(Today I'm bringing back Reader Reviews with frequent contributor/resident Blu scholar Justa's take on the seventh solo album from Johnson Barnes, Good To Be Home. Leave your thoughts for Justa below, and if you wish to see your own writing on this blog, hit me at the e-mail address in the sidebar.)
For the two of you that continue to follow and support this blog, it would seem that I have become the go-to for all things Blu-related as of late, while Max stays bogged down with requests for the Kool Keith and Kool G Rap albums of yesterday, as well as that “project” that he aims to finish. So I am tasked, once again, with trying to keep track of the Left Coaster who seems to have some sort of new music drop every couple of months or so.
Blu’s last full-length was the much anticipated reunion with his Below The Heavens collaborator Exile way back in 2012. Since that time, he’s been contemplating the oft-threatened but rarely-applied ultimatum in our genre: you guessed it, retirement, obviously, before he reaches the age of 30, because honestly, who aspires to be the old man in the club? Meanwhile, he has remained in the public eye by releasing a few EP’s with well-known producers Madlib, Nottz and Pete Rock. Which wasn’t a bad idea, considering those aforementioned producers all come with their own built-in followings and solid beats in the non-mainstream rap world.
Yet, in 2014, almost damn near three full years since his last LP, Blu decided to drop Good To Be Home, a two-disc love letter to his Los Angeles hometown, with beats solely provided by producer (and fellow Angelino) Bombay. Yeah, I'm sure your Google search fielded the same results as mine when trying to find out more about him. Which causes a concern: one must indeed question Blu's relatively-unknown choice of collaborator when said collaborator has no notoriety whatsoever, and did you see the previous names I listed for Blu's EP releases prior to this?
But as with every other Blu project I have listened to, there is a huge chance I could be in for a pleasant surprise in the end, which makes the task of writing a track-by-track review for a double album all the more worthwhile. So, I guess I should reserve judgment somewhat, you think?
Anyways, I have 20-plus songs to write about, so let’s get this damn thing started already.
Look Max, no intro! What begins with a jazz lounge, drive-in theater-type instrumental backdrop, quickly culminates in gunshots (wow, how original) and a more laid-back doo-wop-driven beat with Blu just ripping the track. Bombay's first beat of the project is a perfect introduction, and it leaves me with good feelings about what is to come. And also, the joy of not hearing a pointless skit kick off yet another album.
2. THE RETURN
Wow, another fierce track by Bombay! Two for two is a good look. Blu shares a few narratives about his hometown of Los Angeles over a more aggressive instrumental. The strings and bassline create a sense of excitement and remind me of the West Coast music of yesteryear. Fire.
3. BACK HOME AGAIN
A soulful interlude by Bombay. No spitting to be heard on this one, so I'll keep it moving for the heads. I will say the instrumental bangs, though.
4. BOYZ N THE HOOD (FEAT. FASHAWN, LIKE, & BEYOUNG OF PAC DIV)
The first of many tracks that features guest artists is one which will land on many playlists, I would imagine. Some of Cali’s finest trade childhood tales over a smooth Bombay instrumental. Speaking of which, based on what I've heard thus far, someone needs to secure Bombay some more work immediately.
5. WHIP CREME (PART ONE) (FEAT. DEFINITE, BIG DAME, COSS, & SWT PEA)
This shit bangs! I’ve never even heard of nearly half of the people on this track, and my statement stands. Some classic West Coast to be found right here. Bombay comes through with straight fire, and of course you know Blu and company do what they came to do properly.
6. THE WEST
How can this guy be this consistent? After the banger that was the last track, our hosts come through with yet another solid cut. This one is retains that Cali G-Funk feel, yet with a modern twist. “The West” is much more chill, but still doesn't disappoint.
7. THE 50Z
Another track you can ride to. Not a single misstep so far. Let's keep it moving, though, for the sake of the attention span on you two.
8. THE LA (FEAT. SECRET SERVICE AGENTS)
Secret Service Agents? Blu obviously has a very deep Rolodex. I mean seriously, who the heck are these dudes? Max, can I get an assist here? (Sorry, you're on your own. Kind of impossible to Google these guys.) Maybe he met them in line at the DMV or something and exchanged contact info? I've never heard of these dudes, nor do I yearn to explore more of their history, as they make an appearance on the first Bombay slip-up of the album. This is mostly due to a vocal sample that could have been cool when used in moderation, but it just keeps going on, and on, and on. That shit is annoying. Not something I want to hear that much even once.
9. SUMMER TIME (FEAT. BOMBAY & ARMIA EDERIA)
Yes, this is an ode to DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh
Scientologist Prince. Of course, everyone will
probably initially be like, “Oh no they didn't!?” , but yes, they
did, and it’s not bad. Has a more G’d-out sound to it versus the
original. Bombay makes his first vocal appearance and kicks some nice
bars with Blu. At this point, the man can do no wrong. I mean,
besides “The LA”.
10. SUMMER (BONUS) / ANGEL DUST (FEAT. LMNO & 2MEX OF THE VISIONARIES, & IMANI OF THE PHARCYDE)
The instrumental from the last song plays on for a bit longer, albeit with a couple of more BPM’s added, before it fades into a few minutes of silence. After the break, we are treated to a funky ass soul groove from Bombay featuring a few names that you two would surely know if you're familiar with the West Coast hip hop scene. All four emcees (sorry, no Bombay, maybe due to the his lack of interest in the subject matter) tell of a certain white narcotic that I've never want any part of myself (nor did Dewey Cox), but from the sound of it, it’s quite an experience to partake. A solid track.
1. RAP DOPE
A raw track begins the second disc of Good To Be Home. Bombay's beat on this is much more menacing and than anything on the first disc, and yet it still maintains the solid standard of what I've heard so far. Blu also comes a lot harder than I am used to hearing, but he doesn't disappoint. Dude has bars for days, it would seem. A good start.
2. DRE DAY
I was first exposed to this track way back when Good To Be Home was first announced. It still holds up well, and as far as sequencing goes for this second disc, it accompanies the last track perfectly. It's another track with a darker sound than what we've grown accustomed to, but with a G-Funk approach this time around. Blu drops some great bars, too. Great sample, great feel, and the track is dope.
3. RED & GOLD (FEAT. PRODIGY & MITCHY SLICK AND PHIL DA AGONY OF STRONG ARM STEADY)
This one is fierce! Kicks off with a great verse from Mobb Deep's Prodigy (which is tough to come by these days), with everyone else falling in line over a great piano-led soul sample. Bombay’s instrumental picks up the energy quite well, providing everyone who came to rap that day a great backing. My God, this man brings heat. Definitely a favorite.
4. CHILD SUPPORT
Blu goes for dolo once again after that last posse cut. “Child Support” builds off of the energy of the previous track, picking up both the pace of the music and the intensity of the lyrics. Blu just rips through this track like no other: one gets the feeling he’s been holding some of this back for a while. This track is golden. Bombay is a beast on the beats once again, and Blu just kills it.
5. WELL FARE (FEAT. THURZ & CASEY VEGGIES)
After wowing us with wordplay and intensity on that last track, our hosts, come through with a more laid-back song. Thurz and Casey Veggies trade rhymes with Blu about encounters with women (not exactly reinventing the wheel here), but the bit of humor included helps break up the slight misogyny. Much more in the vein of The Pharcyde than N.W.A. here. Solid.
6. HE MAN
This is the best track I’ve heard so far. I even rewound this one a few times during my initial listen. Blu lays his heart out on this ode to love lost, while Bombay supplies a great instrumental which could be double as a doo-wop-era track almost. The guitar sample is sweet, and the vocals are blended so well on the hook that you would think they were sampled as well, not to mention the bassline that hits you like it’s straight from a jukebox. Easily one of the finest tracks Blu has released up to this point. It’s hard to take this one off repeat at the end of the day.
7. BROWN SUGAR (FEAT. MED & OH NO)
Two of Oxnard, Cali’s best-known emcees trade bars with Blu on another solid track. The mood, once again, is a little more hard on this one: Bombay’s basslines are ruthless. I’m really impressed in full by the production chops he’s demonstrated on this whole album thus far.
8. BOBBY BROWN (FEAT. CLUTCH, MIC HOLDEN, & DEFINITE)
Fierceness. I could hear a more Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)-type influence on this one beat wise. Blu begins with another more fiery verse, which sets a good tone for the rest to follow. What does this song have to do with Bobby Brown? I have no damn idea. Regardless of the choice of name, this track definitely bangs.
9. CAN'T STOP, WON'T STOP (FEAT. THE ALCHEMIST, EVIDENCE, TRISTATE, PLANET ASIA, DONEL SMOKES, CHACE INFINITE, & KRONDON)
An all-star lineup of West Coast heavy hitters wraps up the actual rapping portion of Good To Be Home. The instrumental continues in the lane of the last, so of course it bangs, and everyone on here, including Blu, contributes great verses. Not a bad finish to the album.
10. THE WEST (PART TWO)
This track, the actual finale of the project, only contains a bunch of recognizable funk grooves from the Left Coast without any vocals to interrupt the flow. I figure you two will want nothing to do with this track, most likely.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Wow. On paper, a lot of what went into Good To Be Home shouldn’t exactly work; it was nearly three years in the making, the project's producer is an unknown quantity, it's pretty heavy with the features, and last but not least, the it's a dreaded double album. And yet, it all works out great. The beats (a modern update to the G-Funk sound) and rhymes on this project are on point. If enough people pick this one up, Good To Be Home could easily become the album that finally moves Blu away from the shadow that is Below The Heavens and gives him proper due as the great artist that he has been for quite some time now. Also, Bombay! This man came through with heat for almost every track (“The LA”, I'm sorry, but you induced a migraine like no other) like it was just another day in the park. A beautiful partnership was indeed was formed on this project, and I look forward to what the future may hold next for these two artists.
BUY OR BURN? Buy! My friends and I have debated as to whether this could be considered a classic album given that it was released less than a year ago. This LP delivers on so many levels that I would seriously question your dedication to this genre if you don’t at least take the time to listen to it.
BEST TRACKS: “He Man”; “The Return”; “Boyz In The Hood”; “Angel Dust”; “Whip Creme”; “Red & Gold”; “Well Fare”; “Bobby Brown”; “Can’t Stop, Wont Stop”
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? There's a place you can put those.)