BLU / “Blu Raps Mixtape”
I listen to contemporary rap like some people listen to classical music, i.e. mainly for educational purposes. Some of it I like, a few rhymes, a couple of songs, I really dig. I know what I like but I don’t know enough about what I like to make any kind of serious statement. I mean I can’t contextualize the stuff, can’t recognize deep references, don’t know the history like talking about it. But I got an ear and I listen, plus I work with high school students every work day and they help keep me up on what’s going down, although truth be told far too much of what they listen to his what they hear on the radio rather than sounds they have searched for on the internet or on the advice of a friend who’s a hip hop head. All of which is preamble. To make it plain: I’m checking this young west coast rapper called Blu (without the “e”). Some writers refer to his work as “confessional rap.” Rather than sexually graphic and verbally exhibitionist explicit, this cat not only spills his guts, he also reveals his inner thoughts as well as the life experiences that are the wallpaper inside his head. Plus—and this is a real hard plus—rather than working one groove or one particular style, Blu rocks a really, really broad variety of styles, beats and samples, “broad variety” as in like Premier’s record collection, which is to say any time you listen to Blu there could be at least sixteen different references from hard core alternative to keeping it krunk, from the Beatles to an obscure movie.
As I was coming up, the rapper that made me want to rap was DMX. I got DMX’s first album It’s Dark and Hell is Hot and I was like, "Oh shit I gotta be a rapper." I thought Mase was dope too. That’s what actually got me into DMX. From there, I went from DMX to Redman to Canibus. “4, 3, 2, 1” was my shit. Then I got into Common. I actually heard “I Used to Love H.E.R.” after missing the first album. When I heard it, it really changed my life. I felt like I had heard Hip Hop for the first time. It made me change my content and my whole approach. It made me serious about writing and wanting to say something. A lot of my influences now come from older music. I got into stuff while growing up like Curtis Mayfield, Al Green and Marvin Gaye. I listened to a lot of Jazz that my grandparents were listening to like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Dorothy Ashby. My musical approach even more so right now is influenced by the scene in L.A. like Sa-Ra, Flying Lotus, J. Davey, Ta’Raach, Madlib. The L.A. scene is kind of smashing cats. It’s not street or Hip Hop but it’s all rooted from both. It’s kind of like people say Hip Hop is dead but it’s not. It’s true but only in the sense of that original feeling or sound not being replicated well. But if you open up your ears you can see where Hip Hop is going. It’s just branched off. A lot of new artists are merging many different genres of music. Everybody in L.A. pretty much does like 3 genres of music when they put out a record. It’s not just Hip Hop. It’s not just R&B or Jazz or Funk. It’s all that meshed together. —BluBlu dropped his debut album, Below The Heavens, in 2007. Below was a collaboration with DJ Exile from the group Emanon. By the beginning of 2009, Blu had gifted his fans with two other albums: The Piece Talks – 2008 and Johnson & Jonson – 2008. Blu also produced three mixtapes: So(ul) - 2008 Amazing and So(ul) Amazing 2 - 2009 were done with DJ Heat, and Her Favorite Colo(u)r – (2009) is self produced. Each of the three album releases was produced with a different DJ, each with its own sound that was very different one from the others. As for as producing a lot of music in different styles, Blu is a hip hop Miles Davis. Finally, Blu’s debut, Below The Heavens, is widely considered a major rap record. A part of that excellence is due to DJ Exile who, much like Blu, is able to mix-up and mash-up different references into one song. They are way pass simple sampling or simply dropping obscurities and calling it profound because most people have not heard the originals. What Blu and DJ Exile achieved was a unique sound. They are actually doing sonic collages, audio montages on the artistic level of Romare Bearden. Blu is particularly insightful in describing the underlying contradictions and inadequacies that mire far too many of us in failure, especially when we over-compensate our flaws and weaknesses by loud bravado and cheap (or, worse yet, expensive) bling. Below The Heavens has the gravity of Nas’ debut, Illmatic. But beyond Blu’s beginning, I’m personally slightly in awe of Blu’s recent mixtape, Her Favorite Colo(u)r. Blu did his own production work and that makes the mixtape that much more amazing; sort of like Prince doing all the instruments, singing and self-producing his early albums. Her Favorite Colo(u)r is thirty minutes long but in that short space Blu indicates he has a much broader vision than just dropping a head nod club track and then guesting on a head noddin’ club mixtape and then producing a hip head noddin’ club mix, followed by a head noddin’ club hit as a sequel to the last head noddin’… but hey you already understand what I’m saying.
DX: Listening to your album Below the Heavens took me back to similar situations that I went through and I’m sure it had a similar effect on others who’ve heard the album. Do you have any stories of fans coming up to you telling how much your music touched them? Blu: Yeah, man. I’ve had some extreme stories from that album. That’s really some shit that fucked me up just how touched people were from certain songs on the album. Like they’d be going through real, real serious shit in their lives and would be like they were listening to the album to help them get through it. And I’m like, "Nigga, you’re going through way harder shit than I was ever going through." I remember this one time where this chick was deaf man. And she’d told me that she would put her hands on the speaker when her friends would play my music and the vibration from my music was like no other. So she felt like she was obligated to send me a message and tell me that. —BluBlu is sneaking up on writing that elusive literary holy grail: the great American novel. His references make clear that he has read. His rhymes are beyond simply being clever. No mere word play, here we have topics, ideas, observations, reflections, meditations, all done straight up in the open. A major part of Blu’s success is the result of his use of the internet and his practice of giving away his mixtapes and singles on his myuspace page. Most of his music gets picked up by hip hop bloggers and passed on endlessly. Go here to download Her Favorite Colo(u)r mixtape.
The industry is so open now you can just do whatever you want. That’s the illest thing about being an artist in 2008. If you want to be an artist you can literally wake up and be an artist. There’s so many ways to get exposure nowadays that you don’t really need labels. They help out but you can do a lot on your own. And there’s an ear for anything you create. There’s so much music that’s out there somebody is going to like it. Someone’s going to hear your music and be like, "That’s the shit I’m fucking with right there." The game in 2008 is not perfect and people complain and complain about how wack music is, but there’s so much dope shit out there if you just turn the radio and TV off. I find ill shit all the fucking time and I’m like there’s way too much music out there. —BluJohnson Barnes, bka Blu, was born April 15, 1983 in Inglewood, California. Blu was selected Rookie of the Year in 2007 by HipHopDX and XXL magazine’s Top 10 Freshmen of 2009. In February 2009 Blu signed with Sire/Warner Bros. Thus far Blu has managed to achieve both critical and commercial success, hopefully he can maintain. Of course, it is really too soon to tell but so far, so good… —Kalamu ya Salaam Blu Raps Mixtape Playlist 1. Blu on his development – Interview, The Sound of Young America 2. “Another Day” - Lifted EP 3. “Dancing In The Rain” - Below The Heavens 4. “Blu Colla Workers” - Below The Heavens 5. “The Only Way” - Powders&Oils 6. “My World Is...” - Below The Heavens 7. “Simply Amazin' ” - Below The Heavens 8. “The Times” - DJ Heat Presents Blu (So)ul Amzing … 9. “Amnesia” - HerFavoriteColo(u)r. 10. “Morning” - HerFavoriteColo(u)r. 11. “Melo” - HerFavoriteColo(u)r. 12. “Baby Don't Leave Me Now” - DJ Heat Presents Blu (So)ul Amzing … 13. “Wind(terludeOne)” - HerFavoriteColo(u)r. 14. “Vanity” - HerFavoriteColo(u)r. 15. “Been Such a Longtime” - Powders&Oils 16. “In Remembrance...” - Below The Heavens 17. “The Narrow Path” - Lifted EP 18. “Up All Night” - Powders&Oils 19. “Go For The Gusto Room (feat. BoBo Lamb)” - Powders&Oils 20. “Party of Two” - Below The Heavens 21. “First Things First (Ft. Miguel Jontel)” - Below The Heavens 22. “No Greater Love” - Below The Heavens 23. “Good Life (Show Me) (Ft. Joseph & Aloe Blacc)” - Below The Heavens 24. “Hold On John (feat. John Lennon)” - Powders&Oils 25. “CRACHAUSE” - The Piece Talks / Blu & Ta'Raach (C.R.A.C. Knuckles) 26. “Gone” - DJ Heat Presents Blu (So)ul Amazing … 27. “For Whom The Bell Tolls (feat. Phonte, Blu, And Will.i.am)” - DJ Heat Presents Blu (So)ul Amazing … 28. Blu on Below the Heavens – Interview, The Sound of Young America
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