Matthew Bentley

Nasty Nigel’s Time-Traveling, Reality-Hacking Rap

El Ultimo Playboy takes Brooklyn

Last Friday, Nasty Nigel broke time by looking like the past and rapping like the future.

Nigel is for sure a rappin’-ass dude, as evidenced by his long stint co-fronting the Queens-proud rap collective World’s Fair with fellow artists like Remy Banks, who also performed at the Brooklyn Bazaar event. His most recent release, the six-song cassette El Ultimo Playboy: La Vida Y Los Tiempos de Nigel Rubirosa, gives praise to weed, girls, money, and a childhood spent doing stuff like drinking Boone’s Farm (totalé hurl, especially the neon-blue kind, right?) behind subsidized housing. These are some of contemporary music’s broadest targets, and he nails every one.

But this was only some of what the audience experienced Friday at the Brooklyn Bazaar, which has been moved from its original warehouse-cum-arcade to the Polonaise Terrace, a Polish banquet hall in Greenpoint kitted out with mirrored walls and the marbled-Band-Aid-and-gold color scheme specific to Duran Duran album art and 1990s orthodontists.

Due in part to that decor — which left him sidestepping back and forth across a stage built for endless bar mitzvah toasts, forever in two places at once, choreographed by the same Satanic minions who make those stupid carnival-game milk bottles impossible to hit — Nasty Nigel looked much like he does in the ’70s-inspired press photos for El Ultimo Playboy. Which is to say, he looked something like Frank Zappa’s stunt double (can’t spell “Frank Zappa” without R-A-P!). He’s singing about getting fucked up and barfing, but watching him perform, one gets the uncanny sense that he’s carsick from time travel.

If there’s one character in fiction or history who matches up with Nasty Nigel, it’s Sushi K — a rapper who hangs out at an elite hacker bar in the Matrix-like Metaverse of Neal Stephenson’s vanguard 1992 cyberpunk novel Snow Crash. Stephenson’s hackers can transcend the platform’s design and encoded physics, meaning Sushi K can hack his own hair until it’s large enough to fill his surroundings. He’s happiest when performing, whether it’s for “actual homeboys” or “thrashers … who like both rap music and heavy metal.” (Perhaps, like Nigel, Sushi K would have put his tape out on Looking Stupid, the boutique label started and managed by Jesse Miller-Gordon of NYHC outfit Sick Feeling.)

That’s Nigel, on stage and on record, dancing hair-first through time’s octaves; negotiating how much space he has between meat and pixel, cassette and SoundCloud, cyberpunk in 1992 and the ’64 World’s Fair; stalling out on a dial-up-modem-slow bass line or sugary kiddie booze. On Friday, the crowd of actual homeboys and thrashers gazed toward him, surrendering the present, distracted by El Ultimo Playboy — the man who has apparently hacked the Metaverse.