Review Summary: Blu & Exile manage to follow up their classic debut Below the Heavens with a different-sounding but just as amazing album. A success in every way.
Blu & Exile's Below the Heavens
, released in 2007, is considered by many hip-hop heads as a high point of underground Hip-Hop of the last decade, and has put both the Los Angeles-based rapper and producer as one of the most highly regarded actors of the underground scene. Since then, fans have been screaming for a reunion album, but both members have instead been focusing on developing their solo career. Exile has been doing so by forming successful partnerships with other rappers, most notably through 2009's stellar effort with Fashawn (Boy Meets World
), but also releasing solo albums to much less fanfare, but keeping the same quality through-and-through. Blu on the other hand, has tried experimenting with different sounds and rapping styles, trying really hard not to be pigeonholed following his sensational entrance on the scene with his fellow producer.
And here we are 5 years later with the follow-up everyone has been waiting for. The most important question when first listening to the album is finding out which direction they decided to take: staying in the lane of Below the Heavens
, or branching out to a different feel and sound ? Blu's recent contributions hinted towards the latter, while Exile's, who had mostly been producing the same type of tracks throughout his career, following the seemingly age-old formula of 60s and 70s soul sample-based Hip-Hop, hinted more towards a return to form.
Thankfully, Give Me My Flowers...
is right smack dab in the middle, keeping the same soulfulness that worked so well on their debut, but changing it up just enough so it is not a do-over. That Blu was able to change his style is of no surprise seeing how experimental he has been lately, but seeing Exile try hard to make this album sound different to Below the Heavens
is extremely refreshing. While the beats on here are still as relaxing as ever, Exile has switched from the more classic rap beats of their debut to way subtler tunes, sometimes reminiscent of Flying Lotus' latest opus Until the Quiet Comes
. The beats are extremely refined, and have many layers to them, making every subsequent listens very rewarding. What this brings to the album is a chilled-out vibe, making it perfect for background listening, while still working great as a straight-up hip-hop album. This is a striking difference with their debut, where the beats were here to support the rapper, while on here the beats and the raps are more or less on the same level of importance (if one can say so), and it makes this album much more intriguing than their debut. This also means that while their are less high points than on their debut, this is much more consistent and all-in-all works slightly better as an album. The couple of instrumental tracks on here are also perfectly inserted in the flow of the album, and Exile's craft is as evidently great as ever on these tracks.
Blu's rapping is also excellent on here, as he hasn't made the mistake of being too out-of-here with his rapping like he sometimes is (especially recently), which is fine in its own right, but might have been extremely ill-received for this much-awaited follow-up. He follows Exile's footprints in the sense that this is clearly not a do-over of Below the Heavens
, as his rapping is way more chilled out and laid back, mixing in perfectly with the atmosphere created by Exile's masterful beat-making. The lyrics are as down-to-earth as ever, and create a personal picture of Blu's life and thoughts. Blu has always been like this and has never been the one to follow a formula when it comes to writing his songs, and this is still the case here, to no surprise but to great relief.
While Give Me Flowers...
will probably never attain the near-classic status of Below the Heavens
, it is a clear reminder that Blu and Exile have outstanding chemistry, and are both able to play to the strengths of the other to perfection. They managed to somehow stay in their comfort zone while also adding something new to the equation and making this a whole new listening experience, in turn making an album that is as appealing when taken as easy-listen background-music than as a more classic rap album, and have as a whole delivered an extremely satisfying follow-up to their classic debut.