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On a recent Monday afternoon, Fort Lauderdale-based rapper Bleubird (born Jacques Bruna) is on a mission to find the perfect pair of shoes and hat. They need to match a blue-and-orange suit he 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 debut, Cannonball!!!.
New Times has been invited along on this fashion hunt, and a heavily tattooed, bespectacled Bruna 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 that lives in an outdoor pond. Parked outside is the Freeebird — yes, with an extra e — a small RV given to him by Grimm Image Records.
This nomadic lifestyle and rapping career wasn't necessarily the path Bleubird set out on more than a decade ago. But while living in Orlando and attending college, he met Wesley Pentz — now known as Diplo — who took him to see a Das EFX show one evening. There, Bleubird was introduced to the Nature Kids, a New Smyrna-based band that would end up taking him on tour. In 1999, he quit school and his job, leaving Orlando in the rear-view mirror to hit the road.
"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."
A few minutes later, we climb into his primary form of transportation, the Freeebird. And cruising down Broward Boulevard to the Swap Shop, Bruna discusses the time he was invited into a youth prison in Portland, Maine, to teach a rap workshop.
"I've performed in front of thousands of people, in crazy foreign countries by myself, but when it came to doing 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 hood ornament. "Shit, this would be so perfect for the video," he says, snapping a photo on his iPhone.
Despite constantly touring and taking up residence in cities all over the world, including Berlin and Montreal, Bleubird will always call South 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.
The following Saturday afternoon, the "Pimp Hand" video shoot commences in Miami with more than a dozen people participating. While Bleubird and a motley crew run amok on the streets of graffiti-covered Wynwood, his police friend has been standing by since 7 a.m. to ensure that the production isn't shut down. And 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 decade-long career? Bruna explains with confidence that it hasn't been due to a lack of effort. And he believes 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 has never created. It includes "Geihe 1977," dedicated to his father's hometown — the small village of Bonfigliara, Italy — and named after the bottles of wine his grandfather made the year Bruna was born.
The project took more than a year to finish and required Bruna to again move outside his comfort zone.
"I really took a huge leap of faith with making this album," he says. "I didn't go too far to where I'm like, 'Wow, that's not me.' I can still see it as being me... At the end of the day, I'm happy with what I did. I can live with myself."