The marriage of a talented rapper to a astute producer is so essential to making a killer album, or collaboration overall. Finding that perfect beat, sample or rhythm and pairing it with sweet pure poetry can bring out something beautiful and at times profound. Enter Blu & Exile, a duo made up of West Coast rapper Johnson Barnes (Blu) and DJ/producer Aleksander Manfredi (Exile) who relish in that classic sound of old world street hip-hop leading many fans of the underground hip-hop scene to consistently claim that they are one of the most underrated acts out there. One listen to one of their tracks and such an assertion rings too true – Blu and Exile are a brilliant pair.
Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them, the duo’s 2012 release is addicting upon immediate listen. Barnes, with his school boy voice layered with clever verses speaks fast, is playful but has purpose. “Part author, mom got the French side, I was this high French-kissing when i was six like young John Goddard” he suggests tying together a tone both mischievous and romantic – vulgarity is at a minimum with Blu who prefers a youthful relevancy that feels genuine. And Exile doesn’t miss a beat either – each song comes with a carefully calculated sampling and assortment of backbeats that is effortlessly enjoyable to the listener. Together the pair are seamlessly sophisticated – Blu sounding like a young vagabond of sorts trying to find meaning in modernity and Exile providing a fluid and gorgeous assortment of noise for the rapper to use as a verbal gymnasium. The songs sound like exercises in easy philosophy and snippets of 90’s dreams – emotionally whole, slick sounding and wordy.
It’s hard to pick a favourite song off the album, their all actually really good. ‘Growing Pains’, featuring Fashawn and Johaz is one of those songs that makes you think immediately ‘Oh, this is hip hop”. And to some extent the whole album carries with it that attitude, like its trying to remind its audience not to forget the roots of the genre. ‘Good Morning Neighbour’ and ‘Ease Your Mind’ both sound like ultimate chill tracks – you know, Sunday afternoon jams, while something like ‘Maybe One Day’ (a personal favourite of mine) has a more urgent tone of rap and rhythm. “The Only One” swings in like a typically self-reflective number, exploring personal history and internal conflict, Blu belts “I even went through the phase as an angry ass black man, I played the pan-african for a week”. A heavier song in content, but brilliantly paired with a breezy sample Exile gives the song a airy quality of contemplation. And thats really a recurring motif throughout Give Me My Flowers, the idea that potent and brainy rap need not only exist in a sombre arena. Easy melodies with a flair for romantic sensibility and smooth cool noise gives such poetry an added element of ‘movement’, as if the singer is in transition, reflecting on their life in a manner that is not too serious but still inquisitive.
On another note, hello everyone. I think i’ve been MIA for a month, so i’m back now with a nice fall line up of artists to bombard everyone with and make wild claims about ‘the perfect autumn song‘ and ‘what October is ALL about‘. Seriously though, get the year started with hip hop that sounds old school. Blu & Exile are an incredibly talented group and it’s really a shame that they aren’t a bigger deal. I constantly wonder when i listen to brilliant hip hop how we managed, as a society to allow Two Chainz to dominate the billboards. Blu & Exile’s older stuff are just as promising as this album, so do check it out – buy dat shiet – listen to it on your commute to work/school/anywhere else, you’ll love it.