Individually, Blu & Exile are two West Coast hip-hop vets who have had respectable and often-great solo careers. But 13 years after their seminal debut, they remain best known for their work together. The legendary duo’s third full-length collaborative effort, Miles: From an Interlude Called Life, brings their journey full circle, flexing their superior skill and craftsmanship to create an ambitious, 95-minute jazz-rap opus that celebrates and pays homage to a rich musical and cultural history through deep examination of self and spirituality.
Blu’s rapping has always been clever and highly referential. On Miles, his focus hinges on the album title itself, both in its allusion to jazz great Miles Davis and also exploring the term in a sense of distance and time. On “Miles Away,” he weighs his current personal ambitions against the lofty career aspirations of his youth, whereas “Miles Davis” reveres the iconic trumpeter directly with tightly woven wordplay and a jazzy piano loop that captures an Illmatic-esque vibe of a weed-soaked cypher in the park.
Along this train of thought, Blu connects his personal hardships to the greater African-American struggle, recounting the Black race’s migration and extraction out of Africa on “Roots of Blue,” citing a desire to return there one day on “African Dream,” and shouting out everyone from A$AP Yams to Maya Angelou, among numerous other departed cultural figures, as inspirations on “To The Fall, But Not Forgotten.” Through his ever-reflective writing, the songs here reaffirm Blu as one of the great conceptual lyricists of his era.
Wherever Blu shines, Exile is always there to amplify his glow. His work on Miles is some of his best, his combination of dusty boom-bap beats and sweet sample-driven soundscapes consistently serving as the perfect compliment to Blu’s rhythmic poetry. Like his partner, Exile is an expert at pinpointing his influences in creative ways. He lays down funky keyboard lines as Blu salutes L.A. rap pioneers like Eazy-E and Dr. Dre on “Music Is My Everything,” conjures up a cosmic church feel on the gospel-inspired “Dear Lord” and evokes a hazy warmth on the off-kilter “Spread Sunshine.” Elsewhere, “Blue” and “When The Gods Meet” harp back to the fractured psychedelic jazz-rap of Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them.
Blu & Exile embody the essence of hip-hop down to its core. It’s soul and spirit are embedded in the fabric of their albums. Their music is blue collar rap that taps into a larger-than-life feeling and their partnership represents the perfect marriage of talent and kinship. It is Exile’s endless well of vintage samples and uplifting beats that turn Blu’s meditations on the urban struggle into metaphysical sermons. And it is Blu’s poetic depth and profound lyrics that morph Exile’s steady-rocking grooves into soulful instrumental gold. Miles solidifies their legacy among the greatest jazz-rap torchbearers and as an all-time tandem.