Devin Bailey, the rapper, producer, and singer who records as Pink Navel, has an effervescent and nasal voice, an extensive knowledge of animated television, and an immense, somewhat intimidating pool of references and SAT words. Thankfully, the term “nerd” no longer stings like an insult—these days, it’s more like a term of endearment. On the charming How to Capture Playful, Pink Navel teams up with Los Angeles producer Kenny Segal to celebrate nerdom with joyous raps that revolve around their enduring love of video games.
In games, Bailey finds a way to process the intricacies of existence and as well as a place to disappear when life gets too overwhelming. “I’m thinking that a game can make the pain stop,” they rap on “Cracked,” sounding almost surprised to admit it out loud. Little moments here and there indicate how deeply the subject is woven into Bailey’s life. They play anytime they have to wait in line (“Memory Card”); they sit all day with the controller in their lap, poised to respawn at a moment’s notice (“Reset”); they estimate that their hours of screen time stretch well into the triple digits (“Synergy”).
Gamer life can be isolating, but Bailey doesn’t wallow in darkness or escapism. While they occasionally question the space their hobby takes up, they also relish the wonder and meaning it provides. In “Maps & Navigation,” which is ostensibly about in-game cartography, Bailey ruminates on what it is to be present, how following a set path may not take you where you need to be. In “Present Vendor,” they rap glowingly about Beedle, the merchant who appears throughout The Legend of Zelda series, transforming him from a bit character to a working-class hero. Beedle could be the friendly bodega clerk who remembers your usual order or the postal worker who keeps the line moving efficiently.
Kenny Segal responds to Bailey’s whimsy with an equally spirited palette. The beats are a far cry from the ramshackle doom jazz he provided to billy woods on Maps, instead feeling more akin to the pastoral instrumentals on his 2018 solo album happy little trees. He supplies Bailey with shivering psych-folk flutes (“Speedrun”), distorted 8-bit jazz (“Hours Played”), and lush loops (“Poet Gang Playing Cards”). Each track feels bright and slightly over-caffeinated, goofily stumbling over itself to create space for Bailey’s infinitely unspooling rhyme schemes.