Review Summary: Truly groundbreaking musicNoYork!
straddles a delicate line between the outlandish and the truly experimental, pushing listeners to almost as far as they can go - "almost", because there never is a limit to what can be done with music. And Blu pushes hip-hop to its limit with his supposed proper major-label debut; before Warner had chance to release the record formally (label politics?), Blu distributed NoYork!
for free via CD at Rock The Bells 2011 and the internet to little fanfare. Maybe the record challenged his fan base built up from debut Below the Heavens
a bit too much. Exile's beats, although done very well, more strictly adhered to the tenets of the established hip-hop production cannon. Regardless of the reason, NoYork!
has been criminally slept on, succeeding where artists like Shabazz Palaces tried much too hard in 2011.
2007 saw Blu's emergence on the scene as a lyrical force backed by production that focused in on his storytelling and alliterative skills. While he is an excellent rapper in terms of both flow and lyricism, the real reason NoYork!
pushes boundaries is obviously the production. Somehow, Blu enlisted the services of several of loose LA collective/gathering the Low End Theory Club - including Samiyam, Flying Lotus, Sa-Ra, Madlib, and Dibia$e. Known for some of the most exemplary instrumental hip-hop recordings this side of the millennium, it's no suprise that NoYork!
recalls any off-handed musing of what Cosmogramma
or Sam Baker's Album
would sound like if they were more vocally focused. The results aren't just these-albums-plus-vocals in nature; the finished product is so much more. Tracks like "A Bove Crenshaw" and "SLNGBNGrs" really blur the line of traditional or even progressive hip-hop.
But Blu still manages to integrate Below the Heavens
style compositions into the mix. Shafiq Husayn (part of the Sa-Ra Creative Partners) makes some of the smoothest, yet forward thinking beats of the decade for Jimetta Rose and Nia Andrews to croon over on "Spring Winter Summer Fall" and "My Sunshine" respectively; this is apposite windows-down summer music. Ultimately, albums like NoYork!
are so far ahead of their time that they are just too inaccessible to current hip-hop fans. It's really too bad, because Blu is on to something here; this is definitely a record that will be remembered in years to come as something truly groundbreaking.