Blu & Exile
Johnson Barnes, better known by his moniker "Blu," is an emcee from Los Angeles, California. Growing up, due to his stepfather's influence as a pastor, Blu was exposed to gospel and Christian rap as a child, with gangsta rap coming into the picture as he got older. He began working as a hype man for artists like Slum Village, Steve Spacek, and Platinum Pied Pipers before trying his own hand at rapping. Inspired by Common, Blu began transitioning from freestyling to writing songs, with some of his earliest recorded material dating back to 2003. He signed with independent label Sound in Color in 2004, and shortly thereafter was introduced to his collaborator, producer Exile. With his debut album, Below the Heavens, arriving in 2007, he was met with praise in the media, being named "Rookie of the Year" by HipHopDX. He followed with a handful of collaborative projects, including The Piece Talks with Detroit rapper-producer Ta'Raach, and Johnson&Jonson with producer Mainframe. In 2009, he signed with Warner Bros. Records. That decision would inevitably be short-lived, as Blu left two years later and echoed his decision by releasing what would have been his major label debut, NoYork!, independently. In addition to his work as a solo artist, Blu also is known for being part of a duo alongside producer Exile, with their first release, Below the Heavens, being hailed by XXL as "one of 2007's most celebrated hip-hop releases." With an ever-growing discography, Blu is highly regarded for his conscious lyricism and appetite to collaborate with others.