It can be tough being a fan of Blu. After putting out the excellent 2007 debut collaboration Beneath the Heavens with producer Exile, Blu hooked up with Mainframe for the Johnson & Jonson LP a year later. Both full-lengths exhibited a versatile and thoughtful beyond his years MC. Since then, it feels like Blu has been kind of fucking around– or at least fucking with us. He has leaked his share of sporadic tracks and updates with plans of releasing EPs and albums, only for them to never appear or end up free for download. Some of them just appear online to discover with no publicity push or even a Twitter update. Along with his reclusive nature, this leaves his small but solid fan-base scratching their heads to what the exactly he’s doing. Where most rappers try to find as much exposure on the web, in print and videos as possible, Blu chooses to mostly stay in the shadows. He’s an anti-rapper, minus what he does on the mic.
Jesus is just that the kind of release that might continue to leave fans of Blu wondering. Last we checked in, he was hooking up with Flying Lotus for a LP called No York! Then this album falls out of our DSL connection randomly. Originally posted on Bandcamp under the mysterious moniker “B,” the album quickly disappeared, only for it to be released months later officially boasting of production by Madlib and The Alchemist while keeping the shortened moniker. Despite the promise of respectable names on the boards for a promising MC like Blu, Jesus is a subdued and unassuming affair. Sharing a similar feel and sound to the EP/free download/scrapped-then-released HerFavoriteColo(u)r, but lacking a bit of its moody, soulful intimacy. Where the latter was a solo, introspective offering; Jesus puts things on cruise control and invites some friends along for the ride to do some of the work and maintain the focus. Much the album is enjoyably simple in production, lacking choruses and featuring scratchy soul samples alongside mid-tempo boom bap percussion. Tracks like the short “l u c k y” and “4 u” (spaces intentional) showcase that likeable, laidback Blu rolling through rhymes with the ease of riding a bike. Coupled alongside the mellow production, Blu is sometimes easy to tune out if you’re not listening closely. It comes as almost a jarring shock when fellow Cali MC Planet Asia appears for a verse with his gravel-laden, workhorse voice on The Alchemist-produced “D o o w h o p” deep into the record. On the post-rap lo-fi offerings “d m v” or “o n t h e p o r c h,” Blu’s production is not far off from recent Shabazz Palaces works, but comes off more like a late night, off-the-cuff idea than an experimental statement.
Elsewhere, Blu reminds us why we keep paying attention. We find him alone and meditative on “L u c k y” where he begins by singing to himself for a good minute before coming in with a loose, hypnotic stream of conscious. With “j e s u s,” Blu unravels an introspective, cut-up urban narrative of fleeting memories over melancholy production courtesy of Madlib. On these offerings, Blu shows off his ability to be both a street poet and a mischievous prankster, playing with words, even if the lines don’t always make immediate sense, with a lost-in-thought persona.
On the surface, Jesus is easy to ignore. At just under 28 minutes, it’s surprisingly an album that still needs time and dedication. What Jesus really does make clear is that Blu is doing whatever the hell he wants. Perhaps it’s better to not approach Blu’s output as one would with other rappers and hip-hop albums. There’s something deeply concealed and artistic in Blu’s whole no-frills approach, even if it isn’t immediately understood or decipherable. For now his effortless and distinctive skills on the mic allow this to continue and keeps us listening. How long will we stick around through his eccentricities, though? I’m not sure that it matters to him. As he exemplifies rather simply on the title track, “I be Blu, you be you, we be we, Scooby-Doo.” Yeah, that sounds about right.