During this SOTBMusic retrospective, I’m talking Blu’s debut album with Exile, Below the Heavens. However, instead of going through track-by-track, I want to talk about its impact on me as a person and an artist. Somehow this album is still underrated and I hope that my thoughts on it will introduce at least one new set of ears to it. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
About ten years ago, in the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I was in a funk. I’d just broken up with my girlfriend (like an asshole) and my dad was entering the last months he had on this Earth. On top of that, I teetered on the border between being “okay” at school and being on academic probation. Drizzle was in the middle of a weird relationship and that ended up spilling over into our friendship. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of shit going on that year.
Enter True God, who went by a different name at the time. I’d always been pretty in tune with underground hip-hop. But True? He had an even larger ear for the sounds. I respected his opinion on what was dope and what was trash because he knew more about it than I did on certain topics. So, when he said “Speed, you need to check out Below the Heavens,” I didn’t doubt him.
The album, which served at Blu’s debut, teamed the L.A. rapper with producer Exile. Together, the duo created one of the greatest albums of the past ten years. When I say that, I mean that everything about the album just works and works on a level that either borders on or hits that “classic” level. But, like Big K.R.I.T.’s R4, this album hits closer to home than just giving fire bars and dope beats.
I could type until my fingers fall off about the multis Blu used, the DITC beats Exile crafted, the Miguel feature(s) that gave things that extra pop, and the effortlessness of Blu’s craft. I could talk until my mouth ran dry about the punchlines and the lyricism. I could, but I won’t. Instead, I want to go back to this album and how it pulled me out of my funk and made me do better.
The album was critical for my development as an artist (this album was one that inspired me to do my own lo-fi/no-fi hip-hop) and a person. As an artist, in addition to the lo-fi/no-fi thing, the album inspired me to start digging in the crates even more than I’d done before. I wanted to flip everything into a dope beat. Additionally, I wanted my flows to be as effortless but still poignant as Blu’s were. So, in some ways, I began modeling my approach to music after the Blu Collar Worker himself. And, ten years later, I feel that it paid off since people actually have rocked with the type of music I’ve provided. However, without this album, my style would’ve been drastically different. Additionally, the collaborative nature between Blu and Exile, years later, would inspire my own work with True on some of his earlier work.
As a person, I related to Blu and his situations as a young man. And to see that, even with the craziness he’s seen, he was able to get out and record a classic album, it gave me strength. I’d play “My World Is…” every time I felt mad at the world. Three minutes and forty seconds later, I got brought down and I became more focused. I knew he wasn’t, but on every track, it felt like Blu spoke to me to say “Speed, it sucks now. But, it gets better.” Hearing him deal with depression and dark days helped me deal with my own mental situations a lot better than I would’ve without it. Long story short, this album became my musical therapy and it still serves that purpose today.
Along with Dilla’s Donuts, Below the Heavens is one of the few albums that I’ve purchased on every digital format that I’ve had. From iTunes to Google Play to Apple Music to playing it off my 360 during the dark days of 2012, I went nowhere without a copy of this project. Why? It’s a dope album and it helps me through tough times.
Classic music isn’t classic just because of bars and beats. It also has a lot to do with the feeling you get when you start the project up. Every time I start up Below the Heavens, it feels like the first time (even when I’m rapping along with Blu) and it’s a magical experience for me. The album is classic to me because I’ve connected with it on a level beyond just it being a dope project.
For that, I thank Blu and Exile for getting together and putting out this masterpiece. So, check it out during its tenth anniversary and remember to support dope music in all its forms.