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Blu & Exile

Blu & Exile have fingers in so many pies, it’s a full-time job keeping up. But beyond their collaborations, solo projects and plans for the future, there’s the Below The Heavens album, an already classic slab of noughties hip hop that emerged in 2007 to universal acclaim. In their lecture from Red Bull Music Academy in 2008, the duo discuss how they hooked up in the L.A. underground, and detail their myriad projects, from ripping samples from the radio to the leftfield stylings of C.R.A.C. Exile talks about his background in music, and how he owes his hip hop career to a fictional character called Shabba Doo, while Blu is a late starter who owes it all to DMX and Common. In a hip hop landscape beset by mediocrity, these two are making some of the most innovative music around.

Hosted by Davide Bortot Audio Only Version Transcript:

RBMA

Welcome everybody to the first session of today. We have two gentlemen who’ve come all the way from Los Angeles. They put out an album last year called Below The Heavens, which to many was one of the best rap albums in quite a few years. He’s the rapper(points to Blu), he’s the DJ (points to Exile), give it up for Blu & Exile.

(applause)

So you’re not really the traditional hip hop group, you work with other people as well. Maybe you could explain why you hooked up together in the first place.

Exile

Well, at first I was making music with Aloe Blacc as a group called Emanon. We later made a record called Science Project, and were about to start a label with Blu and McGill and some other folks. I’d always heard about Blu and one day me and Aloe went to check out one of his shows. I was working on a producer project where I had different features. I saw him perform and it was amazing, I loved it. He heard some music I had done and we hooked up and made a song. After the first song we started discussing making an album together and what it would sound like.

RBMA

You and your family have a pretty long history in music. How did that help you, having your father playing in a band, your grandfather playing in a band?

Exile

Well, my grandfather taught music and played things from traditional Italian music to Mexican mariachi. My father played in a ‘60s garage band called Lost And Found. One of the records was reissued in London. They both taught music, I had my own guitar and drum studio, they taught me accordion when I was little. I wasn’t living with my father too much when I was growing up but there was definitely a musical influence in my life.

RBMA

How about you, Blu? It might sound like a fanzine question, but what was your first contact with hip hop?

Blu

The first time I heard hip hop? My dad gave me LL Cool J’s"Bad" on cassette. I thought that was dope, but as soon as I got it home my mum took it from me.

RBMA

How did you get it back?

Blu

I didn’t, I got it on vinyl a few years ago, that was my first time of having it since then.

RBMA

So coming from Los Angeles, you seem to have a strong East Coast lyrical background in there. What were the rap albums that influenced you the most?

Blu

The first thing I heard that made me want to rap… I was listening to DMX’s It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot. I was listening to Al Green a lot, Aretha Franklin, and what’s the old boy who was singing gospel? There was a bunch of his records, but I forgot, like Fred Hammond Jr or something. I got into those before I got into hip hop, then I moved in with my dad and he was banging Too ShortandB-Legit and I borrowed DMX from him.

RBMA

So what is it you find in all those people? That’s a pretty wide range from Al Green to DMX to Too Short, a pretty long trip. So what it that appeals to you about all those people?

Blu

Well, I got into Common. From DMX on into Redman,Canibus, the whole freestyle era, freestyle battling, then I got into Common and it changed. Common was a major influence on me musically. DMX had me writing some stuff that you guys will never hear.

Exile

You guys should know his stepfather suppressed his hip hop listening. He couldn’t freely listen to hip hop, they would take things from him.

Blu

I had "This Is How We Do It" under my bed, a cassette single.

RBMA

So Common, one day it all made sense, right?

Blu

Pretty much.

RBMA

The One Day It Will All Make Sense album was crucial to your career.

Blu

That was the first Common album I heard. My boy, who really got me into rapping, he would bite a lot of Resurrection. I didn’t know what it was, but at the time we would write raps back and forth, I wasn’t even reciting them. I would read his raps and be like: “You’ve got some crazy punchlines.” And then one day he played me Resurrection and I was: “You said all that.” One Day It Will All Make Sense I heard before and it did really change me, it was the first hip hop record I heard where there were so many topics, so many concepts, a rapper with so much to say without having the crazy style of a Busta Rhymes or a DMX.

RBMA

So after the album you did last year with Exile, you did two others – one with Ta’Raach, known as C.R.A.C. Knuckles, and another with Mainframe as Johnson & Jonson. So what is it about you and these collaboration albums, what’s so special about having two people in the room creating one album?

Blu

It’s more like a vibe. When two people come together, more so than having one person directing a record, then a sound gets developed, a certain direction, something cohesive about it. I like each project to be different, either the sound or the direction or the concepts. So I work with many different producers all year ‘round, but you meet with someone where the vibe clicks off and you just go from there. Me and Exile, it took us three years to make the record. Me and Ta’Raach, it took us seven days to do the record; with Mainframe it took two years to do it.

Exile

I think it took us less than three years, but it took that long to get out. Also I was working on the Dirty Science project at the same time.

Blu

Still took us three years, though.

RBMA

So when you say the one album took you three years, the other seven days, what’s the main difference?

Exile

We spent a lot of time developing the sound and learning things and that’s why he was possibly able to work more freely on the other record, which was actually being recorded at the same time as ours. So he was working on three records at the same time, really.

RBMA

So maybe we can hear some of this music?

Blu

Yeah, I’ve got to hook up my iPod.

(music: Johnson & Jonson - Hold On John)

Just because this is playing (laughs). This is the Johnson & Jonson record that came out last week and this is the bonus song on the record. I rapped over a John Lennon record, don’t tell anyone.

(music continues)

For the Johnson & Jonson record it was mostly just loops, we just rapped over songs. There’s another song on the record called "Only Way", which is a 32-bar loop. It was designed to be a mixtape for Below The Heavens, the record with Exile, but we didn’t want to rap over other people’s beats, so we just rapped over old songs we thought were dope. That’s what we did, that’s basically what the Johnson & Jonson record became.

RBMA

Two things: maybe you should either talk or play music, I don’t know if people can understand at the same time. And can you play something off the C.R.A.C. Knuckles record which has a totally different vibe.

Blu

This is the first single off the C.R.A.C. Knuckles record, called "Buy Me Lunch".

(music: C.R.A.C. Knuckles – Buy Me Lunch)

We’re not even rapping on that. That was our homegirl Noni Limar killing it, singing. We did the whole record in 15 minutes. We cut it and it was our favourite record off there, just doing chants on the whole record. Did pretty well too. Shall we play another one off C.R.A.C.? This is a Paul McCartney cover of a song called "Arrow Through Me", it’s called "Bullet Through Me". Thanks to Hennessy.

(music: C.R.A.C. Knuckles - Bullet Through Me)

RBMA

I think we can see that is totally different vibe from what you played before.

Blu

C.R.A.C. we just wanted to go totally out of the box with it. A lot of the earlier songs were just random rap songs, inspired by Bomb Squad, but the later ones, we were listening to some otherness. Even that song, we cut really quickly and it became the second single. We just liked that it was different to anything either of us had created, me or Ta’Raach. Ta’Raach does a lot of hard-sounding Detroit music. At the time I’d just put out Blu & Exile with Ed, which was more feel-good, lyrical, trying to touch people with lyrics. This was just fun, whatever.

RBMA

So if we go to the lyrics could you play some of Below The Heavens?

(music: Blu & Exile – Simply Amazing (instrumental))

Blu

I just realised, I’ve only got the instrumentals. I can do the verses, though. That song was called So "Amazing", it was a remix of an old song called "Soul Provider".

(raps the lyrics / applause)

RBMA

Ed, when people first heard about Blu it was something new for a lot of them. He stood out from radio dumbness but also from indie rap boredom. So what do you think is so special about him? What made you want to work with him?

Exile

He writes stuff from his heart, though at the time he just wanted to get his spitting across. I was determined for him to try to pull out the stuff that was in his heart and to battle everything else going on in the hip hop scene. Now, a lot of it is to get you hype and drunk and not really for thinking about anything else. I miss truth being what appeals to you about it, something truthful, the personality of an artist. He shows his personality with his lyrics.

RBMA

All the reviews of this when it came out said: “Hip hop is so wack nowadays, finally here’s something that brings it back.” Is hip hop really that wack?

Blu

No it’s not, it’s really not. There’s just a lot that’s not heard, ours broke through and I’m thankful for that, but there were a lot of really ill records last year. For us, it was when independent music on the internet really cracked off through MySpace. So it helped us, just in the nick of time.

Exile

I think there are two types of hip hop, two different sets of people motivated by different things. Right now, a lot of people are motivated purely by money so they’re making songs to make that money, to achieve what’s motivating them. There’s a whole other side of hip hop that’s not getting the light, which is motivated by love and being creative.

RBMA

We’ll talk about money later on, but you mentioned earlier that it’s important for a record to be truthful and show its personality. Why’s that? Let’s take Lil Wayne, for example, he’s mad creative, he might not show his personality, but that’s wrong with that? Wasn’t it about entertainment? I hear that a lot from people, about how you have to be honest with your lyrics and it’s not only about showing how hard you are. But when you think back to "Rapper’s Delight", was that truthful to their personality?

Exile

Yeah, yeah, I hear you. That’s just where I wanted to take the music I was working on. Lil Wayne definitely shows his personality. But there are other people who are just trying to capture that money. But that’s why people like Lil Wayne, because he does show his personality and that really is him. I think there needs to be a balance for hip hop to survive, there's a need for people showing their heart.

RBMA

So you work together in the studio on the album, not just sending each other beats. How did that affect the album? Whenever those big classics come in hip hop, it’s always like one producer, one rapper, so how was it on Below The Heavens? How was the atmosphere and what was so special?

Blu

It changed. There are different studios. When we started Below The Heavens we cut our first song on Exile’s four-track cassette, we cut "I Am Blu".

Exile

No, that wasn’t the first one.

Blu

 "Party Of Two" wasn’t on the album.

Exile

Oh, for the album, yeah.

Blu

That’s when we decided to do the album, after we cut that song. You don’t remember, huh?

Exile

Yeah, I remember, we stayed up all night. He found this Grover from Sesame Street sample where he’s singing(affects Grover’s voice): “I am blue.” He was: “You’ve got to make a beat out of it.” “I don’t know.” But he was pressing the issue, so I made these drums and I played the record at normal speed to the drums and it fit perfectly, I didn’t have to fix the pitch at all. He stayed up and wrote it on the spot and we did the end of the writing together. That was the only feature where I’m rapping on the album.

RBMA

Do you have the record on your computer? Can you play it?

Blu

But yeah, the vibes were different. This was the recut version, our only regret is not using the four-track version on the album (searches for the track). I could play the instrumental.

RBMA

The instrumental and the rapping? That would work.

Blu

Oh, with the rap.

Exile

I’ve got it right here. (cues it up) I sampled some little kids, you can hear them say “blue”, too. (to Blu) Are you gonna do it?

Blu

I’m going to try to remember the words. (Blu raps)I can’t remember anything else, I was only 21.

(applause)

RBMA

So all the beats on the album, I guess, were made on this little machine that might be familiar to some hip hop producers, the MPC. So what do you like about this machine that you make all your beats on it?

Exile

I used to use a Roland MS-1, which is about eight pads and no quantising or anything. And there’s no looping except for a live loop, so I’d actually have to hold down samples and play the drums while I’m holding it down and press the change up of the beat. You don’t have to do that with this, so I stick with it because it’s what I know and I’m too broke to buy other stuff.

RBMA

There’s cheap software, cheaper than ever; why not stick to software?

Exile

Soon enough I think I’ll make the switch to that so I can have more sounds.

RBMA

But I think maybe you’ve got a loving relationship with the MPC and you use it live on stage too. So maybe you can show that to these people here?

Exile

Sure. I’ve been doing live stuff, doing a lot of drumming stuff. I learnt my hands for drumming when I was younger by putting my head up against these metal telephone poles and just banging them. I’d come up with new beats and the bass would be hitting my head like crazy. But now, just from being in beat battles and being sick of just pressing play, and it being a battle of who can nod their head the craziest, I wanted to try to incorporate the guitars and basslines in there too and keep having that evolve, so other people will want to do live stuff too. There are no loops, there’s just banging on it like you’re banging on that (bangs on MPC). But let me make sure the levels aren’t going to get a little bit [crazy]. This one’s sampled from "Watermelon Man" byHerbieHancock & The Headhunters. Let me make sure this isn’t blowing the speakers.

(music: Herbie Hancock & The Headhunters – Watermelon Man (Exile remix) / applause)

RBMA

So this is how you make beats, right?

Exile

(laughs) You know, I have made beats like that when I’m doing stuff live. I don’t make any loops and the measures go up to 999 and I just keep it like that. But I make beats the other way, too, because it definitely allows you more freedom, it lets it sound better. This one sounds good, but it also works visually and it gets the audience more involved than just playing vinyl.

RBMA

So how about the samples? Are you a record digger like Madlib orEgon?

Exile

I don’t have the money to be quite like them, I’m more of a 99¢ digger. Going through thrift shops and finding gems in there is more rewarding than sitting in my chair and going to gemm. And I like to be able to flip stuff so it isn’t just crazy expensive records, really put my own little flip on them, especially if it’s something that’s not supposed to sound hard. That’s what I love to do, there’s a lot of stuff you can dig for that already sounds dope.

RBMA

When you listen to Below The Heavens, it’s not like you’ve got the ultra- obscure samples on there. Could you tackle it as a bit of a sport, take a familiar sample and flip it an unfamiliar way?

Exile

Yeah, I like to be able to take something someone already knows and be like: “I don’t want to sample that.” I like to take things and flip them and give it another approach.

RBMA

You were telling me about your new project at breakfast, of sampling old stuff from the radio. Maybe you could tell us about that?

Exile

I have this new project coming out which is definitely a broke man’s way to pay a record so you don’t have to pay for samples to dig. I made the whole record off the radio, even the drums. I even take some AM frequencies and put them in time with the beat and do percussion with static noises from the radio. I have that boom box where you can do the same frequency(makes whirring noises) and I have the tuner knob from the radio as the turntable, and I use the volume up and down as the crossfader and I’m able to make scratch noises.

RBMA

Do you have anything off that record?

Exile

Yeah. Is it distorting? I think it’s distorting a little bit, I wonder if we can fix that. This is just me flipping through the radio for the beginning.

(music: Exile – unknown)

You can actually hear how I filter the 808 right here from a song.

(applause)

Shall I play some more?

RBMA

Yeah, maybe some more.

Exile

Here’s where I actually use the frequency.

(music: Exile – unknown)

Exile

I’ve got to play one more real quick, my favourite one.

(music: Exile – unknown / applause)

Blu

How many different ‘loves’ was that, how many different songs?

Exile

Carlos Niño on Spaceways Radio, he was doing a fundraiser, as they always do, for his public radio show and he was talking about love in the sense of getting money to bring it to the station and all that stuff. “Make sure you do, make sure you do.” So I flipped his words so, whereas he was saying, “If you haven’t got the CD yet, make sure you do,” I did, “If you haven’t got love yet, make sure you do.” So I got that from his record and then the other ‘love’ from another record he was playing.

Blu

(inaudible)

Exile:

No, that was Carlos, the other one was… fuck, what was it?

Participant

(inaudible)

Exile:

Yeah, Dwight Trible. I always wanted to make an instrumental project but I didn’t want it to just be a beats record, I wanted to communicate stuff I’ve learnt in my life. There are definitely lots of things being represented on the radio, from evils to wonderful things. I tried to represent them both on the album.

RBMA

Was radio a big influence growing up? For us Germans it’s hard to imagine because from the moment you moved on from Milli Vanilli and Vanilla Ice you realised there weren’t any decent radio stations anymore.

Exile

Definitely, KDAY radio was a major influence on me. My mum’s boyfriend at the time introduced me to it and turned me onto hip hop even more. Before that my first two tapes were the Sex Pistols and LL Cool J Radio, ironically. That definitely helped lay the foundation of my love for hip hop.

RBMA

What made you go for LL Cool J instead of the Sex Pistols?

Exile

Going to roller skating rinks and electro being played and seeing people breakdancing. And I loved Michael Jackson, I had the red Michael Jackson Thriller jacket. I met Shabba Doo from Breakin’. I loved the movie Breakin’, so that definitely took me from the punk stuff to the hip hop.

RBMA

So talking about electro, maybe you could answer this question: can you explain the phenomenon why suddenly all the really hard backpackers, really hard underground Nazis, they all get wet panties when they listen to Ed Banger?

Exile

Who?

RBMA

Electro and techno music.

Exile

You mean like Kanye West? He’s the same age I am and I’m sure he was listening to the same stuff I was. Any artist will put some of their old influences. I’m sure he always loved electro, but back in ’95 it probably wasn’t the time to bring it out. Now they’ve found a way to incorporate it.

RBMA

There’s definitely a strong influence of what’s going on in the West in your beats. Is there any inspiration you draw from that?

Exile

Definitely, Zapp and One Way, like the boogie stuff, the headnodding shit, Dre and King Tee. I was a big fan of DJ PoohandBattlecat, that’s some West Coast shit, but everyone across the globe was into that too.

RBMA

So when you work together is there ever an issue there? You’re not way older, but it’s seven years, and I think Zapp might not be the biggest influence for you.

Blu

Sometimes I want to talk about some stuff and Exile is just: “Nah man, that’s just that shit.”

RBMA

For example?

Blu

If I did a joint like "Up All Night" and tried to give that to Exile, he’d be: “Nah, man.”

Exile

He always complains that he can’t do the stuff he did on Johnson & Jonson on my beats, but to be honest, my stuff – what’s the word I’m looking for? - doesn’t cater to that sound. It sounds way better on what they did. I personally think it was a blessing for my album to not do it, because it built up all this energy that he was able to put in the Johnson & Jonson album.

Blu

And C.R.A.C..

RBMA

Any plans for another album?

Blu

We have plans to do another record, we have different ideas on how to approach it and we’re just waiting on timing. Exile has about three records coming out; I have four sitting about to release. We’re cleaning our plates and waiting for the perfect time.

RBMA

How do you write anyway? Below The Heavens was pretty much live, the whole album. The C.R.A.C. was more of a fun thing. Are you the rhyme-book type of guy or the laptop type?

Blu

I write, I just got a laptop two years ago so I write slow as hell.

Exile

When I first started hanging out with Blu we were hanging out with a bunch of different MCs, and they blew me away because they’d play a beat and it would be three MCs writing at the same time. When I write I’ve got to write a little bit and stop the beat, get my head around the idea. They would go strong, just beats playing non-stop, frightening.

RBMA

So you only got your laptop two years ago. I read you didn’t even have a cellphone until a year ago, is that true?

Blu

I’ve had a cellphone since ‘03. What is it, ‘08?

RBMA

OK, but talking about the whole laptop thing, it’s pretty important not only to make music but also to get it out somehow. You’ve always been strong on the MySpace and internet stuff. How important is that to you, even when it comes to making music?

Blu

I’ve just put ProTools on my laptop. I’ve been making beats for two years, but I’ve only just put ProTools on my laptop so my laptop just got important to me. Before it was just checking messages, it was like a phone, but now I’ve got music on it, so it’s dope.

RBMA

Talking about promoting stuff, the guys who come here this afternoon will have more to say on that, but I think you’re pretty strong on that too. People who listen to your music are really strong on the whole internet thing. Is it important to use that as a tool?

Blu

It was timing, like I say. That MySpace thing happened just as our releases were coming out, so it was helpful for people to know who we were, who I was. Exile was putting out mixtapes when it was tapes, so it was just different timing. When we first got MySpace I was denying people I didn’t know. “Who was that? Who was that?” So the record company was: “Yo man, how are you gonna sell a record if you keep doing that?” So it helps, but it’s really more that the means of marketing now is the internet, so it’s not like I’m going for it, all labels are. Everyone who markets markets to the internet strongly.

RBMA

Also I think ten years ago, a group like you would have been on Rawkus, put out a 12” and sell maybe 120.000 copies. Now you’d sell maybe 12 copies, so the format has changed and you’ve adapted a lot to it, putting out albums at a fast pace, putting songs on MySpace, not really caring if people offer it as a free download. What’s your take on that?

Blu

It was hard to digest before because Below The Heavens leaked a year before its release and Johnson & Jonson leaked a year ago and just released this month. So it hurts that I didn’t get to put it out the way I wanted to or it wasn’t heard the way I wanted it. I can’t knock people downloading records because that brought me here. There were only 3.500 CDs of Below The Heavens pressed, so the downloading and the iTunes is where it is.

RBMA

How about the working models? It’s important now for a hip hop artist to have something every week, every month. Is it hard coming from a perspective where it might take you longer to write a lyric and not just put something down or do a freestyle or whatever. Is it hard to keep up with that pace?

Blu

No, I definitely don’t try to keep up with that pace. The reason why so many records have come out is… they were all done in 2006 and were set to release earlier. We added a few things and touched them up, but really, it’s because it took the labels that long to get them out. So it looked like they were fulfilling demand, but really it’s been years of waiting and in those years I’ve stacked up another three or four records. It’ll continue to pour for a while, but it’s not even me, it’s just god’s timing, it just worked out like that.

RBMA

So what’s next?

Blu

Next will be my first record as a producer. My boy Sene from Brooklyn is rapping on it so that will be dope, that will be dropping at the top of the year. We’re going to be doing Below The Heavens live with a band and everything, that will be dope. I have something of an alternative rock album we did two years ago, which will be just thrown out there. I don’t want to promote it or do interviews, we just want it to be available. I’m just going to throw it out there. That was with Mainframe and a band they were working with called Dirty Blind, a lot of their musicians came and worked with us on that record, different singers. And I have a soundtrack for a short film called God Is Good, that’ll be coming out too.

RBMA

So who’s this guy from Brooklyn, a MySpace friend?

Blu

No, he stays in L.A. now, so I’ve known him for years. He’s been in L.A. for about four years.

RBMA

But you still consider yourself an MC first, so when you make beats do you come from an MC perspective?

Blu

Definitely, definitely. It’s crazy, a lot of MCs tell me that they can hear it in my beats that I’m an MC, just because I’m setting them up for a rapper. It’s really simple. I’ve not been a producer two years and it’s on ProTools, so it’s not like I’ve got crazy techniques, it’s just that I know how to set a rapper up. I helped Mainframe out a lot on Johnson & Jonson, that’s where I got into loops and chopping.

Exile

He would help me out too sometimes. He’d be giving me his suggestions. I was like: “Man you need to make some beats.” “Nah, nah.” “You’re tripping, you need to make beats.”

RBMA

So what about your rapping?

Exile

My rapping? Yeah, I’ve got a record that’s hopefully coming out next summer. It’s all recorded on the four-track, mainly just to get it out of me, but also to show what you can do with a four-track. I love the sound of it, the first stuff that we started to sell was all four-track, so I wanted to touch back to my four-track roots and, yeah, it’s me rapping.

Blu

It’s really dope, it’s really dope. Like RadioandCassette, both of them, are really big records for hip hop.

Exile

I actually changed the name to 4TRK Mind.

RBMA

You said you needed to get it out of you. What does that mean, therapy?

Exile

Definitely therapy; it was time and I wasn’t going to let not having ProTools hold me back, I just thought, ‘Fuck it’, plugged it and went for it. A lot of the record is actually freestyle, I approached it in this way where I rap how I felt it, and if I ever fucked up I rewound it and punched it, building the songs as I’d go.

RBMA

So with the live thing, putting together a band, what made you want to do that?

Exile

Blu was always talking about it.

Blu

Koochie Monstas, who did the outro for the Below The Heavens record; it was a musician I was staying with at the time, they were all musicians from different bands, we all came together, we’ve known each other since high school. We’ve got some ill bass, some ill guitars, we just wanted to come together with some musicians. With Exile on the MP, too, it’s going to be pretty crazy.

RBMA

Why is it that performing hip hop with a live band in 93% of cases just doesn’t work?

Blu

I don’t know (laughs).

Exile

Because they’re using new drums, you need some grimy sounding drums. You can’t do hip hop with new sharp drums, you need some old ‘60s drums.

Blu

You mean recorded or live?

RBMA

Not even recorded, just live it’s usually pretty embarrassing.

Blu

I think it was just an era when the hip hop bands were really potent, but I think it died down because of that.

RBMA

Talking of your next album, do you think that will be difficult because Below The Heavens was complete in a way. It showcased you as a producer, you as a MC, it had a really energetic sound. How can you come up with the next one?

Blu

We’ve learnt so much and grown so much, every couple of months I hear some Exile beats and say: “Dude, let’s just bust it out.” But I want us to have the same amount of time we put into Below The Heavens. But we’ve learnt so much, just from other people recording us, so it’s timing. We could bust out the record so quickly on our own, we’ve learnt so much lyrically and in production, stepping it up wouldn’t be hard. I’m actually really looking forward to it.

RBMA

You seem like a group kind of guy, always working with someone. So what would the Blu solo album look like?

Blu

The Blu solo album is going to be three EPs in one and it’s going to be next summer. I don’t really want to go into it, there are four more records coming out before that one and I’ve only just started it. But I’m putting the most into that record, not lyrically, but rapping for songwriting, structures, transitions, melodies, big songs, not big pop.

Exile

He can sing too.

Blu

No singing, not from me, other singers, I’m trying to write for other singers throughout.

Exile

He’s lying.

RBMA

You’re a very modest person. How come you became a rapper?

Blu

Because no one would listen to me (laughter).

RBMA

Were you shy at school?

Blu

Very. I was very small; I got tall after high school, so chicks always thought I was young looking and stuff.

RBMA

When did you start rapping? I think it was kind of late, not the usual, “I’ve been rapping since I was eight.”

Blu

Tenth grade, DMX.

RBMA

So is it hard for you go up on stage and do what you do? Are you a different person when you grab the mic?

Blu

Ever since I started rapping it’s been an ease. Now the demand is building and the shows are getting bigger I’m getting the butterfly jump-off. I didn’t even know what it was, I thought I needed to do a number too, but I didn’t - it’s the butterflies, but I’m learning to get over them.

RBMA

How about laying down tracks that are kind of personal? I’m not a rapper, but isn’t it strange to tell people you don’t know about your life?Speaker: Blu

It was easier when no one was listening. OK, just rap what you know. It’s harder now, because you give them a little bit personal stuff and they want to dive into that some more. But it’s really personal. But as an artist, as an entertainer, you have to give up a bit, so I’m not really tripping. I’ll always be someone who raps from what comes from here (touches heart).

RBMA

Is this something you have to fight? Because some artists do interesting stuff when they’re young and not known, then they blow up and they think about too much about people’s perception and it gets boring. Is that something you think about when you write?

Blu

Not when I write, it was when I created music. Now I just go the opposite way from what everyone thinks. I’m going more lo-fi, more left. The second release, C.R.A.C., was way different from Below the Heavens. If I’d done Johnson & Jonson next, people would’ve been: “OK, we get where he’s going.” But that would’ve been misleading, like I’m going somewhere, but it was, (makes popping noise) “Where’s he going?” And that’s where I’m at.

RBMA

Did you have to deal with any angry rap fans when you put that out?

Blu

Yeah, they’re out there. I don’t know what to do about that. What do you want? Listen to Below The Heavens again.

RBMA

Do you follow what’s going on in hip hop forums?

Blu

Yeah, people send me links all the time. Someone sent me one last week, “Yo, I’m not trying to bring no drama, but Royce Da 5’9” just dissed you on his new album.” He sent me an acapella. What is this? It’s all day, but I think it’s dope. It’s good some people have a different opinion.

Exile

It may be a different Blu.

Blu

It could be, so the Royce one isn’t official. He just said something about Blu and he’ll destroy you. But there are other Blu’s.

RBMA

And in the end who would care?

Exile

Ex kind of cares (puts his arms out).

RBMA

Could you imagine a dis that would really hurt you?

Blu

No, I’ve had some shit already and I’m over it. How much worse is it going to get?

RBMA

How important is it for you to be accepted with the history you have and the stuff you’ve been through? How important is it still for you to put music out there and reach people?

Exile

It’s very important, that’s why I do it. I’m just trying to share with people what I’ve learnt and if they don’t accept that or enjoy it, then I wouldn’t be doing it. It’s a big part of it, connecting with everybody else.

RBMA

Do you ever wake up in the morning and think, ‘Let’s stop this, no more music, let’s get a day-job’.

Exile

Sometimes the pressure gets crazy because, being independent, you’ve got be part of the label and on at them. Sometimes I think I’ve got to be telling them what they should be doing, when I want them to be telling me. I went through the trouble of making the whole album and it’s a wonderful thing, even though there are low points, but after it’s finished there’s all this other stuff to be done. That’s when you’re supposed to be celebrating. You can turn into a lost soul in the time it takes for the record to come out. Sometimes I think I should go up the gas station again, but that wouldn’t be fair to myself.

RBMA

Hip hop is all about the flossing and the bragging, even on a low level, but if some of them would work at a gas station or as a postman, they would make better money. Is that something you stress? When kids approach you and they’ve seen your video and think you’re a superstar and rich, is that something you can explain to them?

Exile

If it comes up in conversation, I’ll be truthful. At the moment I’m living month to month and there are times when I’ve got to do a MySpace hustle, sell some beats to pay rent. I need to tap into that money-making zone which is coming in ‘09 for sure. But yeah, it’s a struggle.

RBMA

Any last words?

Participant

Can we hear a bit more? Sorry, but I really want to hear some more.

RBMA

What from?

Participant

Anything.

Exile

I could do another live thing or I could play something off the Radio album.

All

Live, live!

(applause)

Exile

Let me try to get the sound straight though, I don’t want to blow the speakers (fiddles with the MPC).

(music: Exile – unknown / applause)

Participant

Where else might we have heard some of your beats?

Exile

I’ve been a part of the group Emanon, worked with Droop on some stuff, Mobb Deep, I was on their album. I did a song with Akon andKardinalOffishall called "The Graveyard Shift". I worked with a bunch of different artists on my Dirty Science record, from Ta’Raach to Oh No,toMED,Ghostface, Slum Village. Let’s see what else? Thank you so much for having us here, it such a wonderful thing to connect with all these musicians.

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