Although his albums might not always be easy finds in stores, few artists are better or more consistent at making them than Blu. Early in 2009, the California emcee/producer offered up Her Favorite Colo(u)r, a free collection of songs that came just months after Blu & Mainframe delivered an overlooked indie masterpiece in Johnson & Jonson. Fans used their mouses and indulged in the generosity, but the musical conversation drifted onto other topics, as Blu aligned with Warner Brothers’ Sire subsidiary and went off the grid for a bit. Brooklyn’s Nature Sounds Records changed that, re-presenting Her Favorite Colo(u)r in the context of an album, with remastering, formal pressings and a rightful addition to a catalog that should make Johnson Barnes’ major label peers blush.
Without drifting into the real estate owned by Kid Cudi or Joe Budden, Blu frequently presents himself as an unstable man who has a knack for pinpointing emotions and feelings. The emcee doesn’t want the listener’s pity or compassion, he instead proclaims, “Fuck a rapper / I’m an actor in a film called Leave Me The Fuck Alone Till I Find A Real Job.” That’s the aesthetic Blu aims for with this project, not a show-off emcee, but a man rhyming about the role of love and lust in his life, looking for anything but attention. Interestingly enough, the project’s bulk of two-minute tunes enforce this, as do bulky movie samples from famous cult classics where awkwardness and lewdness about love are strong. It just so happens that Blu commands it. “Pardon” and its Curtis Mayfield understated influence finds Blu rapping carefree as if he’s party-rocking, but even in light moments, the emcee is hung up on love and loneliness. He speaks about Valentine’s Days spent alone, but the song moves like liquid, as the sentiment is sandwiched between Blu describing a time when he’s surrounded by gangsters to an allusion to Jesus Christ’s ascent from the manger.
Equally impressive is Blu’s production. While Below The Heavens was a shared platform with Exile as J&J was with Mainframe, Blu’s sound is truly unique. Pulling samples from unlikely Jazz sources, Her Favorite Colo(u)r is deeply influenced by Billie Holiday-era Jazz. Pianos and vocals showcase Blu as a guy whose learned from those around him, but has a sound all of his own, definitely in the Madlib, Oh No, Slum Village conversation. “Melo” is big and brassy, sounding like a 1960s film soundtrack, where “Peace” is mellow and groovy. Blu weaves it all together, as this work may be his production coming out party, a gift that’s been understated compared to his minimalist lyricism and strong emotional songwriting.
When he doesn’t have a microphone to share (see C.R.A.C.’s The Piece Talks), Blu is one of the premiere album-makers in Hip Hop. Two years overdue, Her Favorite Colo(u)r deserves to be looked at as an album, and the remastering and packaging makes this a worthy third solo album in a flawless catalog. This work succeeds with its sincerity, intimacy and originality. Left to his own devices with a beat machine, some lined paper and a bottle of brown liquor, few rappers in Hip Hop today can make music better than John Barnes.