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25 July, 2007@12:00 am

      Let’s face it – hip-hop has become stale as of late. We haven’t seen a classic debut from a new artist in who knows how long, or for that matter, even a really strong first offering. The major label market doesn’t know how to make a solid album (and are now paying for it), while the indie market is shrinking thanks to illegal downloads, not letting new artists get the chance to even be heard. But with nobody coming to the table with anything interesting as of late, what’s the point? 

      Enter Blu and Exile’s Below The Heavens. At the time of recording this LP, Blu was a 22 year old aspiring emcee from Los Angeles; one unaffected by the pressures of the major labels to make gangsta rap or pop hits. His partner, Exile, is one-half of the criminally slept on duo Emanon (who at this point really should consider changing their name to “Aloe Blacc & Exile”). Here, the world is introduced to Blu with an honest, autobiographical LP, produced by Exile with a classic hip-hop sound. 

      The album begins with “My World Is….”, which might sound familiar, thanks to Exile’s re-freaking of The Dells sample last used by Smut Peddlers & Alchemist. A wise move however, as the familiarity of the beat (now applied to Blu’s namesake) instantly grabs the listener, while Blu introduces himself and shows off his natural skill. He follows up with his little heard debut single, “The Narrow Path”, which finds him vividly describing the infamous struggle over rolling funk drums and chopped psychadelica. Here, is the first evidence that Blu actually knows how to make songs (not just dope rhymes), as he provides one of the album’s many sung hooks. 

     This talent extends itself throughout virtually the entire LP, as Blu finds brilliant chemistry with Exile’s production. Case in point is “Dancin’ In The Rain”, where Blu channels his pain into a beautifully written song about dealing with the issues of everyday adult life. Again on “In Remembrance”, Exile provides one of those heartstring tugging hip-hop beats with feeling, as Blu looks back on his life thus far. “So Amazin” is another bittersweet Exile beat, where Blu describes himself as “a mix of Al Green and ‘Pac”, with a cut up M.O.P. sample for the hook. As an added bonus, there’s a brilliant scratch routine at the end of the song that only the longtime fans of hip-hop will understand and appreciate. 

     Blu also spends much of the album on the subject of relationships. “Blu Collar Worker” is a humorous rant that finds Blu trying to balance his career and his love life, over Exile’s raw, chopped pianos. “First Things First” is a classically structured hip-hop love song, where Blu struggles to find the right words to say to a new lady he just met, while “Greater Love” flawlessly captures an obsession with the girl of his dreams. 

     Much of the album is taken from an autobiographical perspective, with his straightforward, regular-guy approach to emceeing providing an honest look at his life. With his words flowing naturally off the tongue, Blu’s style is much more convincing, not to mention more down-to-earth, than your average flossy emcee. Songs like “Good Life” and “Below The Heavens” are so perfectly executed, thanks to Blu’s inspiring rhymes, and Exile’s feel-good production that accompany them. 

     Remarkably consistent, perhaps the only real flaws with this LP are a few songs that don’t fit in with the rest of the album. Coincidentally, this happens when guest emcees enter the fold, who simply don’t hold a candle next to Blu. “Juice ‘n Dranks” is the album’s most minimalist track, which features Blu and Ta’raach (together as C.R.A.C. Knucks) trading rhymes over a sparse beat, unfortunately not on par with the album’s other tracks. Later on “I Am” (sort of a bonus track at the end of the LP), the same concept is executed, where the first part of the song works, as Blu flawlessly integrates his rhymes with the vocal sample in the beat itself. This works, but things go off on a strange tangent in the song’s second half, where the beat changes up and is a freestyled with Exile. For such a personal, autobiographical LP, it really should have been left up to Blu himself – no guest emcees. (Edit)

     Regardless, this is the most minor of complaints for a near perfect LP, created with the same approach that made so many LP’s in 1990′s hip-hop classics. These days, it’s tough to find even five or six songs good enough on an album, so when Blu and Exile come with a strong 15 tracks – give or take – it definitely should not be overlooked. These guys may be virtual unknowns now, but surely are the stars tomorrow.

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1 Responses to "Blu & Exile – Below the Heavens"
  • khordkutta says:

    “Let’s face it – hip-hop has become stale as of late”

    Aint ish changed since 07 in HIPHOP… Is HIPHOP music going the way of 50s and 60s JAZZ?!?!?

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