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June is Black Music Month and WERS at Night will recognize black musicians, composers, singers, and songwriters who have made enormous contributions to the music industry. Today, June 26th, 889@Night is highlighting Blu.
Today we are recognizing Johnson Barnes, better known as Blu, an American West Coast rapper and producer from Los Angeles, California for Black Music month. Blu has really taken a leap in the rap game. His drive, persistence, passion, and work ethic have earned Blu much respect in the industry.
Growing up, Blu listened to gospel and Christian rap mainly due to the fact that his stepfather was a pastor. At the same time, his father exposed him to gangsta rap. His father was a big influence, helping Blu craft his artistic style and flow. Before breaking out as a rapper, Blu worked as a “hype man” for underground rap and R&B artists such as Slum Village, Steve Spacek, Platinum Pied Pipers, and Emanon.
Blu was finally able to find his sound after listening to Common’s 1994 song, “I Used to Love H.E.R.”. Blu’s earlier style mainly consisted of freestyle rhyming and not much storytelling. After hearing “I Used to Love H.E.R.”, Blu took his writing to a higher level, crafting and conceptualizing words into stories. In an interview with HipHopDX back in March 2008, Blu said, “”When I heard it, it really changed my life. I felt like I had heard Hip Hop for the first time. It made me change my content and my whole approach. It made me serious about writing and wanting to say something.”
Blu was not lying. His musical career took off fast. Blu turned down major record label offers in 2004 and chose to sign with a L.A. independent label, Sound in Color. A new friendship with L.A. based producer Exile helped strengthen Blu’s sound and skills. In August of 2007, Blu released his debut album, Below the Heavens. This album in particular caught the attention of many people because of its well thought-out lyrics and rich, underground sound. The success received from Below the Heavens gave Blu the recognition he deserved. HipHopDX named him Rookie of the Year in 2007.
With all of today’s mainstream rap and lack of its roots, Blu is a true underground MC and wants to stay that way. He has been able to release countless projects due to his motivation. He leaves the radio and TV off and lets his mind do the thinking for him. In April 2008, a collaboration with rapper-producer Ta’Raach was in the works. They released the album The Piece Talks under Tres Records. Later that year, Blu collaborated with producer Mainframe to form Johnson&Jonson. Blu and Mainframe moved on to form their joint company New World Color. The two released their EP E.Q.E.P. and Blu released a solo project, (So)ul Amazing. Blu’s third album, HerFavoriteColo(u)r is known for its jazzy, neo soul feel. Released in 2009, the album samples artists such as Billie Holiday and Jimi Hendrix. Adding on to his list of projects, Blu released his mixtape (So)ul Amazing II with DJ Heat. In 2009, XXL magazine named Blu as one of their Top 10 Freshman of ’09.
Not only is Blu a remarkable rapper, but he is also a producer. He released an eight track instrumental called NoSleepForADay. Blu’s talents never went unnoticed. In 2009, he found himself signed to a major label, Warner Bros. After signing with Warner Bros., Blu released his lyrical/instrumental full length LP theGodleeBarnes. The year 2011 had to be Blu’s biggest year for production as a number of projects were released: AndIf You See The E Drop Em, j e s u s, NoYork!, and Give Me My Flowers While I Can Smell Them. He has also produced 3 full albums throughout his career, ADayLate&ADollarShort by Sene (2009), Open/O’Pen (2011), and RaelBlz (with Real J Wallace) (2012). There is no sign of Blu slowing down anytime soon. With all this talent, how could he? Be on the lookout for another project with Exile as well as a mastered version of Give Me My Flowers While I Can Smell Them. Blu has a mind like no other. He incorporates all walks of life into his music and production while filling each record with endless creativity.