Blu: A Kind of Blu
Below the Heavens took a hold of my emotions (the experience) and ear (the lyrics) in a fashion thats hasnt been done sincesincewell, ever. It would be clich to say its the next coming of Illmatic. In reality, its nothing more then the unfiltered tale of John Blu Barnes, an emcee who will be deeply intertwined with the future of Hip Hop. If you havent already, take a moment to get to know Blu.
Son of a blood with blue gators on
DX: You briefly talk about your mother and father on Below the Heavens. What kind of people were they?
Blu: Right before they had me, they were happy and young. My mom was 16 when she had me and my dad was like 21. Then I came around and they had to deal with life. They separated and my dad went on his way. My mom went on her's and married a reverend [pauses]. Neither of them were really that into music. My dad liked gangster rap. My mom liked Gospel music.
Exposing what you holding, like your soul dont matter
DX: Theres a real spiritual, church-like undertone to Below the Heavens. Is that a product of listening to Gospel while growing up or being raised with a reverend in the house or both?
Blu: Definitely, all of those combined and just being in the church. The vibe church gives me is just crazy. I have like an infatuation with the church. Im not really religious. And its not like I go there and get saved or anything like that but its just what it does for people is pretty dope to me. I like to see people come in one way and leave another way. There are so many different aspects you can cover on church. But that definitely influenced me amongst other things. One of the things that influenced the journey on Below the Heavens wasGod. I talk about everything thats important to me in my life and God gets the most reference.
But I got 11 siblings so its like I got kids
DX: You grew up with 12 siblings. What was that like coming up?
Blu: I aint grow up with all 12 of them. My mom has nine kids in total, including me. My dad has three. For a while, on my moms side, I was raising all the babies. Thatchanged my life. That was real vital to me growing up because I was pretty young at the time. This was elementary, junior high and a little bit of high school when I was raising them. I would be changing diapers while my parents were working late. So it gave me this love for children. I really love kids and just watching life progress and shit.
I was trying to be a pro baller
DX: On the Below the Heavens, you talk about hooping when you were in high school. What made you make transition from hoop dreams to a full time rapper?
Blu: Each year some shit kept getting fucked up. In 9th grade I was straight so I played on junior varsity. Then I moved to San Pedro in 10th grade so I couldnt make the team because I was new to the school. Next year I made varsity and then it was my grades. Next year, I made varsity. I was the star and all that shit. Then I broke my ankle dunking at practice. [Laughs] So I was pretty much like, "Fuck basketball." I was a much better rapper anyway. And I was more respected as a rapper by then. So after that I left it alone totally. I even stopped watching basketball on TV. Penny Hardaway was my shitwhen he started falling off I started spitting. [Laughs]
DX: Who were some of the emcees that influenced you to get into rap?
Blu: As I was coming up, the rapper that made me want to rap was DMX. I got DMXs first album Its Dark and Hell is Hot and I was like, "Oh shit I gotta be a rapper." I thought Mase was dope too. Thats what actually got me into DMX. From there, I went from DMX to Redman to Canibus. 4, 3, 2, 1 was my shit. Then I got into Common. I actually heard I Used to Love H.E.R. after missing the first album. When I heard it, it really changed my life. I felt like I had heard Hip Hop for the first time. It made me change my content and my whole approach. It made me serious about writing and wanting to say something.
DX: Who inspires you now?
Blu: A lot of my influences now come from older music. I got into stuff while growing up like Curtis Mayfield, Al Green and Marvin Gaye. I listened to a lot of Jazz that my grandparents were listening to like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Dorothy Ashby. My musical approach even more so right now is influenced by the scene in L.A. like Sa-Ra, Flying Lotus, J. Davey, TaRaach, Madlib. The L.A. scene is kind of smashing cats. Its not street or Hip Hop but its all rooted from both. Its kind of like people say Hip Hop is dead but its not. Its true but only in the sense of that original feeling or sound not being replicated well. But if you open up your ears you can see where Hip Hop is going. Its just branched off. A lot of new artists are merging many different genres of music. Everybody in L.A. pretty much does like 3 genres of music when they put out a record. Its not just Hip Hop. Its not just R&B or Jazz or Funk. Its all that meshed together.
My first fuck was that year still I dont call her/my own father brought me over to her house that weekend/he was cheating/so I lost my big V while he was beating.
DX: Did your pops really take you to lose your virginity?
Blu: Yeah, thats a true story. I lost my virginity while my pops was smashing some chick on the side. He took me over to old girls crib like, Dont tell your mom, (Blus step-mom). And she had some cute ass daughters that were older than me and it just went down that night. And I was just likeword. [Laughs]
I got a call from my girl last week/she telling me about that time of month and how it may not come/dropped the phone right before she said I might have a son.
DX: How did this story end? Did you end up having a child?
Blu: Naw, that story is actually not true. It happened but it didnt happen like that. Its what goes onthe thoughts. Ive experienced a few abortions in my life. And I still dont have a child and that was something that really affected me. I wanted to talk about it somehow. I just decided to spit what was going through my head at the time when she told me that. I know people that have been through the same situation. But I didnt want to put an ending on it because people have different outcomes to that situation and eventually Id like to have a different outcome with that situation.
"What nigga/I skipped class and school a few times but I aint dumb nigga/pitched grass a few times but I dont pump nigga,"
DX: So you were pitching weed?
Blu: Yeah, that was some real quick shit. That was like fun. [Laughs] I wasnt really working or nothing at the time. I was just kicking it and writing raps. I would have different roommates throughout my life that slanged weed. So I was like shit I dont have no burger today, I guess Ill flip a couple dubs. [Laughs] Now and then Id pick up a couple bags and start pushing. But I left it alone. The second time I think I ended up in debt or something. I wasnt that good at it. Its just something I did to past time.
DX: Youve lived all over Southern California. What were the circumstances that kept you moving?
Blu: I was raised like that so I just continued to do it. My mom moved around a lot and when I moved in with my dad it was somewhat stable but that was only two years of my life. I went to three different schools in 6th grade and 12th grade. Id go from a nice crib to an apartment. It was justlife. When I got out of school, I didnt graduate and didnt have a job so I just decided to rap for a living. But no one was really checking for me. So I was just moving everywhere. I had mad homies from all over so Id just be like, "Yo let me crash on your couch for like three months." [Laughs] I wouldnt say that, but it would go down like that for three months here or six months there. I found myself in some nice situations like living in a four million dollar beach house on the shore. That was for three months of my life. That shit was ridiculous. Now I live in a cabin in the middle of Los Angeles in an alley, but you know, thats life. [Laughs]
DX: Earlier you mentioned how much TaRaach inspired you. You two are working on a project right now called C.R.A.C. Can you tell me about how that came about?
Blu: At the time I was recording with Exile, who Aloe Blacc hooked me up with. Aloe called me one day and told me he was recording an EP with TaRaach. He was like Come through. Its a different type of project. Im not rapping on it at all but I wanted you to rap on it. So I was like, "Okay Im down," wrote a verse on the spot and laid it first take. TaRaach was like, Naw man, cut that shit again. So I cut it again and he was like, Thats dope. Youre dope. Good looks, we should do some work together, and I was like, "Yeah, Im down." I wasnt too familiar with his music then so I decided to do some research. Then I was really inspired. I heard his track Hey and I was like, "Damn this is the illest Hip Hop song ever." That song inspired the lyrics on Below the Heavens so much its ridiculous. Around the time I was finishing up Below the Heavens in 2005, I linked up with TaRaach again that November. He was like lets hook up and do some shit and I was like, "Im going to Europe in seven days," and he was like, Well, we have seven days. So 75% of the C.R.A.C. album [The Piece Talks] was done in seven days.
DX: Wow that was pretty quick. What happened next?
Blu: After the seven days, we pressed up an album in the summer of '06 of what we had done in those seven days. So Tres Records came along and theyd already heard it from when we leaked it. And they were like, We want to mess with that. We were like, "Nah, we put it out ourselves," and they were still like, We want to put it out. So we were like oh shit. We put a couple more joints on it that we had catalogued like Buy Me Lunch and Love Dont just to switch it up a little bit and now we finally have the official release date of April 22nd. Im happy because I got to work with someone I really look up to which is a lot of people I work with. But with TaRaach, I learned so much coming out of that situation. And hes still one of my best friends now. We got a lot coming up. We got a C.R.A.C. cartoon coming, were shooting the video for Buy Me Lunch tomorrow. Were gonna shoot one for Bullet Through Me. Its fun man. Were just doing whatever we want just having fun making music.
DX: You mentioned making a trip overseas to Europe. How was that experience for you?
Blu: That first time over there was ridiculous! I didnt know what I was getting into. It was a lot of love there. We went there last September for the Below the Heavens Tour and it was overwhelming how many people were up on the record and how long they had been on the record. The record had been out for like a week, two weeks and people knew the lyrics to almost all the songs at almost every show. So I was stoked because it doesnt go down like that here. I got heads in L.A. that know the shit but thats home-base. Its different now because its been out for awhile but it hadnt been then. Europe was just...dope. Were going to be back there with C.R.A.C. next May to takeover Europe.
DX: So I hear you been producing tracks lately. You have another project named A Day Late and a Dollar Short with an emcee out of Brooklyn named Sene. Can you tell me about that?
Blu: Thats something I always wanted to do, well, not actually always. I actually never wanted to produce. [Laughs] Exile always told me I should produce and TaRaach told me I was dope at it. I would always pull out samples and be like, "You should chop this," or whatever. I never really took into consideration that I learned a lot from watching them produce. I just started making beats and at the time, I was like Im not going to give away any of these beats. Im just going to bust over them myself for fun. Theres certain beats that I make that I dont really want to rap to but I want to hear raps over them. I feel like my production is way throwback. Its feel good Hip Hop and thats my favorite type of Hip Hop like Native Tongues. But with production, I was just kind of chilling having fun. I got into looping when I was doing Johnson and Jonson and that stuck with me. With Senewe would always hook up and do different collabs on the side for different labels. We would do shows together and kick it and what have you. I started playing him some beats and he was like, "Man, you chop beats? and I was like yeah. He told me that it was iller than some of the stuff he was messing with. So we started working. We got like 12 songs already. So were going to take the best 6 and drop an EP and eventually put out a full length. I dont want to promise a LP thats fully produced by me, but well always collab for work but until then the EP is coming soon, A Day Late and a Dollar Short. Its pretty dope man. I like it.
DX: Youve been putting out music nonstop for a minute. How do you continue to find the motivation to write?
Blu: Ive created so much musicand now that the demand is up, its given me the opportunity to put it all out. Below the Heavens and C.R.A.C. [The Piece Talks] were done in 2005. Johnson & Jonson [Powder and Oils] was done in 2006. Thatll be coming out later this summer. I did a Rock album last year. That may or may not be coming out. [Laughs] Theres more C.R.A.C. songs. We plan on doing another record together. I got a new single with Exile coming out this month just for people who want hear more of me and Exile. I wanted to put out a 12. We dont have that much vinyl out. I wanted to give the deejays something. I just love making music. I dont really give a fuck about like...The industry is so open now you can just do whatever you want. Thats the illest thing about being an artist in 2008. If you want to be an artist you can literally wake up and be an artist. Theres so many ways to get exposure nowadays that you dont really need labels. They help out but you can do a lot on your own. And theres an ear for anything you create. Theres so much music thats out there somebody is going to like it. Someones going to hear your music and be like, "Thats the shit Im fucking with right there." The game in 2008 is not perfect and people complain and complain about how wack music is, but theres so much dope shit out there if you just turn the radio and TV off. I find ill shit all the fucking time and Im like theres way too much music out there.
DX: Does the success youve achieved thus far seem surreal and how do you stay grounded?
Blu: It really started fucking me up in January. I was really getting overwhelmed. There were a lot of people that I looked up to that had heard of me and respected me and wanted to work [together]. That waslike whoa. I didnt feel as if I was ready yet. I was like damn just let me build up my craft before I jump on a track with Elzhi or Talib Kweli. Im just grateful. You gotta do it now or never. Now Im like fuck it. Im just gon work with whoevers down to work. I was surprised man that the people took to it so well and now Im surprised that the industry, from the artists to the labels, was really feeling it. Its dope because I made that shit for myself. I didnt think that anybody was going to hear it like that but it worked out pretty well.
DX: Listening to your album Below the Heavens took me back to similar situations that I went through and Im sure it had a similar effect on others whove heard the album. Do you have any stories of fans coming up to you telling how much your music touched them?
Blu: Yeah, man. Ive had some extreme stories from that album. Thats really some shit that fucked me up just how touched people were from certain songs on the album. Like theyd be going through real, real serious shit in their lives and would be like they were listening to the album to help them get through it. And Im like, "Nigga, youre going through way harder shit than I was ever going through." I remember this one time where this chick was deaf man. And shed told me that she would put her hands on the speaker when her friends would play my music and the vibration from my music was like no other. So she felt like she was obligated to send me a message and tell me that.
Blu: Yeah. I had to show that to my moms. That was a crazy one.
DX: What were you going through that made you write Dancing in the Rain?
Blu: Dancing in the Rain is exactly what I was going through when I was going through it. I had a lady and I was working and shit. I was trying to rap and trying to keep up rent. But I just got frustrated. It was almost like demeaning. I felt like I put 75% of my life into this and it doesnt do anything for me. I was talking to my boy the other day and I asked him how long he had been working at his job. He said a year, and I asked had he gotten a raise and he said, Fifty cents. And I was like all youve gotten from a year at your job was a fifty cent raise? Thats like wasting your life you know what Im saying. Just do something you want to do. Fuck a job. Fuck having a little bread right now. Bread is going to come at whatever you do. If you want the bread, the bread is there. Niggas make bread. Its paper. Make some fake bread. [Laughs]