It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that Blu has always done almost the complete opposite of what the music industry has expected of him. The universal acclaim of his debut with Exile, Below the Heavens, has haunted him at every step of his career. This hasn’t stopped him from releasing a glut of material–since his beloved debut, Blu has dropped eight full albums (including a hastily-released Madlib-produced point which Madlib refuses to admit he produced), nine EPs and three instrumental tapes. Some, like j e s u s, have been delightfully minimalistic, while York, Blu’s last full album, built imposing, synthetic walls of sound with the help of luminaries like Flying Lotus and Diabaise. He’s an industry outlaw, and while many have argued that Blu fails to capitalize on his abilities, nobody can deny that Blu is prolific.
Gods in the Spirit, Blu’s recent collaboration with Virginia beat junkie Nottz, doesn’t feel like just another Blu EP. It’s one of the most complete, most daring and most polished six-track releases out there. A brief look at the album’s tracklist reveals a star-studded lineup. Blu’s resumé boasts enough standout tracks to warrant recognition as a talented lyricist. Nottz may not yet be a household name, but he has produced for household names since 1997. Critics are celebrating his work on “Nosetalgia”, Pusha T’s single from My Name is My Name. The amount of raw talent here is staggering.
And then there’s the title.
Gods in the Spirit.
If Kanye’s insufferably egotistical Yeezus was considered sacrilege, what is this? Is it sacrilege too? And is Blu’s experiment in theology worthy of titles like “God” and “Spirit”? Gods in the Spirit necessarily goes toe-to-toe with Yeezus whether or not Blu wants to be considered in the same conversation as ‘Ye.
It’s hard to know exactly what Blu thinks of himself. His lyrics have always reflected a wise humility which belies his age. But Gods in the Spirit finds Blu surprisingly aggressive and self-sure, and Nottz backs the album’s claim to divinity with bombastic, swirling strings, cymbal crashes and opera samples. Nottz is phenomenal on this sample-heavy EP, delivering six commanding experiments in musical cross-pollination, and while much of his production plays into the album’s ethos of grandeur, he showcases a great deal of versatility.
Blu isn’t remarkable on this record. There’s something to be said for putting three posse cuts into a six-track EP, but a few of his features outshine him on his own tracks. In effect, he’s marketing himself but selling his other affiliated rhymers. ANTHM and Homeboy Sandman both out-rap Blu on “Crooks in Castles”. ScienZe gives him a run for his money on “Creme of the Crop”. Blu shines on “Boyz II Men” and “End of the World” without other features to distract from his scattered flow and storytelling finesse.
The packaging of these six tracks–into one EP, boldly titled Gods in the Spirit–exceeds so many extended plays in scope and ambition. Shorter albums without skits are en vogue right now. This embodies hip-hop’s current tendencies towards brevity to an extreme.
This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen from Blu.
But we’re used to that.
The EP can be streamed here.