Four years ago, a scarcely known local rapper-producer combination named Blu and Exile dropped "Below the Heavens" on the independent label Sound Is Color. It's impact far exceeded what everyone could have guessed at the time.
The last decade found underground hip-hop fans periodically seeking saviors. As with Talib Kweli, Common and Little Brother before him, Blu briefly shouldered the burden of being a would-be messiah. Along with that distinction, his debut was hailed as a classic in quarters sympathetic to soul samples and nostalgic lyrics.
The problem was that Blu clearly never relished the role. Rather than make a "Below the Heavens Part 2," he signed to Warner Bros and practically fell off the face of the Earth. While many of his peers concoted slick marketing campaigns or cultivated massive Twitter followings, Blu released under-promoted psychedelic, jazz-tinted mixtape/albums, unmastered and with dubious sound qualities. Some of the music was excellent, some was clearly slap-dash, but the San Pedro-raised rapper's talent always allowed him to keep things interesting.