For any true hip-hop fan, Johnson Barnes (Blu) is definitely a name that comes to mind when you think of the “new” west coast. He was born and raised in Los Angeles, and came up in the church. That has a lot to do with the spiritual side of his music. Ever since the release of his debut albumBelow The Heavens (2007), he has worked with just about every great producer, landed a spot on the 2009 XXL Freshman list, and released CLASSICS! So without further ado, I give to you my conversation with Blu. Check it out below.
Usually I ask people to introduce themselves as the first question, but everyone should already know who you are. How’s everything with you Blu?
Everything is copacetic, cool and easy going like a Sunday evening. I caught amen fever, I call him “Justin Feiber” but he’s ready to bounce. I coughed up a piece of my lungs today, kinda cool, other than I’m 30.
One of the main reasons that you are one of my favorite MC’s is because you’ve stayed true to yourself in such a crazy rap game. What would your advice be to a young MC coming up in this game?
It would be just that, just that exactly, stay true. So when people give you love, they are giving it to you directly, not the man you bit your style from, but they are giving they’re love to you.
Jesus is one of my favorite projects from you. It was one of those tapes that was a hidden gem when you FIRST dropped it. Why did you take the anonymous approach back when you first released it on your bandcamp?
Well, at the time, we just realized we either would be getting dropped from Warner or shelved, and not that I was in a rush, but I hate for my progress to be put on hold, especially over some bullshit. We were inking our indie deal aside from Warner at the time, which would distribute art from my friends but I decided I wanted to make a step of freedom and release something fresh and brand new with no limitations, no label restrictions or requirements, just freedom, liberty ya know.
The project was originally called “Egypt Eleven,” as a reflection of independence from labels and Egypt’s independence from government.
Describe your writing process. As far as what you need, where you have to be to write, etc.
I need an open mind. I can write in confined spaces like jail, house parties or cars, but I’d rather be by the music, where it was created or where it could bang the most. I realized late the most important asset is the sound palette, the beat. And I like them boys loud and knocking when I write g, so the eavesdroppers feel that shit! I write like some one is fucking in the next room (Ha). Naw but I do keep books, magazines, Wikipedia, MTV Jams, Twitter. Those are my current tools!
What/who inspired you to start producing?
Exile, Mainframe, and Ta’Raach. Each producer has produced a full length record with me and every time, each one of them would tell me I should start producing. Either for the way I listen to beats, my beat selections, my advice on making a beat, how I choose samples, or even when I tell them they should do it like this. Each one of them gave me tips, so my style samples each one of theirs.
You’ve worked with just about every great hip-hop producer: Madlib, Dilla, Alchemist, Exile, Mainframe, and Pete Rock just to name a few. So who’s a producer out there that you would still like to work with?
Prince Paul g, I know he got some corky cartoon beats in the vault, I need those.
And Premo (DJ Premier), I have yet to make that classic staple, with the greatest of all time.
It’s one track on Below The Heavens that I have to ask you about, “In Remembrance.” That’s a very passionate track where you’re telling life stories. Could you tell us a little more about that song.
That song tells too much as it is, but I was trying to make my own version of Nas’ “Memory Lane,” but it had more of a gospel feel that I felt fit my southern background ya know.
You probably get asked this question a lot, but will you and Sene ever follow-up to A Day Late & A Dollar Short?
Haha, probably not. Sene is so talented, he’s like me, you can’t box him. After he conquers one thing he’s on to the next. He’s not a vulture, he doesn’t hang around after he’s killed something. He’s already looking for something fresh, thats my dude. We started a record with myself, Sene and fellow Brooklyn mutual friend, Anthm. We got gems! Hopefully that project will see the light of day.
How did coming up in the Church help you as a hip-hop artist?
Church taught me to sing and to not be afraid of my surroundings when performing, and to give the performance my all and not my fear or doubt. My mom would say, “the devil don’t know what you saying when you humming,” so when I got nervous, I would hum.
Im going to name a few people, and you tell me how they’ve influenced your music.
Nas made the best hip-hop record of all time, the definitive, Illmatic.
Erykah was the first mainstream artist I heard doing god math and numbers, showing me that the spirit of the underground could shine throughout the most beautiful vocalist also.
Lauryn was the best female MC to touch a mic. She took to a place I doubt any other female will bring it back from. She elevated so high, then brought it back to the womb and nurtured it while others watched or copied the cookie cutters.
Slum is the definition of the vibe, and Dilla was the best. They were the next native tongues, but more street, and still conscious. True pioneers of Detroit hip-hop!
I wanted too be Redman, but I couldn’t, so I called myself Blu man hahaha. Redman made the rawest record of any lyricist ever, Muddy Waters, 20+ songs of straight ripping ass!
If it wasn’t for Andre 3000, I probably would still be freestyling trying to eat cannabis or supernatural.
What’s up next for you? Projects, visuals, tours, etc?
We just dropped an EP with MED and Madlib titled The Burgundy and we are looking to drop a follow up. We also released a single on record store day on a 45 called “Thelonius King” featuring RA The Rugged Man and Tristate of Du Rag Dynasty. Both of those have videos out also. Last month, we officially released the album No York! under the title York!, under our label, New World Color. Also, this summer look for releases and projects I have with super producers like Alchemist, Nottz Raw, and the legendary Pete Rock!
Blu is Los Angles hip-hop now nigga! May GOD bless and the power rest in justice. Peace and prosperity to all! 2013, we seen the Zenith!