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Throwback Thursdays: Blu & Exile – Below The Heavens (Review)

HTF reviewed Blu & Exile ‘Below The Heavens’ for this weeks TBT feature – Read here!

Artist: Blu & Exile
Below The Heavens
Released: 17/07/07

“My people, it’s time to rise / realise there’s a heaven whether you think it’s inside or in the sky / and reach for it before it’s gone eternally / and you’re stuck here below the heavens for eternity”

It’s rare that a rap artist can attempt to discuss big concepts like heaven, hell and the human condition without seeming pretentious, banal, preachy or self-indulgent. So-called “conscious” rappers like Common, Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kweli and Mos Def have all displayed these flaws at some point in their career. Blu doesn’t fit as neatly as they do into the conscious bracket, but on ‘Below The Heavens’ he tackles many of the same issues, and he manages to do so while sidestepping all those hurdles. Even when articulating some pretty deep thoughts, as he often does on ‘Below The Heavens’, he always seems to understand that his opinion is just that, an opinion, and never seems po-faced or overly sincere. He’s also able to be totally honest and extremely intelligent, while maintaining a coolness that never wavers for a second. At hip-hop high school, while Mos Def is giving a speech in the school debating society, Blu is behind the bleachers smoking a joint and chatting up girls. When they get back to class, though, it’s Blu who will be acing the test. There’s a freshness to the way he looks at things, and a razor’s edge to his wordplay that means ‘Below The Heavens’ has a relentlessly listenable quality which can be played back again and again. This is also due to Exile’s glorious production, which is consistently brilliant from beginning to end. He uses soul samples and organic instrumentation to create a sun-soaked boom-bap that suits Blu’s relaxed flow perfectly. There are also unexpected little twists here and there to keep things interesting, such as the M.O.P. sample on ‘Simply Amazing (Steel Blazin)’, which is mainly surprising because of the vast stylistic gap between the two artists, and guest appearances from Aloe Blacc and Miguel. Exile creates a sound that is simultaneously consistent and varied, which is an achievement in itself. Although obscure (iTunes doesn’t even have the entire album available), ‘Below The Heavens’ is a creative, likeable, brilliant album that any fan of independent hip-hop should have in their backpack. 9/10

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