Upon request, I have listened to Below The Heavens, an album by rapper Blu and producer Exile. Before listening to this project, I had heard so many good things about Blu. I had heard a couple of songs by him here and there, but, admittedly, I never really sat down and gave him a good, long listen.
As far as Exile goes, I am very familiar with his work. I think he is easily one of the game's best producers. He indulges in heavy sampling, and sometimes, he chops his samples so precisely and interweaves them so deftly that they are unrecognizable. The first time I heard Exile was on the Mobb Deep "Pearly Gates" track off the Blood Money album, and I thoroughly professed my love for said beat here on my Blood Money album review. The beat was nails, and from that point on, I have openly searched for any beats that Exile has cooked up.
So, naturally, I was pretty pumped going into listening to Below The Heavens, as an entire 15-track album produced exclusively by Exile is like stumbling upon a goldmine (I was expecting a project similar to the incredible Boy Meets World album by Fashawn, also produced entirely by Exile). Because I already knew what Exile could do, my main concern while listening to this project was Blu's rapping skills. Everyone kept telling me how sick this dude was, but for some reason, it took a review request for me to actually do it.
Anyway, let's do it up.
1. My World Is
The album begins with a banger, and Blu rips this to shreds, particularly on the third verse: "And my mission's just beginning call it Genesis, I'm God's eye messenger but, the devil's nemesis it's no better predicament, I'm straightening out the facts 'cause you twistin' it, nigga this a Bridgetown crown rocker, not a fake affiliate." Nice way to open things up.
2. The Narrow Path
Exile lays down a solid head-nodder here, throwing on some great kicks and booming hats. Blu's flow is great on this cut, especially on these lines in the first verse: "These ladies play dirty games with you, get to grindin', where niggas pitch as quick as Nolan Ryan, holdin' iron, blowin' smoke, elope in fire, flame spittin'." Decent record.
3. So(ul) Amazin' (Steel Blazin')
As the name states, this track contains a soulful beat, and Blu spits fire over it: "My mind's sickening, define vicious written in rhymes times tens, to describe how my line's ending, your fine imprint, described through your mind's index, my line chin-checks and shine through your blinds, instant, the sun syndicate fat as 'Biggie' with no 'Pun' intended." Love the wordplay at the end there.
4. Juicen' Dranks
Sorry, but what the hell is this crap?
5. In Remembrance Of Me
Now that we got that brainfart by Blu and Exile out of the way (I'm still trying to figure out what in the world they were thinking on that last track), I have to say that Blu's lyrical content on this cut is incredible. Essentially, he is rapping about how quickly the days go by, reminiscing about the times he had during his youth along the way. Exile's beat suits the mood.
6. Blu Colla Workers
Here, Blu basically talks about how he's broke and how he can't even afford to take a girl out to dinner. The beat is alright.
7. Dancing In The Rain
"Dancing In The Rain" is the definition of a head-banger. Exile lays down some consistent snares and even some Spanish guitar strums along the way, the latter of which adds a very nice element to the beat. Once again, though, Blu talks about how poor he is.
8. First Things First
This track contains what is easily the best beat on the album, as Exile produces an upbeat number with banging kick drums for Blu to rap to a girl he digs over. R&B singer Miguel makes an appearance here and aids Blu on the hook. Still, while I really like this cut (it's my favorite on the album), Blu, for the third straight song, talks about he has no money, and if I hear him rap about how he doesn't have a car again, I'm gonna lose it. I should point out some of Blu's good lines here, though, like: "I, know it's irrelevant, but rap is my profession, and just 'cause I'm a gentleman, don't mean I'm into settling, I spend most my time on the grind, but I ain't peddling rocks, or trying to sign to the Roc, I'm trying to meddle in my own business."
9. No Greater Love
First things first (like how I did that?), the beat on this track is sick. When Exile brings it, he effing brings it. Blu's delivery is pretty crazy, too: "But the beauty even doubt the beast and I can't be without (love), it's by far the most dangerous subject to touch yet, you be acting like it's lust? Yeah right, would lust have you up at five writing a text? Trying to get a thought up off of ya chest." Great, great record overall.
10. Good Life
The beat by Exile is a little awkward, but Blu and guest artist Aloe Blacc both drop some realness, rapping about certain situations in their lives and how they wish they were different. The first verse, done by Blu, is the best, as he worries that he got a girl pregnant and has no clue how he is going to provide for his potential child: "What the fuck am I supposed to do when he's telling me, Dad I need some food'? I'm looking down at my stomach and mine is grumbling too."
11. Simply Amazin'/Soul Rising
I've seen this track featuring two names, so I just listed both. Exile lays out some solid production for Blu, who spits the ultimate truth: "Your spirits is swayed every time my lyrics is played, so please stop givin' these lyricists praise, 'cause they bluffin' while they bustin' with a serious face, and it's unbearable, these stereo-rap tracks are terrible."
12. Cold Hearted
On this cut, Blu pays homage to his mother who was abused by his father, and his friend who was shot and killed. You can certainly feel the emotion here from Blu. That said, Exile's beat is pretty subpar and, in my opinion, takes away from the feeling.
13. Below The Heavens, Pt. 1
This song was clearly inspired by Nas' "The World Is Yours," as Blu even rips the hook from the Illmatic classic and raps it himself (not that there's anything wrong with that). For one of the few times on the album, Exile drops a banger; this is certainly one of his best beats on Below The Heavens. Blu flows well over this, rapping: "Be a star out your game, aim above the clouds, and if you miss, you'll at least be amongst your own crowd." The crazy production by Exile is what makes this cut go, though.
14. Below The Heavens, Pt. 2
This isn't really a song, as it just consists of Blu throwing out some shoutouts. That said, the nice, smooth beat production Exile cannot be ignored.
15. I Am...
"I Am..." is seven-and-a-half minutes long, with the beat, expectedly, changing up about halfway through. The first beat is pretty bland; the second one is solid. This isn't bad, but I just don't have the patience to listen to a song this long.
Overall, Below The Heavens is a decent album. It's clear that Blu possesses outstanding rapping ability, but he sometimes gets a bit too repetitive with his material (I can't even count the number of times he talked about not having a car; I'm pretty sure I touched on that earlier, too), and his hooks are fairly cheesy, too. Still, with his talent, he can easily remedy both issues.
I have to say that I was very disappointed with the production by Exile here. There are no "Pearly Gates" type cuts on this, and the only beats that I really enjoy are "First Things First," "No Greater Love," and "Below The Heavens, Pt. 1." Other than that, the rest of the production on Below The Heavens is very flat, and I never thought I would use the words "Exile" and "flat" in the same sentence up until now.
Again, it is evident that Blu has ridiculous potential as an MC. He is certainly a very intelligent individual and uses that to his advantage in his rhymes. He just needs to open up his content a bit more and talk about different subjects. Rapping about how broke you are might fly on one track, maybe even two, but doing it for the better part of an entire album just grows tiresome for the listener. I will definitely search for some more of Blu's material now that I finally listened to Below The Heavens so I can possibly formulate a stronger opinion of him, because right now, I am pretty torn as to how good he actually is.
As far as Below The Heavens goes, I can certainly see a lot of people liking it, but I think it pales in comparison to Fashawn's Boy Meets World, mainly because of the production portion of it. Me personally? I'll probably just listen to a few cuts off of it from here on out. I definitely won't be bumping the full album on any kind of regular basis.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. First Things First
2. No Greater Love
3. Below The Heavens, Pt. 1
4. My World Is
5. In Remembrance Of Me
Blu Colla Workers