There’s a mild hypocrisy in championing Blu’s sporadic output while crowning Jay Electronica with this year’s Chuck Norris: Missing in Action Award for Absentee Rapping (a prestigious throne alternately held by Dr. Dre, Andre 3000, Del the Funkee Homosapien, and Slick Rick). Via their occasional appearances and withdrawals from the LED limelight, both MC’s have beat the odds to make bloggers quell their onanistic urges. Thankfully, there are no longer any “HE’S SAVING THE GAME” screeds pertaining to Blu and the latest victim of Baduizm. But beyond being evanescent Okayplayer potentates, comparisons between the two are reductive.
For one, Blu has never offered concrete release dates for No York, his full-length with Flying Lotus, nor the date for when he’s going to anoint himself Southern California’s Psilocybin prince (it’s like being the Lizard King, but substitute Disneyland’s Alice in Wonderland ride for Joshua Tree). He pretty much keeps to himself, doesn’t give a fuck about what happens on the Internet, and keeps kush as his cologne. If he’s terrified of the expectations he’s created, he doesn’t show it. He’s too busy blowing the final bits of his Warner Bros. advance and occasionally sending in scraps to the brass over there. I’ve heard Blu’s album on two occasions in the last year — or at least, the Siltbreeze-style lo-fi cyborg-raps he’s been e-mailing to keep everyone pacified. Everyone who signed him has long since been pink-slipped, and I suspect that the executives over there (all two of them left) have largely given up hope that Johnson Barnes will ever conform to expectations and do their dream collaboration: The Mind of Bluno Mars.
Instead, he’s eschewed any and all form of song structure. Hooks are scarcely there and usually consist of mumbled mantras. The beats come from Lotus, Samiyam, Mainframe, and Exile and belong on a Brainfeeder release, not something emanating from Burbank. Blu seems determined to create his own Madvillain, a blunted and rattled ramble through a mind that doubles as a mausoleum. His record sounds haunted and high, a stoned sleep-walk of someone who has done enough drugs to lose any tactile grasp on reality. What I’ve heard is equally brilliant and half-baked. Sometimes, his rare gifts and thirst for DIY rawness yields some of the most thrilling music of recent memory. Sometimes, it sounds like the demos of the guy at the end of your dorm room hall, the one that used to aggressively beseech you to take gravity bong hits and play Vice City.
At any regard, he’s taken a punk rap path. Dude doesn’t want to hang out with Diddy or win a Grammy. He wants to do drugs and make your ear drums bleed over some of the most glitched out psychedelic beats he can wrangle. Under any metric, this is a respectable move. So a new Blu track is usually cause for excitement, particularly when paired with a U-God hook. As for “Keep it Going,” the Lotus produced sequel to “GNG BNG,” and the latest leak to offer the illusion of order, it’s an old track that’s been bouncing around the Barnes camp for years. The Lotus beat sounds like something off of his July Heat tape. It’s less orchestral and much harder than the jazzier and house-inflected stuff he’s currently creating. His snares smack like they’ve been galvanized, and the track sounds bathed in an unsettling static. They blend perfectly with Blu’s nobody’s home flow because it creates a bizarro Sun Ra-rap vibe that satisfies those who lack the patience to muck through so-called cloud rap (to reiterate what Sach said: I prefer Blu’s sporadic output to the adequate consistency of the current crop of indie favorites).
One of the reasons why the pairing of U-God and Blu works so well is that like the Wu, Blu has the ability to condense information into compact slanguage. The song starts “feet planted, eyes slanted/grand peripheral/extraordinary bandit, individual.” He calls himself a young Roddy Piper getting the party live like a 25-to-lifer.” He says he’s “floating and backstroking til the river runs dried up.”It’s a style of fuzz-rap weirdness that not only builds on mid-period Doom and Dalek, but also on earlier distortion-loving eccentrics like New Kingdom. As for Golden Arms, he’s also a ghost on the beat, offering a droning hook that makes as little sense as it needs to make. In the same way that a group like Times New Viking buries melodies into a sandstorm of noise and static, Blu’s defining his own strange school of noise-rap. Even if this song was recorded two years ago, he’s sending the right sort of smoke signals. Let’s just hope he doesn’t fall too deep into Piper’s Pit or starts wearing a kilt.