Last month, revered West Coast hip-hop duo Blu & Exile celebrated the 10 year anniversary of their classic 2007 collaboration, Below the Heavens, with a special show at The Regent Theater in Downtown Los Angeles. I’m bummed I couldn’t make the show, especially considering that Below the Heavens is one of my favorite hip-hop albums ever. The great news is that Blu & Exile are taking the show on the road to a bunch of other venues, so I will definitely be there when they come through again in a few weeks!
In light of the anniversary, I wanted to put together a list of my 10 favorite Blu & Exile tracks. Below the Heavens has been one of the most meaningful records in my life, ever since the moment I heard it. It’s frequently praised as one of the jewels of underground hip-hop, and rightfully so. The way Blu dove into topics like religion, God and the brutal uncertainties of young adulthood was something I related to on such a deep level. Exile’s production on the album is just as impressive, showcasing some of the most well-incorporated samples that hip-hop saw during that aughts.
It would be easy to keep rambling about the album and all its amazing qualities, so I’ll cut myself off right there. This list also includes some songs from Blu & Exile’s 2012 album, Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them, which is also an amazing record that deserves plenty of notoriety on its own. Without further ado, here are the 10 best Blu & Exile songs.
Honorable Mentions: Growing Pains, Simply Amazin’
10. My World Is.. // Below the Heavens
Coming in at number 10 is the intro track on Below the Heavens, “My World Is..”. Blu wastes no time getting down to business, coming in with a sharp, ultra-aggressive flow, calling out his contemporaries and asserting himself as a force to be reckoned with. It gets the album off to a great start and is one of the best instances of Blu simply rapping his ass off.
“And they still spell my name fucked up on their flyers
It’s B-L-U, and if you see the E drop ’em
It’s like they droppin’ E from the beats E’s droppin’
Got your peeps eavesdropping and the world keeps watching him”
9. Blu Colla Workers // Below the Heavens
The average joe anthem! One of the catchier songs from Below the Heavens, “Blu Colla Workers” is as fun and melodic as you’ll ever hear Blu. He pokes fun at girls that give him a hard time for spending his time working and rapping rather than being with them, but then simultaneously complain about him not having enough cash. It’s got a great hook, a bouncy instrumental, and above all it’s relatable.
“Truth is I’m bruising every mic that I come across
And every now and then, drop a hundred off
Just so you can fucking floss, but that’s not enough for you
So I take another loss, wondering why I fucked with you
Knowing I got stuff to do”
8. More Out of Life (feat. Jasmine Mitchell) // Give Me My Flowers…
“More Out of Life” is one of my favorite songs from 2012’s Give Me My Flowers… Exile flexes all his muscles on this instrumental, incorporating beautiful flutes and chimes that make the beat a pretty, colorful canvas for Blu to paint his thoughts on. The Jasmine Mitchell feature is a nice touch as well, and her guest vocals fit right in with the vibe of the song.
“Traded peace for the sorrow that I swallow
Bottle after bottle, like the role models that I hallow
Feeling like a seedless avocado
Crowd screaming ‘Bravo bravo!’
Here’s a dollar for your sorrows
And can I borrow your time more tomorrow?
Watching Fargo, feeling far gone from the chart that I was gon’ follow”
7. Show Me the Good Life (feat. Aloe Blacc) // Below the Heavens
I love this song for a couple different reasons. Lyrically speaking, it’s some of Blu’s best work. He rattles off clever rhymes from the perspective of a young entertainer who’s facing a lot of adversity, stating that he finds much greater value in real life experiences, like being poor, as opposed to embellishing in the excesses of money and other material things. Additionally, I truly appreciate this song for how great it sounds in the context of the album. It’s got a beaming instrumental and a nice feature from a younger, slick-rapping Aloe Blacc.
“It’s so much I could show you without rollin’ through Beverly Hills
Without money, cars, clothes or even ecstasy pills
I don’t need weed to ease me when I’m stressing for real
I just try to close my eyes and think how heaven feels”
6. Cold Hearted (feat. Miguel) // Below the Heavens
This is easily one of the most intimate songs on what is a very personal album. The track is blessed by Miguel’s smooth, young voice both on the chorus and the outro. Blu spits compelling stories about his struggles as an adolescent, growing up in a violent environment, but it’s the overall sound quality of the track that really makes me fall in love with it. Overall, it’s just a really pretty song with great vocal arrangements.
“I was cold hearted and young, a dumb kid with a gun
Cause fun days don’t last, the last nigga to laugh
So rap fell on my tongue, numb feelings remain”
5. The Narrow Path // Below the Heavens
“The Narrow Path” was the song that really grabbed my attention the first time I listened to Below the Heavens all the way through. It’s a classic, boom-bap inspired cut that sounds like it could have been straight out of the ’90s. It’s a hip-hop purist’s dream – solid drums, gritty verses, raw and thoughtful lyricism. Blu raps about the reality of how difficult it is to become successful as an MC. He ponders over daily criticism from his parents and peers, but ultimately determines that his destiny is to pour his soul and heart into his music.
“Until day dawns, I make songs for the long road travelers
And lost souls after us
Spitting lyrics vicious like I’m mad as fuck
Packing up my bags hopping back on the narrow path that’s planned for us”
4. A Man // Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them
Although Give Me My Flowers… wasn’t officially released until 2012, the bulk of the album was recorded prior to 2009, closely following the release Below the Heavens. It’s easy to see what kind of head space Blu was in during that time, because thematically, this song fits right in with a bulk of his debut project. On this particular song, he proposes a number of tough questions, addressing the contradictions and the similarities of different world religions, like Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The instrumental fuels the progression of Blu’s verses as they go on; it’s covered with powerful gospel and soul inspired vocal samples that really help drive the message home. One of the deepest and most to-the-point hip-hop songs you’ll ever come across that talks about prayer and the power of belief.
“Who do you believe in? I know it ain’t me
I hope it ain’t a priest or who you see on TV
I hope it ain’t your poppa partner, he only raise you
And I know it ain’t your mom, even though that’s who you came through
I’m asking who you pray to, some believe in angels
Some believe in one God, some believe in Jesús”
3. Dancing in the Rain // Below the Heavens
“Dancing in the Rain” is one of the smoothest tracks in Blu & Exile’s catalog. The production sounds like the soundtrack to a European love story of some sort, and vocally, it’s one of Blu’s best all around performances. He sorts through a long list of first world problems that hold him back from pursuing his career: struggling to pay bills, not being able to afford a car, trying to support a girlfriend and satisfying his demanding record label, all at the same time. He signifies the importance of learning to cope with the struggle, reminding us that overcoming obstacles always starts with a positive frame of mind.
“Truth is I’m stressing to grip
Cause it’s hard to make music when this depression exists
They say use it as inspiration, the best of ’em did
But that’s them, see I can’t handle this pressure for shit
And if you ask me stress is a bitch
My girl needs more attention and my record label’s desperate for hits”
2. Samsonite Man (feat. Blu) // Boy Meets World
I bent the rules a little for my number 2 pick. “Samsonite Man” comes from Fresno rapper, Fashawn’s debut album, Boy Meets World, which Exile also produced entirely. This song sees Fashawn and Blu rapping about their nomadic lives on the road, over one of Exile’s most uplifting instrumentals ever. It’s such an upbeat track that’s hard not to love, and it always ends up finding its way back into my rotation. All around, just a great rap song from two of my favorite MCs.
“Listen, Im just one reflection
You see me on stage and think I’m God reflecting
But see I’m really just John, look my passport says so
Folks say I’m retro and I guess so”
1. The World Is (Below the Heavens..) // Below the Heavens
The epic final cut to Below the Heavens, also titled “Below the Heavens Pt. I”, takes the cake as my favorite Blu & Exile track. This song is the perfect closer to an album that was so profound in contemplating the contradictions between heaven and the hard trials of real life. The way Exile chops up the horns over the iconic Nas inspired chorus combined with Miguel’s beautiful background vocals makes for a spiritual audio experience. It has all the elements of a grand finale. It’s hip-hop in its most divine form.
“Praying our mind frames switch and these times change quick
But I hate to say it brother, the youth is too stubborn
Too stuck on themselves to ever think about others”
. . . . . . .
Thanks for reading! If you haven’t already, go check out Blu & Exile’s music for yourself. They each also have some great solo material that is well worth a listen. Peep the graphic below for the rest of their tour dates.
If you’re a big Blu fan, or if you enjoyed reading this article, here is a link to a review I did on Reddit of Blu & Fa†e’s 2016 record, Open Your Optics to Optimism.