Jonah Bromwich’s favorite color is Cardinal.
Enigma. Anomaly. Sky-high potential. Game-changer. Rap messiah.
We’ve heard these labels applied to up-and-coming rappers many times over the past decade. A short list of them goes as follows: Wale, Lupe Fiasco, Lil B, Tyler the Creator, B.O.B., and of course, Jay Electronica, who has personally used all of the above terms to describe himself.
Rap has been changing, and that change has very little to do with any of the guys above. Boutique rap, Emo Rap, the (debatable) return of horror-core, and a revitalization of lyrical prowess are all just symptoms of a larger, inevitable development: the fragmentation of a genre we love(d) into scores of different sub-genres, some of them largely enjoyable, some producing mixed results, and some just subjecting our ears to mountains of synthesized garbage.
These oddball categories are here to stay, and a rapper who provides very good evidence for the permanence of the change is another guy who had all the above labels applied to him. That would be Blu, or Bl(u), or possibly even Blu(e) but definitely not Blue unless you want to get dropped.
To say that Blu has had a career would be an overstatement, but that’s kind of the nice thing about him. He’s never tried to step up and take the mantle which overeager critics are all too ready to apply, which means that he hasn’t had the chance to fall flat on his face. He hardly even considers himself a rapper, as he said on his mixtape track “Amnesia,” back in 2009, “Leave me the fuck alone until I find a real job.”
Blu’s new label, New World Color, has remastered and reissued that mixtape, HerFavoriteColo(u)r, which in album form has been renamed Her Favorite Colo(ur). That tiny change to the title is indicative of how little the original mixtape has changed. It still starts out with an aural collage of movie dialogue, during which Bill Murray, Vincent Gallo, Adam Sandler and others apprise the listener of the themes covered in the album that follows, all over sparse jazz piano. In fact, jazz and movie dialogue are perhaps more important on the album than the rapping itself, as the production (all done by Blu) lends emotional heft to the words being spoken, whether the listener has seen the movies or not.
But when Blu raps, he does it ferociously, questioning life, love, and the mundane in ways that would make Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Jonze, or any of the other directors that he steals from proud. And, more importantly, he integrates the movie dialogue right into the music. So, when “Morning” ends with the graphically violent and sexual argument between Clive Owen and Julia Roberts from Closer, he goes right into the upbeat, lighthearted track “Melo,” which only makes the preceding dialogue seem even wilder.
All this stuff works, which means that reissuing this record was a good idea. Blu doesn’t put himself out there as a game-changing rapper, or someone who’s going to resurrect the genre as a whole. Instead, he stays in his own lane, makes interesting music that sounds both modern and classic, and integrates a whole host of different sounds, both traditional rappity rap sounds and ones that we aren’t used to hearing on a rap album. He provides a positive example for fans and embittered rap purists alike: stop bitching, stop wishing for the past, and create and/or listen to the sounds that you like. Rap is not one sound anymore; Blu has known that for two years and the reissue Her Favorite Colo(u)r is a healthy reminder for everyone else.