Born Johnson Barnes in Inglewood, California, Blu, whose stepfather was a pastor, was influenced by gospel and Christian rap when he was developing his MC skills in middle and high school. His musical turning point came when he first heard the Common classic “I Used to Love H.E.R.” (1994), as well as the Chicago MC’s third album, One Day It’ll All Make Sense (1997). From then on, Blu abandoned his schoolyard freestyle frame of mind and dedicated his abilities to crafting well-written songs.
As he started doing live performances, he paid his dues working as a hype man for several underground rap and soul artists, including Slum Village, Steve Spacek, Platinum Pied Pipers, and, of course, Emanon. His relationship with Exile and newfound mindset in making music pointed him toward signing with L.A. independent Sound in Color in 2004, which for the young MC meant brushing off interest from Interscope and Death Row.
When Below the Heavens first hit shelves in August 2007, Blu and Exile were virtual unknowns in underground hip-hop, but Blu’s deft songwriting and Exile’s soul-drenched, Jay Dee-influenced production quickly amassed them a national audience. Below the Heavens ended up on many critics’ year-end lists and launched Blu into the public hip-hop eye.
Over the next five years, Blu released a total of seven albums and mixtapes, including 2011’s Open and Blu & Exile’s Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them in 2012. The previously unreleased albums Her Favorite Colo(U)r and NoYork! also finally saw proper release in 2011 and 2013, respectively.
Blu’s solo album, Good to Be Home, was released by Nature Sounds in 2014, and Bad Neighbor, a collaboration with MED and Madlib, appeared on Bang Ya Head in 2015. The following year, Blu joined forces with Nottz for the myth-inspired EP Titans in the Flesh.
The duo joined forces once more in 2020 with the double album Miles: From An Interlude Called Life (Miles for short). Released through Dirty Science Records, the album includes features from Blu‘s childhood friend and now platinum recording artist Miguel, Exile’s childhood friend Aloe Blacc, Dirty Science alum Fashawn, along with several emerging artists like The Last, Artful Dodger, Choosey, Iman Omari, and more!
7pm: Blu & Exile