purity of self. “In hip-hop, we mask all of our truest feelings about ourselves and the world—especially when it comes to making something mainstream.”

The nuance of the album became so intensely personal to DNA Picasso that the work imminently diverged from Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period. One listen through The Color Blü reveals DNA’s angst and sorrow, juxtaposed by subsequent growth, love and energy. In this way, his artistry didn’t walk a line; rather, it jumped between both sides of that line. “It’s about vulnerability, not sadness,” he explains. The project effectively honors Picasso’s Blue Period without distorting it. The comfort of the love songs and the energy of the hype ones added a dimension to the roots of the album that DNA Picasso couldn’t ignore. “I originally was going to call the project The Blue Period, but Picasso wasn’t deeply in love, he was sad… I would be doing him a disservice by calling it that.”

It’s All in the Details

DNA’s personal, vulnerable journey with this creation veered away from despair and focused on purity. Even the unconventional spelling of the words “Colour” and “Blü” achieved this goal of naturalness, as both words return to earlier forms of themselves. This return to an earlier stage in the evolution of language emphasizes purity. According to DNA, it also just looks better: “Every time I typed out ‘The Color Blue,’ I didn’t like how it looked. I wanted to take the words back to their roots.” Despite the love and vigor of the album, vulnerability inevitably scratches the surface of life’s more difficult places. DNA’s honesty with himself manifested in an outpouring of the heavy feelings he carries with him from his experiences every day.

Cover art for DNA Picasso’s 2023 Album, “The Colour Blü,” done by Juan Ibarra, inspired by Pablo Picasso’s 1903 painting “The Old Guitarist.”

Blue with a Black Identity

“I was driving to Boulder,” he remembers.. “At the time, I worked for a company that helped those suffering from homelessness and addiction. A police officer stopped me, and at first, the interaction was normal. But later, he came back to my car with his gun drawn, yelling so many things to do—it was all moving so fast. I thought I was going to die.”

For DNA Picasso, infusing his music with a Black identity is not a decision. As an artist, he doesn’t choose to write songs “from a Black place.” Instead, he uses the voice of someone who experiences the world as Black to invite every listener to a place of understanding.

“I want to be heard because I know that it’s special that I’m here,” he says. “Being Black definitely gives me a different approach to music because it’s me. It’s who I am.”

“Love is alive. Love is everything.”

Just as people didn’t frame Pablo Picasso’s rigid, blue paintings on their walls, it can be difficult for a listener to digest the rawness of DNA Picasso’s new album. However, the moments in the album where he acknowledges his growth and his newfound acceptance of love add a streak of vibrant beauty to the picture, and suddenly the listener can breathe in every lyric. Not only did DNA Picasso achieve his most thoughtful, artistic self with The Color Blü, but he also reached a higher place as a man. He credits his partner, Dominique Christina, as the person who triggered his growth and introduced him to love. This album was the first time he felt he could truly speak on love. The message he leaves us with is this: “Love is alive. Love is everything. I want to be loved, and I want to spread love.”

Catch DNA Picasso at The Black Buzzard at Oskar Blues in Denver on May 27 to hear The Color Blü performed live. Tickets are available at bandwagonpresents.com.