Blu has tiptoed around the Hip Hop scene throughout his career. Living in the margins of the mainstream on one hand and unfairly beholden to the underground on the other, he hasn’t had the right mix of material and label backing for an appropriate splash. Still, not tracking his process would be standoffish or out-of-touch. Alongside his finer work he’s left behind loose projects that sound both like unpolished gems and unfinished drafts. For fans, flocking to a Blu release has become a familiar process of tire-kicking and trying to figure out if he’s shown up or not. Whether he’s been intentional about it, his fluttering quality control has also helped temper expectations. At points he’s even seemed self-destructive, taking aim at his career so he might regain some of the freedom he lost in it.
Good To Be Home is the better, more streamlined version of Blu’s nonchalance. At worst, he’s been known to mumble through noisy tracks, but here he sounds more carefree than careless. While he isn’t as inwardly poetic as he’s been elsewhere, he’s focused his gaze nonetheless. The whole album is a dedication to his hometown, and he traces his footsteps around the city throughout. While it may not be forwardly gangster in content, he’s obviously suited up for a leaned back breeziness in the mode of West Coast classics.
“Good to Be Home is a Cadillac album,” he says in a recent LA Weekly feature, “the most G album I’ve made so far.”
Most of Bombay’s production on the album has a pleasant looseness to it. Rough-chop Soul loops and female vocal samples leave it feeling relaxed and nostalgic. On one of the pre-release leaks, Blu is sentimental about banging even if he’s upfront about avoiding it: “Dang, my cousin used to tell me, Boy watch for them colors. / Other than that you be the illest motherfucka / So I pushed to the streets / I pushed to the beach / End up pushin’ more raps than I ever pushed trees.” It’s an ode to a lifestyle that dominates West Coast Hip Hop’s footprint and the rapper seems like he’s trying to bring pieces of it forward. Songs like “The West” are tough-sounding on the surface without trying too hard to be. It’s a vibe more than a story; the menace in the guitar riff alone is enough to conjure up Blu’s most aggressive L.A. pride.
Given the longer tracklist, he does bounce around familiar mannerisms: crushingly pensive here, fly shit-talk there. Of the more introspective material, “He Man” is the type of song that flies under the radar with its letter-to-an-ex like familiarity: “You was a wife to me / You said you’d die for me / Then you turned me right around when I got my crown / ‘Cause you know I been around / And this is your town / Makes you really miss a smile when you get a frown / You fell in love with my potential, I get it now.” That last line might apply as much to his relationship with fans as it does to a former love interest (presumably the same one that’s kept him limping along).
With as many features as Good To Be Home has, they’re mostly gratifying as a nod to Blu’s regionalism. When Fashawn opens up “Boyz N The Hood” over funky strings and faraway horns or Thurz and Evidence appear separately elsewhere, it’s immediately satisfying and justified. Still, with more than a dozen featured rappers on the first disc alone the effect might be a bit overdone, especially with some less-than-memorable tag-alongs. There’s an odd and immediate satisfaction attached to Prodigy’s cameo, and the veteran New Yorker makes an easy transition over the relatively grungy bass of “Red & Gold.” He sounds at home too.
“Rap Dope” changes the pace to start the second disc and leans away from the smooth Soul that characterizes much of the release. Even with the shimmering sounds in the background, the distorted drums clutter the track with noise. “Dre Day” hones in like an up-to-date Cali anthem and ode to its greatest innovator rolled into one. “World class since Wreckin’ Cru / Cause my resume say ‘wreckin’ crews,’” he raps.
Particularly for it to endure as a whole down the line, the double album format along with a handful of its songs might have been scrapped to good effect. But Blu’s managed to pull off a long-tracklist without bogging himself down. Even with too many features, it’s a surprisingly easy listen for a 20-track album. The result is a smattering of Blu’s better sides with some easy skips. All the while, he’s never waved his state flag so high with either his lyrics or production. A nagging audience be damned, Good To Be Home is a reminder that Blu is more than one thing at once. Even if he suggests it’s more suited for the car than a pair of headphones, it’s good to see him sit still for a moment. If he’s remembered for one project that would already be several too few; Good To Be Home is worthy of the list.