Paul Thompson was a rap internet newborn in 2007.
Where were you the first time you heard Blu? Maybe you were sitting in your bedroom, at your desk at your dead-end job, in the library at school—anywhere that the glow from your computer screen could reach. Below the Heavens, his full-length collaboration with the producer Exile, was inescapable on the rap internet in 2007. Full of cusp-of-adulthood anxieties and magnetic wit, it was hailed as an instant underground classic. But when the Angeleno shied away from the spotlight (and from the major label machine itself), people wondered loudly what went wrong: why wouldn’t you reach out and grab that fame if it was within your grasp?
Even if major media conglomerates treat that as a rhetorical question, Blu doesn’t. If anything, his work in the decade since his breakthrough is an articulation of just how—and just why—one might keep a foot in the shadows. “Otionography,” the first single from his forthcoming Open Your Optics to Optimism, shows a profound sense of self-knowledge, the kind that eludes you when you’re 23 and get sucked into the celebrity industrial complex. Complete with Dolphin’s hook and a stellar turn from fellow L.A. native Versis, “Otionography” catches Blu in one of his best pockets: a little oblique, a little unsettled, wholly himself. Open Your Optics to Optimism is out on Every Deja Vu on September 28.