Hip-hop heads are nothing if not romanticizers of the past. The nostalgia of easier times, missed youth and the untouched memories eternally preserved in music keeps many fans re-listening and longing for their perceived golden era. One beloved rapper and producer duo, Blu & Exile, are giving fans an opportunity to relive their glory days, but set to a different soundtrack.
Blu & Exile released two albums together. Their first, Below The Heavens, is heralded as one of the most beautiful records that rap created. When that album turned 10 this year, the pair decided to celebrate with an anniversary tour as well as a new release—of old music.
In the Beginning: Before The Heavens is set to drop on October 20, and is being marketed as a prequel to Below the Heavens, as all the tracks featured on the new project were made during the same time period.
“Blu and I have been trying to track down these old sessions from the label, Sound in Color, but didn’t have any luck,” Exile says about what inspired the pair to revisit that era. “Ironically, Blu found a lot of the songs around the anniversary and we just got excited to put it out. Me and Blu put all the songs together and realized it was a dope album.”
They were excited to be reunited with something they thought they had lost forever.
“I was amped about it,” Blu says of the discovery. “Especially finding particular songs I thought I would never hear again. Not to mention, we have so many more we haven’t been able to track down yet.”
Exile echoes the sentiment, even finding overarching gratitude in the moment. “These songs made me reflect on how blessed I am to have already lived childhood dreams of making classic music,” he says.
When they were writing and recording Below The Heavens, they recorded upwards of 40 tracks, with only 15 making the final cut. The prequel offers up another 14 that got the same vigorous inspection as the first batch.
“I had to make sure they were heat, and sure enough they were. Exile wasn’t letting you cut a word on his beats if your verse or song wasn’t already tight off top,” Blu says.
In the Beginning: Before The Heavens didn’t just make the pair revisit the past, it’ll transport listeners back to a time when soulful, poetic hip-hop had a place in the spotlight. When pressed on whether that sound still has relevance today, the pair disagree.
“I think that sound has passed, honestly, but I do feel that all the fans of those soulful eras in music do enjoy when someone puts out some nostalgic tunes they can reminisce and vibe to,” Blu says.
Exile feels differently.
“There will always be a need for soulful hip-hop, just like there will be a need for technical hip-hop,” the beatmaker says. “All hip-hop to me is fine, it’s just the amount of what is being slammed down kids’ throats needs to be balanced, as does fast food versus health food. The balance is out of whack and some kids understand dumbed-down-party-shit as a way of life, as opposed to escapism from certain moments of life.”
On top of releasing the new old music, Blu & Exile have been providing the ultimate escape: taking their classic album on the road. While the duo was originally slated to play Beauty Bar in Las Vegas last month, a knee injury caused them to postpone the tour until 2018. When a new date is announced, fans can anticipate a full rendition of Below The Heavens, in celebration of its 10th year in existence, but they will also be treated to a live MPC set from Exile and other favorite tracks, along with performances from the rest of the Dirty Science crew.
While reminiscing is fun, and important, we must all still look forward. And when asked if there will be a sequel, or more new music in the future, they’re optimistic.
“For the fans, I say let’s make it happen,” Blu says.
Exile agrees: “Yes lawd! Stay tuned.”
Stream/pre-order In the Beginning: Before the Heavens on Bandcamp.