Blu Photo Courtesy of Johnson Barnes

Blu thrives on evolution. The Los Angeles-based rapper-producer has been releasing music since 2006, and he’s already gone through several metamorphoses.

“When I first started rapping, I was originally yelling on records like I was Busta Rhymes or something,” says Blu, whose Amnesia EP was released earlier this month on Nature Sounds. “There’s many different styles that my audience or fanbase has not heard, so I’m definitely eager to take them to different sound sonics, to explore different frequencies of sound with me.”

Blu is best-known for his soul-sampling work with steady collaborators Exile, Ta’Raach and Mainframe, but the next chapter in his sonic evolution will travel down an electric avenue.

Blu Quick Bio

  • Born Johnson Barnes in Los Angeles, CA
  • Named Rookie of the Year by HipHopDX
  • One of XXL Magazine's Top 10 Freshman of '09

He’s dabbled in the sound on some of his recent projects, as well as collaborations with several European acts. NoYork -- his debut album on Sire/Warner Bros. Records and his first major foray into this sound -- is slated for release later this year and will likely feature collaborations with Theophilus London and Sa-Ra Creative Partners, among others.

Though many major record labels would likely be weary of signing an artist who intends to evolve from their signature sound with their next release, Warner Bros. was sold on Blu’s work ethic and his ability to reach his fans as much as it was with his music.

Blu’s prolific nature also impressed the storied label, which has released music from such iconic acts as Madonna, Linkin Park and Neil Young, and also just signed a deal with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group.

“They were keen to that hustle and they were trying to take their label into that direction of more of a faster-paced output,” Blu says.

Blu - Amnesia

Soul, Jazz and Rap

Of course much of Blu’s earlier work most notably his collaborations with Exile (Below the Heavens) and Mainframe (Johnson&Jonson) were inspired by the warm sonic textures of soul music from the 1960s and ‘70s. Jazz and rap were also heavy influences, especially scratching on hooks.

I met someone who could thoroughly cut and make a scratch hook that was dope

“I grew up on Pete Rock and Primo,” Blu says. “Having like a scratch hook was a big deal for me because I wasn’t a DJ and the DJs I knew weren’t as vicious [as them]. We would listen for the hooks as much as we would listen for dope punchlines in the verse. You come across a dope Primo hook like ‘Nas Is Like,’ that shit just like loops in your head forever. We were definitely looking for that feeling and when I ran into Exile, I met someone who could thoroughly cut and make a scratch hook that was dope. So, it was no question to bring that element of cutting or scratching hip-hop over some dope production. It just so happened that it happened to be soul production also. So, it married two different generations.”

Even though the sounds now focus more on electronic music, Blu thinks his fans have already embraced his artistic growth.

“Coming from such a soulful background,” he says, “having this new generation open their doors to me is a blessing.”

For more from Soren Baker follow him on Twitter: @SorenBaker



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