Myth building is never a tidy endeavor. The process can be messy, offensive, inconvenient, impractical and strange. But a myth can maintain longer and stronger than anything tangible. What the fuck does that have to do with anything? Well, it has everything to do with NoYork!, Los Angeleno Blu’s highly anticipated solo LP.
Since 2007, Azulito has bore the cross of “real hip hop” for a generation of young yet jaded hip-hop heads. They’ve projected their every want and desire for the genre onto the thin, six-foot-something MC and he has taken every opportunity given to reciprocate with some seriously strange fruit. The lo-fi, melancholic love-letter of HerFavouriteColo(u)r was a challenge for most listeners when he originally released it for free on his MySpace in 2008. His increasingly ramble-heavy verses and affinity for muddy mixes on his recent Jesus project garnered a few befuddled reactions. But NoYork! was supposed to be it: the album that was to be released on Warner Bros and cement Blu as the new voice of West Coast hip hop.
Then Blu started selling the album at Rock The Bells earlier this month. Unceremoniously, NoYork! was soon available on your favorite file-hosting website and the informal internet radio that is YouTube. The sound of the album was a complete departure from previous work, the closest released work that could compare being Blu’s remix of Flying Lotus’ GNG(BNG) from his Los Angeles LP. Exile has only one track on the album and it sounds nothing like their Below The Heavens work. The bulk of the production is handled by individuals associated with the Low End Theory sound and scene: Flying Lotus, Samiyam (who has the most production out of anyone on the project, to my personal delight), Daedelus, Dibiase, Devonwho and Knxwledge. Madlib and Shafiq Husayn are two other heavy LA producers that contribute.
The result ostensibly depends on your perspective. To some ears, this is a sloppy mess of dissonance and highly articulate rambling, a glaring reminder that putting too many of your personal expectations on your heroes will only disappoint you. Most songs do not have a clear, linear narrative that even in previous so-called experimental projects (CRAC and Johnson&Jonson) were still present. Some songs feature a lone verse from Blu after 2 minutes of music and others have him only on the chorus. Blu’s lyricism is simultaneously esoteric and astral, either subterranean or in the clouds, never quite rapping with both feet on the ground.
Then there will be those that see it differently, like yours truly. To us, all the above ‘flaws’ read as selling points. His surreal, dense lyricism is a breath of fresh air in contrast to the overly simplified, run-of-the-mill rhymes that fill most verses in 2011. On tracks like “My Sunshine” and “Spring Winter Summer Fall,” this style can still evoke the same encouraging energy of his earlier work with Exile. The same approach also gives him the flexibility to craft a jagged narrative on “Keepushinn” bringing up memories of French new wave cinema. And just on the track before, “Jazzmen,” he uses the same disjointed rhyming to spit an ode to Jazz pioneers in two verses. The production is a precise reflection of present-day Los Angeles. Blu had spoken to this in an interview sometime last year, saying he was specifically trying to capture the musical moment of today.
What many are taking from NoYork! is that their would-be favorite rapper went batshit, blew his chance at major label success and made an album basically for himself. What I see is a highly creative young Black man taking the reigns of his own legacy. He has professed his admiration for the jazz cats of old repeatedly and from that perspective one can start seeing something of a pattern, not necessarily in form but in spirit. Blu is very coyly and intelligently building his myth. All the eccentric behavior, avoided interviews and cryptic rhymes have a purpose. Many want Blu to be the new Nas when Blu seems to want to be the new Mingus. I’m sure future generations will appreciate.