As someone who comes completely from the perspective of a fan (not a professional industry insider) I have the usual idiosyncrasies any fan has. I have the artists I like, the artists I dislike, the artists I despise and those I have a love/hate relationship. Blu is one of those artists I have a love/hate relationship with. When I first discovered his music in late 2007, I was awed by the seamlessness of “Below The Heavens” production and the brilliance of Blu on the mic. Fast forward 2 years and I had pretty much jumped off the wagon being the fickle fan I am and hence the love and hate. I love Blu as an emcee. He doesn’t just intend to rap over a beat, he seems to create true poetry with dense metaphors and profound statements on his character. As a human I respect his individuality, willingness to take risks and courage to do it his way. As a selfish hip-hop fan with a preference for the more aggressive variety I hate the direction (production wise, he’s always been lyrically gifted) he has taken on everything after “Johnson and Jonson” and wish he had mastered “GodleeBarnesLP”. However with the release of his latest project with production partner Exile I think the wagon is inviting me back on.
This new album is apparently not that new. By all indications through interviews with the pair, it seems this album was recorded a couple of years ago and intended to be an album of “Memoirs”, as it was titled then. The other part of the story of this album was that it was leaked earlier this year, un-mastered but fortunately sense prevailed and it has now been mastered and officially released.
This album to me has served as a musical palette cleanser given the prevalent sound and direction of contemporary rap, especially the mainstream kind. I have to admit that I really had to listen to his album 3 times through before I got the “g*d damn!!” moment. Because of Exiles production style I think this is an album that some people may toss out before really giving it a chance. Exile stays sample based with no synths around for miles and its hard to articulate exactly what the sound is like in words. All I can say is that on first listen they sound like melodies and sounds that come from a TV commercial but then on repeat listens you realize how dense, complicated and diverse the sounds are. Using everything from “Mr Rogers Neighbourhood” TV show on “Good Morning Neighbour”, to free jazz sounding tracks like “I am Jean” to a more funk inspired sound on “Money”. Even with the diversity there is still a jazzy consistency throughout the whole album that makes it wonderfully cohesive and flow beautifully.
The album is introduced by an instrumental that essentially sets the tone for the rest of the album, we then go into hearing from Blu for the first time on “Ease Your Mind” which is what I’ll describe as a bouncy jazzy track with Blu harmonizing some of his lyrics with the help of (an unknown and unnamed) female singer. When rapping he goes straight into the obtuse poetic style that I love to hear from him while he essentially talks to the listener about easing their mind about his everyday struggles and perception of the world….”….holding change like it never made sense to these eyes”. The bouncy-ness and uplifting theme is continued on “Maybe One Day” where Blu at first laments about the people who are in the game just for the money but then also gets introspective and pointing out his own contradictions.
“…these dreams we sell to these fiends, jailed to these things…..this bling bling, sour cream on top of everything that you think never needed sour cream, I dont know how I’m lean…. but I love sour cream…..give me cheese, give me green…..bread is all we need, head is all I need.”
“reflect when I was younger and aint have to spark nothing up, i wonder what it was that had me puffing blunts coughing my blood and guts up for a f*cking buzz?! …. bugging out on the biz when I just started getting a buzz”
On the next track “I am Jean” he goes on to admit
“I am a poet, hopeless romantic, type to hold hands, make plans and quote stanza’s……just so you can tell me how nice I am”
This is one song that needs a couple of listens to get used to the sound in order to be able to catch what Blu is saying. I say that because I found that the first couple of times I heard this song I felt it was too busy musically and at times the music seems to muffle out Blu, but on subsequent listens its a dope song.
The thing I love about Blu is that he doesnt take himself too seriously and is willing to question not only the outside world but also himself and his faults which are themes not just on the opening tracks but throughout the album. As I mentioned this album was meant be called “Memoirs”, and lyrically it is an introspective and personal glimpse into the journey of Blu and some of the guests he invites on the album. For example another beneficiary of Exile’s production is Fashawn who appears on the song “Growning Pains” with a dope but heartbreaking story of loss. Probably the song that I’ll call for my favorite for now is “The Only One” which uses a sample from Aretha Franklin, which is also used on a Danny Brown joint that is a personal favorite of mine. Blu gets pretty personal on this track and I love the beat.
“Lost my self trying to follow men, reading books to fill this hollow skin”
From both a production and lyrical stand point I have little negative to say about this album. If there are negatives I would say it comes in the form of personal taste. There is nothing on this album that sounds remotely like anything else that you are going to hear on the radio or even from other indie movements and although that is a plus for me, others will not like that and dismiss it. But Blu & Exile didnt release this with an expectation to sell millions, given they themselves leaked it earlier, this album is something that needs to be consumed and digested properly and in my opinion the effort is well worth it. Yeah I am back on the Blu wagon.
Rating: Buy 2