When it comes to releasing music, Blu has been about as predictable as a Tasmanian devil on Heisenberg-grade meth. 2011 alone had the out-of-nowhere Jesus closely followed by the NoYork! giveaway that didn’t get a proper release until earlier this year. And who could forget last year’s UCLA fiasco, complete with its, ahem, memorable cover art and Madlib denying any involvement in the project? It feels strange to get a Blu project that’s been properly marketed, with a solid release date and promotional singles to generate buzz. I’m almost shocked that this collaboration with Virginia heatbringer Nottz, the Gods in the Spirit EP, wasn’t uploaded to a random Bandcamp and required users to input a Chinese Captcha in order to download. Is this a new Blu?
Judging by the bars we get on this EP, if this isn’t actually Johnson Barnes, then his doppelganger has a newfound swaggering confidence, in addition to a coherent marketing plan. Blu rapping about sonning rookies and showing his ass out in public? It’s like Nottz’s boom-bap and blaring horns on “Boyz II Men” let Stefan Urquelle out of the transformation chamber.
The UFO-horror story on Mars that Nottz creates for “Crooks in Castles” is a chilling backdrop for the bevy of guest stars who help Blu along his shit-talking journey. Homeboy Sandman, ANTHM, Sene, and Johaz each rip their turn on the mic to the point where Blu is a mere afterthought in this bully rap cypher. While the rest of the assembled cast try to top each other like a more underground version of Slaughterhouse, Blu fails to find his footing and gets drowned out. He holds up better on the similar “God Shit”, an epic clamor of cymbal crashes and opera vocals that belongs on the soundtrack of a classic swords-and-sandals movie. But despite his display of flexible complexity and confidence, he still manages to get outshone by the un-Google-able Co$$. It’s not that Co$$ necessarily has better bars, it just comes down to the congruence between the rapper and the beat. Co$$’s more aggressive tone, stronger voice, and just how natural he sounds while describing smacking rappers out of their shoes is a more snug fit with Nottz’s outsized production.
Blu is more effective on the starry “End of the World”, where he’s allowed to be his more natural, introspective self: “If this is love, then fuck it, I can be a god/ If I’m a god, watch me pull a heaven out a star /360 billion trillion miles from home /I heard a heartbeat and decided to make a song.” He’s so much more comfortable reminiscing about summers past and seeing Dr. King’s dreams through that it’s no surprise that the track has about 11,000 more plays than the next-most popular song on the EP, per SoundCloud. The people have spoken with their mouse clicks (and the fact it was a streamable single before the others, but still).
The EP is a quick six-song jaunt through some of Nottz’s latest work that deserved to be heard. On “Boyz II Men” and both versions of “End of the World”, Blu is just the rapper to showcase that work. The rest of the songs warranted a posse to more adequately fulfill Nottz’s aggressive sound that Blu couldn’t carry on his own. Blu is still sharp though, and when he works with a producer more compatible with his style (MADLIB!), his projects are still worth checking out, even if it drops with no promo and you have to follow a scavenger hunt through a network of antique shops throughout Los Angeles to find it.
3.5 out of 5
You can buy the EP on Amazon.