New Album Heralds Return of Hip-Hop Duo Passalacqua

The self-titled album is eight years in the making. Watch the video premiere for the album’s lead single, “Catmandance,” right now:

What a breath of fresh air this is, and maybe even a little bit nostalgic, to be able to dive into a new album from Passalacqua. Fans of this rap group in the early 2010s will remember the sheer magnetism of their live shows, their effervescent charisma and their thrilling, seemingly untamable energy. For a furious five-year run, wherever Passalacqua was performing, you wanted to be in that room.

It’s been almost four years since we’ve heard Brent Smith and Bryan Lackner (known as Blaksmith and Mister respectively), but this week they’ve unveiled the new Passalacqua LP, released on the 10-year anniversary of their debut EP.

The new album was produced by Zach Shipps and has been a steady work in progress over the course of eight years. Today, they’re premiering a new music video (featuring House of Jit) for the album’s lead single, “Catmandance,” directed by Hayward Crawford.

Watch the premiere for “Catmandance” and read more about Passalacqua’s return below:

“(‘Catmandance’) is special because we distinctly went in wanting to make a different type of sound,” says Smith. “We got really nerdy about how we wanted this track to come across and how we wanted it to hit the ears. And, by now, it’s been through so many different phases and versions—I’m just excited for people to hear it.”

“Zach (Shipps) brought something to (this album) that we’d never done before,” adds Lackner. “This was Zach’s first real foray into hip-hop, so that made it all even more unique because he was coming from such a different mindset.”

You can hear hints of instrumental contributions from the lyricists, themselves—Lackner added some live drum parts and Smith got behind the keyboard a few times. Lackner says that “it was cool to experiment. The idea of ‘making an album’ was actually at the back of our minds, and it was more about just making cool sounds in the immediate moment, and being able to try stuff like a vibraphone, or a vintage synth.”

An Album 8 Years In The Making

Hayward Crawford
Hayward Crawford

Smith and Lackner first visited Shipps’ studio, dubbed “Rancho Verde,” in late winter 2012. Their somewhat nonchalant “let’s see where this goes” approach steadily developed into a creatively exhilarating experience where these two rap artists could envelop their rhymes and their distinct voices within a new palette of sounds that expanded the possibilities for their arrangements.

But what took so long? “I just got really in my own head about my lyrics and what I was conveying,” says Smith. “We all have our identities, and the way we’re perceived, but we really have so many layers. We were seen as the party guys (in the early 2010s), but the reality is that I can be a real hermit! And there were some serious dips in this project, to where we wanted to be darker, we wanted to talk about grief. I was experiencing grief over this time, same with Zach and Bryan; there were people in each our lives that we cared about who had all just been going through a rough couple of years.”

A Renewed Focus on Mental Health

The Passalacua LP is their fourth full-length album, accompanied by three EPs. The act’s last major span of activity and live appearances was in 2017. Prior to that, though, it had seemed like Passalacqua were riding the crest of a comet, career-wise. They were honored as Kresge Fellows, hit the road for a series of tours and then came back to portion some of their attention and energy toward nonprofit causes, on top of consistently churning out albums.

“If this (album) can be just a little bit of a nice thing in the midst of it all, then that’s all I can really ask for.” — Bryan Lackner

Between families and day-jobs, that was a lot to take on. Smith emphasizes that it was necessary to start addressing his own mental health. “I found I had a hard time sitting still, asking myself, ‘How do I even relax? How do I not burn out?’” Smith says. “These are questions my friends are still toiling with so that commitment to mental health was also heavy on this project.”

The duo has been refocusing their energies over the last three years; Lackner has maintained momentum since the spring of 2019 when he released the full-length album Approaching Land, and Smith recently released his own solo project, You Don’t Have To.

Both agreed that the timing felt right, this week, to finally release this album.

“The fact is that there’s so much that’s not good… right now,” explains Lackner. “If this (album) can be just a little bit of a nice thing in the midst of it all, then that’s all I can really ask for. It’s not an easy thing to be promoting anything right now, but we wanted people to hear these songs — the people that have supported us for a long time are going to be really happy.”

Both Lackner and Smith say that later this year, when the time and circumstances are right, they’re both eager to arrange for a release party. For now, enjoy the new album. It’s been a minute, but we’ve finally got some new Passalacqua to listen to…

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  • Jeff Milo
    Jeff Milo is the host of "MI Local" on 101.9 WDET. He's a longtime music journalist documenting the Michigan scene for 20 years.