While Hip-Hop remains hellbent on searching for leaders of the so-called “New West,” California native Johnson “Blu” Barnes prefers letting his rhymes—not his coordinates—define his presence in the game. After releasing the critically acclaimed LP Below The Heavens with producer Exile in ’07, Blu ducked the spotlight and continued to release music independently with beatsmiths Ta’Raach and Mainframe under the monikers C.R.A.C. Knuckles and Johnson & Johnson, respectively.
Utilizing the Internet, the 27-year-old MC—whose drawn comparisons to Nas and Common—spent the last few years leaking new music between official releases. With no one’s agenda to fulfill but his own, Blu is an enigma of sorts in Hip-Hop’s underground scene. Fans cannot get enough of him, and his absence from the media draws question to his dedication to his career. However, with nostalgic storytelling abilities and true-to-life subject matter, Blu has amassed a cult-like following. VIBE was granted a few minutes with the wordsmith to discuss his first official solo LP, his DIY approach to music, and involvement in Lupe Fiasco’s supergroup, All City Chess Club. ⎯Mikey Fresh
VIBE: It's been a while since we've heard from you, how’s everything been?
Blu: Everything has been good. I’m working on releasing this new album called NoYork! through Sire/Warner Brothers. It should be out be out by the 1st quarter of 2011. I got Flying Lotus, Sam I Am, Shafiq from SA-RA, Exileand a couple other cats on there.
What inspired the NoYork! title?
It’s got two different meanings, but I would say it’s about a state of mind. It really stems from people always saying I had a New York or East Cost style flow. This being my first real solo record⎯it kind of brings all my different styles together on one album. NoYork! has this broad West Coast sound. There are some other reasons but it’s definitely because of the sound. It’s not a state, it’s a state of mind.
We can already see Internet cats saying you’re dissing New York with that title. Did you actually record any of the project in New York City?
I recorded a song with U-God out here. I spent some time recording Uptown and in Brooklyn. We had to make sure we were getting love from the city. I want to make sure everyone knows I’m not discriminating against New York. It’s a nod to this place if anything
There have been some rumors of you being dropped from Warner Bros. Are you still with the label?
Nah, there’s been no problems. I haven’t had any problems with the label at all. They’ve been open to all our creative ideas. I just like to really take my time before I release anything. I want to make sure I’m completely satisfied with my music.
You have a true DIY approach to releasing new music. Why did you decide to drop the GodLee Barnes LP as one long un-mastered song?