Blu & Exile – Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them

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Dirty Science: 2012

Blu is the internet era’s Nas: a profoundly natural and gifted lyricist who released a critically acclaimed debut, only to piss off fans with every subsequent release. Where the criticisms of Nas mostly revolve around his beat selection and supposed weak thematic directions, Blu has fallen down a more complicated wormhole. Not only do his fans complain about the production choices, but the actual sound quality of his music is an issue as well. Also the randomness and conflict over who and when LPs drop has created some concern. Then add Blu’s highly questionable live performances, and he has all but taken away the mighty wind Below The Heavens placed under his sails.

Yet, here I am thinking of Below The Heavens and the second part of the album’s title: In Hell Happy With Your Imaginary Friend. In a way it describes Blu’s current career predicament. Fans have held onto BTH as an imaginary totem of Blu’s personified greatness, while he smirks from a distance, because he’s comfortable with his creative work since the supposed fall from grace. Instead of fans bitching about Blu’s sound quality or creative directions, maybe they should appreciate how varied and prolific Blu has become. In just five years he gave backpackers the sonic wet dream of their misguided nostalgia; created an under appreciated neo-Native Tongues album with Ta’Raach; effortlessly crafted a bare knuckles lo-fi rap-a-thon with Mainframe; has released various tapes that show us his growth as a beat-maker; signed to a major label and fantastically mined LA’s electronic scene, only to have it “shelved”; and created an insular rap version of dusty Motown do-wop.

Where Lil’ B is rap Dada and theater of the absurd, Blu is like our aloof beatnik Black Arts revivalist. Again paired with Exile, Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them is another high quality example of Mr. Barnes’s creative subterfuge. The opening song “Ease Your Mind” finds Blu’s melted butter on homemade biscuits flow, wax philosophical over Exile’s kaleidoscopic soul chops and crunchy drums. “O Heaven” later glides with its elegant vocal-n-piano loop, as a confident and strutting low end gives Blu the canvas to paint his images. Later “More Out of Life” and “The Only One” finds Blu in top rhyme form constructing powerful vignettes of his personal desires and conflicts with life, art, and love. Blu relates these ideas to greater society as vivid statements of where Blu is as an artist and a man; beats, rhymes and life as bliss and honesty.

Furthermore, Exile deserves a lot of love for how well Give Me My Flowers… moves. He  is in complete control of his craft here. Deconstructing, re-assembling, and pulling succulent hush-puppies out the fish grease like the most seasoned of beat chefs. Exile re-imagines the theme to Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood one minute (“Good Morning Neighbor”), then re-works Alton Ellis’s version of “It’s A Shame” the next (Berries and Juices). Of course the soulful sound adjective is fitting here, but more importantly Exile provides another full length discourse on why the art of sampling and flipping is not only alive, but a science to be practiced by the most trained and dedicated.

While I doubt Give Me My Flowers… will signal a triumphant return for Blu, like Life Is Good has been for Nas, it’s the appropriate sign post in the trajectory of his career. This album is an effortless construction into Blu’s personal achievements, desires, and recent spiritual questions and struggles (the song “Seasons” being the most revelatory). He, unlike most rappers, can construct introverted rap music about personal truth and philosophy without proselytizing, sounding cheesy or giving one a headache to relate. Blu can at times seem bored with rap, but I think it’s more a disappointment with fan’s being unwilling to follow him where he wants to go as an artist instead of the other way around. Without hesitation I find Blu to be one of the most unique and complex talents of this era in rap. While other’s hype and buzz have taken clicks away from his spot on the internet shelf, he stays true to his vision. Maybe Blu should become a recluse like Salinger so heads can truly appreciate the notebooks he’s left behind, but for now I suggest y’all appreciate the flowers him and Exile have just planted in your ears.

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4 out of 5