(My understanding is that Los Angeles-based rapper Blu, a blogger favorite, handed out copies of his album NoYork! After a performance at Rock The Bells this year. The only problem was, NoYork! Was intended to be his major label debut for Warner Brothers. It's unknown if this album is being re-recorded, or it it was scrapped entirely and Blu figured that it would be best for the music to get out there, but NoYork! Is only available for download, and that's if you can actually find it without risking the ire of the home of Bugs Bunny. Justa chimes in with his thoughts; leave some notes for him below.)
Five years ago, before the emergence of Hulkshare and before every rapper with a social media profile could
write spam you with the “world's hottest” single, mixtape, or album, an artist from L.A. by the name of Blu appeared out of nowhere with producer Exile to unleash the classic album Below The Heavens, which garnered massive critical acclaim from bloggers, artist, and press alike. After dropping another gem with rapper/producer Mainframe under the name Johnson&Jonson in 2008, Blu signed a record deal with Warner Bros Records. Which should have, in my eyes, resulted in the death of Blu. However, in 2009, he was featured in the then-prestigious XXL Magazine's “Freshmen Issue” along with eight other talented and not-so-talented emcees (including such blogger favorites as Asher Roth, Fashawn, B.o.B, KiD CuDi, Ace Hood (huh?), and Charles Hamilton (R.I.P. - the career, not the man)), and he continued to quietly drop more quality projects on us along the way, as well as provide a few solid guest appearances. Yet, the question still remained: When was his major label debut dropping?
Blu has finally responded, with his long-awaited NoYork! appearing much like his previous projects: quietly and out of nowhere. Featuring the a who's-who of Los Angeles-based lo-fi producers (such as Madlib, Shafiq Husayn, Exile, Dibia$e, Flying Lotus, Knxwledge, Daedeulus, and Samiyam), as well as some of his neighbors for features (such as J*DaVeY, Co$$, Edan, U-N-I, Pac Div, Nola Darling, and more).
So was it worth the wait? Or did Warners pull a B.o.B on him and his fanbase? Let's find out.
1. DOIN' NOTHIN' (FEAT. U-GOD)
I love when an album kicks off without the dreaded intro. U-God is said to be featured on this track, but I believe he's only on the hook. Blu kicks some fierce bars over a dope apocalyptic/industrial/West Coast-sounding Flying Lotus beat. Yeah, I know I just used those exact three descriptive terms alongside the adjective dope. I’ll stand by that as well.
2. EVERYTHING OK (FEAT. JACK DAVEY)
This Flying Lotus-produced track featuring one-half of the alternative music duo J*DaVeY is definitely not for everyone. If you're familiar with Flying Lotus, or with Davey's work, you already know if you'll like this track or not (I lean towards the “fan” side of things). This is a very experimental, electronic-influenced production that you wouldn't catch a T.I. anywhere near. The song features tons of digital chirps and a higher BPM rate than usual, so I would assume that most DJ Premier/Pete Rock stans will most likely skip it. I found it to be very interesting, though: I have been trying to wrap my head around it for quite some time, it’s not wack by any means, but it’s so out of my comfort zone at the moment that I will have to leave this one with an “undecided”.
3. NEVER BE THE SAME (FEAT. SA-RA & NOLA DARLING)
One of my favorite tracks on NoYork! It has accents of electronic music in it, but also has that identifiable West Coast bounce to it. It’s super-dope track, and of course Blu kills it, spitting his own perspective on hip hop from the eyes of our genre's most interesting left-coaster. Also, I give it a +1 for the female rappers (Nola Darling) not just spewing hyper-sexual rhymes.
4. A BOVE CRENSHAW (FEAT. CO$$)
Picks up right where the last song left off, but with even more of a West Coast sound. I can see why this is album is titled NoYork! now: lot of the production featured on the album embodies Cali style. You could easily see someone C-walking to this, and you can just as easily see some heads breaking down the lyrics. Oh and Blu and Co$$ kick some nice verses.
A Dibia$e jawn that leaked earlier this year. Still sounds great, though. There is no album that I can compare NoYork! with musically at this point: it’s just so different than anything I have ever heard. This beat is sick, and of course Blu brings the quotables, but then, suddenly, a screwed up, darker, more distorted version of the instrumental appears, over which Blu repeats what I guess might be a bridge or something. It gets very experimental at this point, but dope nonetheless.
6. SOUPA (FEAT. SUZI ANALOUGE)
This sounds like something that all four original members of The Pharcyde would love to hop on. Laid back, with a hint of Electronic influence, this track is well-suited for late night cruisin’. Dope.
Straight electronica here, which means yet another track I'm still on the fence about. Blu's actual rap verse doesn’t appear until around the end of the song, when all of the layers of sound chill for a bit. So for the folks who live and die by The Low End Theory, I don’t think you will enjoy this. The rest of you should choose your own adventure.
08. ANNIE HALL (FEAT. CHOP, CHERRYPOP, & TIOMBE LOCKHART)
Warning: Blu doesn’t rap at all on this one. Instead, he lays back and chimes in with ad-libs and vocals throughout the track and the hook. The females own the track, basically: there is a very late 1980’s/early 1990’s flavor as far as their verses go. The beat is a smoother electronic sound, sort of like something Theophilus London might use. I can get with this.
9. TAGS (FEAT. EXILE)
Blu gets back to the actual rap music alongside producer Exile, who even drops a verse. The drums are of the more industrial variety, but they still go hard. ack to the rap now, and this is another one those west coast bangers for sure. Drums are kind of industrial, but still go hard. This was a dope track where the artists name-check graffiti, gangs, shops, and all other things predominantly L.A.
10. SPRING WINTER SUMMER FALL (FEAT. JIMETTA ROSE)
A dope track all about music. I continue to be blown away at how great of a lyricist Blu can be: his verses sometimes require repeated listens in order to break down a lot of what he saying. (I usually call these type of rhymes “Wiki-raps”, after the site I have to look at in order to figure out his lyrics.) “Spring Winter Simmer Fall” also showcases how good of a storyteller he is. True heads would appreciate this for sure. The hook is dope as well. The production has a little bit of a New Wave influence to it, but it still sounds fresh. Another one of my favorites.
11. DOWN TO EARTH (FEAT. THE DONEL SMOKES, DUBBLE OH, & DEFINITE)
A straight out boom-bap track for the real heads. Nothing too experimental on this one, just straight up, good old-fashioned hip hop.
12. MY SUNSHINE (FEAT. ANITA ANDREWS)
A tribute to the Southern California lifestyle. Blu spits some nice raps (do I even have to keep writing about his nice verses at this point?) and the guest star sounds good on the hook.
13. JAZMINE (FEAT. ANDY ALLO)
A musical interlude that leads into the next track.
This has to be a Madlib beat. There is no one else in the world who can produce something this fresh and quirky. Madlib and Blu should just make an album together at this point. I feel that it would be a win-win for both men for sure. I would actually like to see Blu, Madlib, Ghostface Killah, and MF Doom record an entire project together: you could call it Final Fantasy or something, and it would be some of the weirdest, dopest, and most experimental shit for sure, especially if you scored a Kool Keith cameo.
15. RONALD MORGAN (FEAT. EDAN)
Another straight hip hop track. The beat is fierce, something I could see a post- N.W.A/pre-Friday sequel Ice Cube rocking over. Let me talk about Edan (since you already know Blu killed it): I must say that he comes super-correct, like “Hip Hop Quotable” in The Source-correct. He just attacks the beat so furiously that the only two choices you'll have are to exhibit your stank face, or let your jaw drop and let your eyes get Large Marge-big (that’s a Pee Wee’s Big Adventure reference for all you young’ns). It’s flat out ill, one of the best verses I have heard all year. Salute.
16. KEEP USH INN
Blu raps about his experiences in the industry. It’s fresh/dope/raw/ill and any other hip hop slang I haven’t used yet that means good (except for maybe swag).
17. DOIN' SOMETHING (FEAT. EL PREZ, PAC DIV, U-N-I, J*DAVEY, TIRON, & AYOMARI)
Blu recruited damn near the entire New West movement for this reprise of the first track. El Prez handles the intro and hypeman duty, which a smart move on his part, as everyone else just bodies this beat. There isn’t anything weak about any of the lines kicked on the track. Can’t find a single weakness. The next time someone wants to bring up that “The West Coast ain’t got no real emcees” argument, pull this track up on YouTube (or some other device that can bring up a song immediately) and let that argument end once and for all.
THE LAST WORD: Too be straight-up honest with you, Blu's NoYork!
could be is a classic. The only reason I chose to write this review was because I've had the album stuck on 'repeat' for almost two three days months now, and I am still trying to break it all down (hence my curious decision to run this as a 'Gut Reaction' piece). Every once in a while, an artist creeps up with an album like this, and all you can say is, “Wow.” I don’t want to compare NoYork! to any other album, but it really is right up there with the greats. I was only on the fence about two songs on here, but I still believe this to be a classic record. (If you disagree about my use of the word, you must have forgotten about that unexplainable Timbaland-produced inclusion on Jay-Z’s “classic” The Blueprint, or that song “Mamacita” on OutKast's Aquemini.) To experiment this much outside of the genre and still have this dope of a result come out is tough to do (see Cee-Lo, The RZA, Jungle Brothers, etc). Props to Blu for being doing his thing on here, and for letting this get out in some fashion, especially since I'm sure the corporate suits at Warners thought that NoYork! wouldn't be radio-ready. Download this ish while you can, since I don’t know if it ever is going on sale to the public. But if made available in full corporate packaging, it’s definitely worth every penny (and more) of the manufacturer's suggested retail price. By the way, did you miss the part where I also said this album is up for classic status? Let the arguments begin between the backpackers and hip hop hierarchy.... now.
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)