Appreciation Post: Blu & Exile “Below the Heavens”


photo.jpgSometimes this view gets me all sentimental, especially after a long walk around town. That walk gave me time to bump some albums on the iPod that I had put aside for a while. That’s why I want to bring it way back to 2007 and show some TT love to Blu and Exile’s LP “Below the Heavens”, my favorite album from 2007–and maybe the last 3 years or so.

It’s been a while since we’ve had an emcee with the package that Blu brings to the table. He mixes an accessible personality with excellent flow, clear delivery, and some clever rhymes. I ain’t crowning him the next Jigga, but he is an emcee that many should envy. More importantly, he has the “stamina”, if you will, to lace an entire 15-track album with solid rhymes. Stamina is perhaps an inexact word, because Blu also manages to avoid the fatal flaw of many emcees: over-extending one’s self. You gotta know your limits, and this guy does.

And Exile’s beats? I’ve struggled to describe his style to other beat heads, and why they should feel his shit. Without playing his music, it hasn’t worked well. I’ve tried a few metaphors that ultimately don’t work. Suffice it to say that he’s able take some of the production methods and elements that we appreciate, yet still sound authentic, instead of genre-driven.  Make no mistake, I’m cognizant of the fact that my tastes here can often fall into an identifiable market niche. My more mainstream-oriented friends are quick to remind me of this fact. But Exile is able to tweak his beats in a way that retains the elements I like, while keeping it interesting. For instance, I like the way he syncopates the high-hats on a lot of his beats. His snares have authentic sound to them. They don’t blow out your ear drums like Black Milk’s or Just Blaze’s perhaps; no matter how great of a snare it is, it just kind of plays along with all of the other elements, in a very egalitarian way. On top of all this, Exile isn’t afraid to let a beat ride out at the end of a track, or to incorporate some changes halfway into the beat. In short, Exile is an excellent producer.

Together, Blue & Exile gave us what had to be one of the most coherent LPs from 2007. No track stood out as the “single” track, or the “b-side” track, or anything like that. “Below the Heavens” was a throwback to an earlier time when an album didn’t have to be all things to all people. It wasn’t an iTunes a la carte, cocktail-hour hors devours platter. It was momma-style, home cooked meal with the veggies, meat and starch all working together; from start to finish.

Blu rhymes his ass off on some serious shit here. Whether it’s about insecurity (“Dancing in the Rain”), striving for morality (“Narrow Path”), love & fidelity (“Greater Love”), upward mobility (“Good Life”), and personal humility (“Blue Collar Worker”). But he ain’t preachy–a delicate balancing act for anyone in today’s hip-hop culture which generally frowns upon serious introspection (not to be confused with Kanye’s navel-gazing, and whining on Graduation, which I discuss here). This is no small feat.

And Exile chops up a beat in way that evokes Dilla’s Donuts stuff. It’s always unpredictable, and retains the soulfulness of the original track in a way that is satisfying to the trained ear of any fan of soul music (See: “Blu Collar Worker” and my favorite track “Below the Heavens Pt. I”).

I’d like to get into more tracks at a later date, I just needed to take some time out to express my appreciation for this album. Last year was a great year for hip-hop at many levels of the industry food chain. But “Below the Heavens” stands apart from even that distinguished pack as an album worthy of comparison to my mom’s home cooking–no small compliment.



4 Responses to “Appreciation Post: Blu & Exile “Below the Heavens””

  1. Peter Squire Says:

    Seriously, Blu’s a multi-tooled emcee – and he does it all well…great story teller (see “In Remembrance…”) and his delivery is so crisp. You can put him over a range of different producers and he’d kill it…

    He goes so well with the reverberating soul of Exile’s beats though…

  2. CL Says:

    “I ain’t crowning him the next Jigga….” I should have stopped reading after that. Jay-Z is someone whose success far surpasses his talents. And besides that he’s not in the same league as Blu. He just isn’t.

  3. heath Says:

    i’ve listened to AT LEAST one blu track every day since buying the album back in october. below the heavens is by far one of the best albums in the last 5 years, if not 10 years.

  4. Tarzan Says:

    this album is great, one of the only albums that can be compared to “illmatic”

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