As a rapper, Blu has had the consistency of the rollercoaster Nitro at Six Flags; the highs are grand, and the lows muddle your emotional attachment to the ride. This consistent hustle mirrors rapper Curren$y; there are moments of greatness in the bad, and when Blu hits, the album stands out between the independent and major label rappers in the respective year. Last year he did so with the perfectly coifed epic Miles, which also saw him reuniting with producer Exile — who produced his more notable album, Below the Heavens and Don’t Sell Me Flower While I Can Still Smell Them. Exile returns, along with producers J57 and Sirplus, to produce his new album, The Color Blu(e) — it is a personification of Blu reflecting through various subjects, particularly his career, and shifting the different connotations of the word blue, despite falling a bit short of perfection.
Keeping with the boom-bap-influenced production (now involving more vinyl scratches), Blu continues to deliver at peak form. Blue is used broadly on the surface as Blu builds upon it with thematic complexities, all of which derive from sentiment or thought when they impart the word on you. In some aspects, Blu looks at the bigger picture and speaks on blue being an understatement toward feelings about social-political issues and one’s mentality. Other times, blue becomes a personification of himself through his career — finding a happy medium between being pop and an established rapper who delivers words with purpose.
“Mr. Blu(e) Sky” sees Blu discovering that rewarding feeling like when a fan speaks on the influence his music has had on them in life, whether it got them out of a funk or the spark toward their artistic growth. He is overwhelmed with happiness through this connectivity, that in-turn influences his being outside of music. It gave him an understanding of the normality that comes with having flaws, which looms over the song “Because the Sky Is Blu(e).” Miles took Blu through a journey of self-discovery outside of LA, and The Color Blu(e) is an elegant update a year later. The intricacies of “Because the Sky Is Blu(e)” speak through his life and any turbulence that comes his way — you can’t expect each step to go by smoothly. It speaks as an intro to the following song, which acts as the supporting body of an essay where Blu scolds those who say he has no right being blue.
Through Blu’s worldview, his continuous world-building is on display as the songs bring reasoning to back some of his feelings. With “You Ain’t Never Been Blu(e),” Blu lays on the table various reasons that attribute to external predicaments that affect generations — or simply the race card. He goes deeper into distinguishing the nature of which a setting can impose constant dread or despair, like those who, unfortunately, witness gang violence in some middle to lower-class areas of a city. Furthermore, the external influences may lack judgment due to perception from past people — it isn’t always true, but Blu is implementing the nature vs. nurture argument. It reaches few tipping points, but Blu continues lyrical potency by digging into complexities.
It benefits Blu that the production streamlines with a consistency that equips it with a quality that lets it flow as one straight DJ Mix — meaning the tracks connect smoothly without having any pausing drawback from the production. But it doesn’t always bode well with some. The consistency comes from the producers, who never seems to fail on the album. However, some may not like socio-political allusions in the music they enjoy, and Blu delivers with cadence. In “We Are Darker Than Blu(e),” Blu brings these notions of past events that have created riffs, like the shooting of John F. Kennedy and the Rodney King verdict. Over the lush jazz-funk-influenced production, Blu hams the references by sticking to the apparent events instead of digging into more extensive history. It didn’t work for me as much as the rest of the songs.
Sometimes, Blu takes the word and centers it directly back on himself, playing off common phrases to establish a different point or meaning. In “Everyday Blu(e)s,” he shifts the meaning of the word from something negative to a derelict focus on Blu’s bluisms, like how he spends his days, either working on his craft or with his kid, and in some cases, chilling while smoking a blunt. Similarly, he follows a similar path with “Blu(e)r than Blu(e),” where the focus becomes on eclipsing his status as an artist, at times creating allusions to being semi-super-human. Like “Everyday Blu(e)s,” “Blu(e)r than Blu(e)” shifts the meaning of the phrase while continuing to deliver cohesive and intricate production.
A contributing factor to the production is the different horn and string arrangements that change on a whim to match the sample instead of the percussion. “Mr. Blue Sky” uses ELO’s (Electric Lights Orchestra) song of the same name to tremendous effect. It’s Blu’s more pop-centric song, specifically, with the captivating production that brings focus from the strings on the ELO song. A lot of the songs have this kind of transfixing quality that I find myself returning for the lyrics as the production took the spotlight the first time around. And if you’re a fan of this kind of hip-hop, you’ll find it easier to return.
The Color Blu(e) isn’t as profound and tightly wound as Miles, but Blu doesn’t take shortcuts. He still comes at full force with diverse subjects and verses that are as memorable as the production. From the various samples, some of which are as luscious as “Mr. Blue Sky,” you’ll still find more pieces to dissect and enjoy. In terms of hip-hop, this is one of the best projects this year, and it earns one of my more earnest recommendations.