Blu and Exile
Below the Heavens


2.5
average

Review

by Alex Robertson EMERITUS
February 18th, 2013 | 70 replies


Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist


#98: Blu & Exile, Below the Heavens (2007)

I like to think that there’s no such thing as time wasted when you’re actively listening to music. Even the most tepid piece of art can teach you something about yourself, giving you another reference point around which to draw a comprehensive map of things that do or don’t inspire you. This isn’t to say that bad albums or movies or paintings don’t exist, but rather that experiencing these can only, in the end, expand your consciousness both outward and inward. Or at least I hope that’s how it works, because otherwise this whole “hundred albums, hundred reviews” project is something of a bust.

Either way, Blu & Exile’s Below the Heavens, the third album I’m reviewing for said project, is the first that has honestly given me just about nothing back after a few listens. This is perhaps an issue of time more than anything: not completely enamored of it like many others, I was nonetheless able to give an album like Blowout Comb (1994) some credit for its historical role as a radical slab of mid-’90s hip hop, whereas this album is barely turning six years old and doesn’t have any sort of cultural heft behind it. But where Digable Planets were able to synthesize an album of undeniable funk and flow from their politics, rapper Blu and his producer Exile are only able to synthesize a dishearteningly blank-stare approach to conscious hip-hop. The path Blu takes is not a dishonorable one--themes of growing up and finding yourself abound--but seems thoroughly emptied of any aesthetic or intellectual import. It is an album stuck in the limbo between the stereotypical sensibilities of the thinking man and the unrestrained weed smoker, lingering for fifteen dull tracks until it just sort of cancels itself out.

It pains me to say something like that, because Below the Heavens is really quite an earnest project by two deeply talented musicians. Blu’s style can be found elsewhere (Lupe Fiasco seems the most obvious referent), but he pulls it off well, his positive attitude nestling itself nicely into his tight flow--especially on “The World Is (Below the Heavens..),” which is almost sickeningly uplifting. He is, like his peers, inclined to get cheesy once in a while (“My people, it’s time to rise / Realize there’s a Heaven whether you think it’s inside or in the sky”), but that cheesiness is only an extension of just how serious he is. Exile is even better, a direct descendant of Dilla--especially in his quirky use of vocal samples--even if Jay Dee’s wackier instincts have been cleaned up. Almost every production here has a satisfyingly retro feel, each unquantized drum loop and each heavy piano chord hitting with gusto.

So I guess the attack I must wage against this album, well-intentioned though it may be, is that most nebulous of criticisms: it’s just sort of bland. I want to like Blu both as a rapper and as a person but he pretty much spends the album’s duration saying the same things over and over again. The album’s ubiquitous nostalgia thus starts to come off as a sort of defense mechanism, a way to circle back on old habits when the looming prospect of having something new to say sets in. That’s generally okay--I like a good throwback as much as anyone else--but Below the Heavens feels more than anything like sprinting for an hour and then ending up in the same place you were an hour ago. I almost want to give it bonus points for clearly being a labor of both love and hard work but the thing is just irreparably flaccid. That leaves me doubting myself: in my review of Blowout Comb, I railed against those who would choose the ultra-irony of most modern Internet-age hip-hop over the sincerity of the earlier stuff. But if this yawn of a debut album is our contemporary standard of the unfettered, genuine rap personality, I’m considering jumping ship.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
robertsona
Emeritus
February 18th 2013


15307 Comments


only 3 into this project and these reviews are already starting to slip ohw ell

EaglesBecomeVultures
February 18th 2013


5441 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

earlier today you pretty much said you hadn't listened to this

now you're 2.5ing it

dumbbbbb

robertsona
Emeritus
February 18th 2013


15307 Comments


im sorry i feel bad too just know that i will probabyl change my mind in five seconds

Eclecticist
February 18th 2013


3863 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

crappy review

EaglesBecomeVultures
February 18th 2013


5441 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

yeah the review is full of useless meandering

kingsoby1
Emeritus
February 18th 2013


4969 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

it's not bad, but a bit wordy. just try and condense these, otherwise there's no way you'll get thru 100

robertsona
Emeritus
February 18th 2013


15307 Comments


thats usually my plan but then ijust keep writing well see whath appens next time on wheel of fortune

kool keith next

robertsona
Emeritus
February 18th 2013


15307 Comments


http://rateyourmusic.com/customchart?page=1&chart_type=top&type=album&year=alltime&genre_include=1&include_child_genres=1&genres=hip+hop&include_child_genres_chk=1&include=both&origin_countries=&limit=none&countries=

oltnabrick
February 18th 2013


35739 Comments


i liked the review thooo

Digging: Bladee and Thaiboy Digital - AvP

kingsoby1
Emeritus
February 18th 2013


4969 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i'm gonna go troll vote el-p albums to get them all in the top 100

robertsona
Emeritus
February 18th 2013


15307 Comments


i should probably take down the list in its entirety before the albums shift

some of the inclusions are bizarre, a few of them are like 30 people who think theyve found the next hip hop classic but if more peopel voted theyd be nowehere near

PorkchopExpress
February 18th 2013


405 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

As much as I like O.C., his inclusion on the list (more than once!) struck me as odd.



Also, you did it. The response to this should be interesting, at least.

robertsona
Emeritus
February 18th 2013


15307 Comments


yaeh exactly, i think if more people were to check out Jewelz it would drop off the list pretty quick lol

maybe not word life though

kingsoby1
Emeritus
February 18th 2013


4969 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

word life is a classic

PorkchopExpress
February 18th 2013


405 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yeah, word life is just great.



Also, I did love the album he made with Apollo Brown last year though.

EaglesBecomeVultures
February 18th 2013


5441 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

a piece of strange is like #45 on there pry sweet

robertsona
Emeritus
February 18th 2013


15307 Comments


ive never listened to cunninlynguists but i have a sinking feeling that i won't like them

I WILL REMOVE ALL BIASES PRIOR TO LSITENING THO

kingsoby1
Emeritus
February 18th 2013


4969 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

@porkchop was not impressed with that. really dislike apollo brown



yeah cunninlynguists are way overrated. piece of strange is very solid, but they dont do anything progressive like ever.

ButtsweatAndTears
February 18th 2013


340 Comments


Man this review is boring as heck....
Would neg..

ButtsweatAndTears
February 18th 2013


340 Comments


Disagree with rating...



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