Blu & Exile

(Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )
Emanon: The Waiting Room (2005), 5.5/10
C.R.A.C.: The Piece Talks (2005), 5/10
Exile: Dirty Science (2006), 5/10
Blu & Exile: Below the Heavens (2007), 7/10
Johnson&Jonson: Johnson&Jonson (2008), 5/10
Sene & Blu: A Day Late & A Dollar Short (2009), 5/10
Blu: theGODleeBarnesLP (2010), 5.5/10
Blu: Open (2011), 4.5/10
Blu: Her Favorite Colo(u)r (2011), 6/10
Blu: Jesus (2011), 4.5/10
Exile: Radio (2009), 5/10
Blu: NoYork (2011), 7/10
Exile: 4TRK Mind (2011), 5/10
Blu & Exile: Give Me My Flowers (2012), 6/10
Exile: Zip Disks & Floppie (2013), 4/10
Blu: Good to Be Home (2014), 4.5/10
Blu: Bad Neighbor (2015), 5/10
Blu: Cheetah in the City (2016), 4.5/10
Blu: The Blueprint (2018), 4/10
Blu: A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night (2019), 5.5/10
Blu: Ground & Water (2019), 4/10
Emanon: Dystopia (2016), 4.5/10
Blu & Exile: Miles (2020), 6.5/10
Blu: The Color Blu(e) (2021), 4.5/10

Los Angeles' white producer Aleksander "DJ Exile" Manfredi was half of Emanon with black rapper Egbert "Aloe Blacc" Dawkins. After the mixtape Imaginary Friends (1996), the EP Acid 9 (1998), the compilation Steps Through Time (2001) and the EP Anon & On (2002), they released the album The Waiting Room (2005).

Aloe Blacc went on to pop stardom with Shine Through (2006), containing Nascimento, Good Things (2010), containing the hit I Need a Dollar, Lift Your Spirit (2013) and especially Avicii's mega-hit Wake Me Up (2013).

Exile, instead, debuted solo with Dirty Science (2006) and then formed Blu & Exile with Los Angeles' rapper Johnson "Blu" Barnes, or, better, Exile produced Blu's album Below the Heavens (2007), and turned it into a nostalgic, radio-friendly fusion of boom bap and soul. Exile propels My World Is with a loop of organ and a snippet of the Dells' cover of Paul Mauriat's Love is Blue, and then props up Blu Colla Workers and Show Me the Good Life with creative beats and arrangements. The sleazy bluesy Dancing in the Rain is emblematic of how the duo matches each other's skills. The revenge tale Cold Hearted pits Blu's noir tone against the sample of a gospel-soul song from the 1970s (the Detroit Emeralds I'll Never Sail The Sea Again). First Things First is like a cubistic version of an Hawaiian doo-wop litany. A funk fanfare percolates through The World Is Below the Heavens. The album is a tour de force for Exile. At the same time, numbers like Simply Amazin', The Narrow Path and So(ul) Amazin show Blu as a conscious everyman on a different (more adult) path than most rappers of the time. The album ends with a seven-minute I Am that becomes progressively less musical while multiple voices interact.

Blu had already released an album under the moniker C.R.A.C. titled The Piece Talks (2005), a collaboration with producer Terrell "Ta'Raach" McMathis, and was beginning a collaboration with a producer named Mainframe, documented on Johnson&Jonson (2008). Blu was becoming a producer himself. He produced New York's rapper Brian "Sene" Marc on A Day Late & A Dollar Short (2009), and then his own albums theGODleeBarnesLP (2010), whose best song is actually the one produced by Exile (NeverDream), Open (2011) and Her Favorite Colo(u)r (2011), with Amnesia. For the brief (28-minute) and amateurish Jesus (2011) and especially for NoYork (2011), reissued as York (2013) and also reissued as a four-LP set with three additional songs, he got professional help from the likes of Madlib, Alchemist, Flying Lotus and Knxwledge.

The 17-song York is the album that seriously changed his style to a more abstract and cerebral offering. Flying Lotus produced Doin' Nothin' (a booming bass wave inside an electronic stew), anthemic closer Doin' Something, and standout Everything's OK, with a female singer (Miss Jack Davey) repeating a childish singalong over a frenzied beat and videoarcade-style synth. Madlib sprinkles Jazzmen with vintage swing-era sounds to evoke a party atmosphere, and then wraps Ronald Morgan (another standout) in soul-jazz organ and stormy drumming. Samiyam produced most of the rest, notably the hazy and noir Never Be the Same, the jazzy, piano-driven Jazmine, and Soupa, drenched in the angelic vocals of Suzi Analouge. Daedelus crafts the hypnotic loop of Hours. Knxwledge's contribution is limited to the piano hiccup of Keep Ush Inn. Donell "Dibia$e" McGary produced SLNGBNGrs, heavily syncopated and devastated by videogame electronics. Shafiq Husayn penned three excellent productions: Spring Winter Summer Fall, a breezy duet with Jimetta Rose, the tribal Down to Earth, and the playful My Sunshine (with Nia Andrews). Tags is an Exile collaboration, a thick booming production.

Meanwhile, Exile produced Santiago "Fashawn" Leyva's debut album Boy Meets World (2009) and then Exile resumed his solo career with Radio (2009), 4TRK Mind (2011) and Zip Disks & Floppie (2013).

Blu and Exile reunited for Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them (2012), originally recorded in 2009, leaked in 2011 and released one year later with significant changes. Basically, here Blu atoned for his eccentric lo-fi productions and returned to a more traditional sound, and in fact Exile provided him with a relaxed and almost sleepy sound. Hence the cocktail-lounge atmosphere Maybe One Day, the quasi-bossanova of Mask Your Soul, the orchestral and pastoral The Only One (with the line "I don't want to have to die, just to feel like I'm alive"), and one of his most poetically ethereal pieces, O Heaven. Nonetheless, Exile indulges in a few eccentric and clownish productions: Berries & Juices, opener A Letter and especially closer Cent from Heaven, a sort of symphonic dadaistic ballet. He excels at the brilliantly jazzy I Am Jean. A Tom Waits sample lends Seasons a lugubrious feeling. More Out of Life is a study in contrast: it feels like the rapper is swimming against the current of wavering organ and Jasmine Mitchell's sweet whisper. Nothing is groundbreaking and the album is designed to appeal to a broad audience while homaging Blu's mature persona.

Blu continued his career both as rapper, notably on the sprawling double album Good to Be Home (2014) that he did not produce (but was still very lo-fi), and as producer, notably on the collaboration with rapper Nick "MED" Rodriguez, Bad Neighbor (2015), produced by Madlib. Blu also rapped on two EPs produced by Dominck "Nottz" Lamb, namely Gods In The Spirit (2013) and Titans in the Flesh (2016), as well as on The Blueprint (2018), produced by Shafiq Husayn.

Meanwhile, Exile reunited with Aloe Blacc as Emanon for Dystopia (2016).

Coming after four EPs, each with different producers (Creenshaw Jezebel with Ray West, LA Counting with Union Analogtronics, Titans in the Flesh with Nottz, and Open Your Optics to Optimism with Fate), the album Cheetah in the City (2016) was another dud, produced by French producers Union Analogtronics.

Blu's A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night (2019), a better album, was a collaboration with producer Michael "Oh No" Jackson.

A collaboration with producer Earl "Damu the Fudgemunk" Davis yielded the uninspired boom-bap rap of Ground & Water (2019).

Meanwhile, Exile collaborated with Johaz on the EP Dag Savage (2019).

Blu finally returned to Exile for the three-song EP True & Livin' (2019), that contains three political songs (Spread Sunshine is charming but Power to the People is almost comic in how predictable it is), and for the sprawling 20-song Miles (2020). The biggest problem of the album is that it is overlong with too much filler. Where it works, however, the album stands up to past glory: Blue is a moving political anthem, African Dream is a brilliant and catchy experiment in incorporating reggae into rap; Dear Lord injects a martial fanfare and a gospel chant into an indictment of progress; standout When the Gods Meet concocts an elegant counterpoint of voices over a simple beat of clapping, and the other standout, Miles Davis, weaves together jazzy piano and of course snippets of jazz trumpet with bizarre outbursts of scratching; The Feeling is a passionate seven-minute rant of social critique; Music Is My Everything is a six-minute laid-back soul-jazz-rap jam; Bright as Stars is another attempt at merging doo-wop and rap, while Miles Away enters Bacharach-ian pop territory. The nine-minute Roots of Blue is a lengthy African-tinged lecture that sounds intriguing for a few minutes but repeats the same pattern for too long. Songs like Troubled Water and Requiem of Blue create dramatic tension, but it's the six-minute closer, The End, that capitalizes on it with a forceful sermon about the collapse of civilization. The production is generally discreet and restrained, having lost its youthful exuberance.

In The Beginning contains rarities made by Blu & Exile over the years.

Exile was also one of the producers on Blu's The Color Blu(e) (2021), another amateurish (and thankfully short) album, which featured productions also by others.

(Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )