Long Beach's Blu: 'I’m not going to save hip-hop. Hip-hop is safe.'
Long Beach-based rapper Blu has released two albums in the last year, "The Piece Talks" with Ta'Raach in a project they dubbed C.R.A.C., and "Johnson & Jonson" with producer Mainframe, but it's "Below the Heavens," released in 2007 through Sound in Color and produced by Exile, that first put Inglewood native John Barnes on the map.
Blu, who will perform Sunday at the Blue Cafe in Long Beach, recently signed with Sire Records, owned by Warner Music Group. His manager Jonathan Kim said about the move to the major, “This is one step further to where we would like to see Blu’s career end up." He added that Blu’s working on an album slated for a fall release.
Critics have praised Blu, 25, for his storytelling approach, such as “In Remembrance of Me” where he says, “We pushing whips/now we used to be whipped/rocking chains when we used to be in 'em/still complaining that we victims of the system.”
He also pokes fun at the materialistic, gangsta persona that defines mainstream hip-hop without sounding self-righteous. In “My World Is...," he says, “Females I don’t got ’em/but get ’em with no problem/and I don’t pack stadiums yet I still rock ’em."
After 120 performances in 2008, Blu appeared on the January cover of XXL as an emerging artist. Blu recently spoke with Pop & Hiss about his success so far:
How would you sum up your career so far?
Things are going great. I’ve had good public reception on my first three albums. I’m getting a wide range of mass appeal. The success of the records have been different, but the critical acclaim has been great. I’m passionate about my work, and what inspires my work keeps me passionate. I try to stay inspired.
What keeps you inspired?
God and women. Whatever I do is God. Whatever anyone does is God. Anything he created is inspiration and can be used for inspiration. Women are the greatest creations that God has given me. They drive me crazy.
For people not familiar with your work, break down your three albums.
“Below the Heavens" was all about patience. It took a lot of time. Exile was looking for something closely related to what he used to work on in his old material in "Dirty Science." Where my mind was at the time, we took the time to make a dope record.
What was on your mind at the time?
I was quitting my job and doing it all for the music. I stepped out of everything and gave it all to music and traveling and meeting people. I was writing raps and going to clubs to host events. I was a host when I was 18 at Universal CityWalk and I’d perform at the end of the night. That went well and that’s where I met fans and got a nice foundation.
And what about your other two albums, C.R.A.C.'s "The Piece Talks" and "Johnson & Jonson"?
C.R.A.C. was seven days of schooling. We just went in with no rules and learned from our experiences. We had no limitations and never looked back and that was it. I was doing a lot of drinking and a lot of smoking. That’s when I first started smoking. I was going off that energy. People came by to add to the inspiration. Ta’Raach is an MC first, then he steps into production. Exile is a producer first and then he rhymes. Ta’Raach is coming at it from an MC’s perspective. The songs are formatted for MCs. I was working on "Johnson & Jonson" and "Below the Heavens" around the same time. I was working there and having friends come by while making a dope record. It was raw.
Who are your main hip-hop influences?
Common got me more into rapping. He was personal and made me not afraid to be me. DMX made me want to start rapping off my energy and passion. But I needed to get off that. Common was calm with it. I’m a calm person and I’m not trying to throw my voice out... I’m just rapping. Anything Primo produced is what I’m looking for. And Nas’ "Illmatic" is the type of album I’d want to make.
Mainframe summarized your rapping this way: “A lot of rappers try to fit into a certain mold, but Blu breaks out of it. No matter what he’s rapping about, he finds a way to make the listener relate. He’s conscious but not soft. I think he’s the savior of West Coast hip-hop right now." What’s your reaction to that?
I’m not going to save hip-hop. Hip-hop is safe. There’s a lot of... trying to bring hip-hop down. Hip-hop is a reflection of the world now. It’s not just Harlem. I’ll continue to live my life and make music and continue to be an inspiration.
-- Mark Medina
Blu and Exile at the Blue Cafe, 210 Promenade, Long Beach. (562) 983-7111. $15-$20. 7 p.m. Sunday.
Photo by Ryan Lewis