The musical pairing of Blu (born Johnson Barnes) and Exile (born Aleksander Manfred) has become a quintessential asset to West Coast hip-hop ever since they first joined forces in 2007. The Los Angeles-based pair first met in the mid-2000s, while Blu, a rapper beginning to cut his chops in the underground hip-hop scene, was acting as a hype man for a handful of groups, including Slum Village, Platinum Pied Pipers, and Exile’s group, Emanon. Blu was soon connected to Exile, through a personal introduction from Emanon’s other member, Aloe Blacc, and the rest soon became history. Exile—a producer/DJ known for his laid-back soulful beats, as well as for his work with Jurassic 5, Mobb Deep, and Kardinal Offishall—was a perfect fit with Blu, whose style as a rapper has been praised for his flawless delivery, his conscious rhymes and his ability to resonate with a diverse audience.
The duo earned widespread recognition and acclaim with the release of their 2007 debut studio album, Below the Heavens, with the group quickly garnering the attention of the alternative hip-hop scene and finding themselves at the center of articles discussing the year’s best releases. Their highly anticipated follow-up, Give Me Flowers While I Can Smell Them, arrived in 2012, with the project’s release being delayed so that Blu & Exile could make sure they were happy with the audio quality. Although the duo has only blessed fans with two formal releases to date, they remain a beloved fixture in underground hip-hop, as well as have furthered their legacies with their own respective solo careers.