By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
It's been just another day at the office for 26-year-old Richard Escobedo.
But even though the work's done at his day job as the in-house photographer for the Plano-based remote control car company Traxxas, his day as a whole? It's just beginning, because, after a quick stop at an Uptown coffeehouse for this very interview, the hip-hop producer who goes by the name of Picnic will really start working.
Tonight, the task at hand is a collaboration he's been working on with longtime area hip-hop favorite, Astronautalis. For a year now, the two have been working together—mostly online, via Web chat—on their project, called Max Moon. But this backpacker-meets-dancehall Internet experiment, inspired by the way Dangermouse and Cee-Lo collaborated online on their first Gnarls Barkley album, is just one of the many projects Picnic's working on at the moment—and just one of the many he hopes to release on listeners in the near, borderline overwhelming future.
Just don't bother asking him to name all of them. He can't.
"It's a lot, dude," he says after listing six of his current projects, sighing, slumping in his chair and effectively giving up on trying to remember. "It's a lot."
Included among those he can recall at the moment: collaborating with long-revered local rapper Headkrack on a project called Diabolical Fancy, based in more of an old-school realm; working alongside the rest of Erykah Badu's producer collective The Cannabinoids on their upcoming debut album; creating the beats for a mixtape he hopes will propel his friend, Los Angeles-based rapper Johnny Polygon, to the next level; producing a sanctioned remix for the upcoming, highly anticipated, Kanye West-approved Kid Cudi debut album; helping hip-hop radio and television personality/talking head Amanda Diva shape the sound of her upcoming record; and, lastly, working on his own solo debut, which, Picnic admits, might be the most difficult of them all to complete—mostly because he doubts that too many people really want to hear him expounding on the difficulties of dating.
Thing is, people clearly do want to hear Picnic's work. Picnic's synth-heavy beats are largely cutting-edge affairs, ripe for even more attention than they're currently getting, melding elements of electronica, dance and backpacker hip-hop into a striking sound that's A) immediately recognizable as his, and B) largely different from the rest of the beats coming out of Dallas at the moment—a sound dubbed by The New York Times earlier this week as "post-snap-music dance-craze rap." Whereas those D-Town Boogie beats are largely simple and repetitive, Picnic's are far more complex and progressive—which means they take time to create. Time Picnic doesn't necessarily have at the moment.
"I just have a lot of appreciation for the artists I work with," Picnic says. "They're being really patient with me."
Thing is, 13 months ago, none of this seemed likely. At that point, Picnic was still working almost exclusively on one project: the much-loved trio of himself and longtime area MCs Pikahsso and Tahiti in PPT. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, just two months after releasing its sophomore record, Denglish, the group disbanded.
"It was more of a miscommunication than anything else," Picnic now says of the breakup. "It was definitely a miscommunication. I don't want to point fingers, but there were things going on without me even knowing, and that upset me—even if it wasn't meant like that."
Considering, however, that PPT was Picnic's first experience with live performance and that his participation in the group helped make him a recognizable name amongst area hip-hop heads, a year removed from PPT's demise, Picnic's more grateful to Pikahsso and Tahiti for taking a chance on a relative unknown like him more than anything. Before that, after all, he was just a message board lurker making beats on his computer.
"I don't regret anything we did with PPT," Picnic says. "Not one bit. I learned so much from being in that group. PPT was a very good thing."
As PPT rose in prominence, so did Picnic's profile. And with more and more MCs—both locally and beyond—hearing his beats and production work and knocking on his door, asking for his assistance, he was getting pulled in too many directions at once. PPT's dissolution, for better or worse, meant more time for Picnic's other, newfound collaborations.
The exciting news? In the coming weeks and months, those projects will start to see the light of day; Picnic expects both Diabolical Fancy and Max Moon to release their debut discs in the next two or three months, with his solo project's debut and The Cannabinoids' first release not too far behind. And after that?
"Hopefully something will come up," Picnic says with a smile.
Hasn't been a problem so far.