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.

Blu: Blu. This is Blu.
Miss Special: So, you have been talking two of my very good friends who are very good rappers, Chuuwee and Quelle.
Blu: Chuuwee and Quelle.
Miss Special: Yes.
Blu: Two very dope rappers...put out some dope projects last year. "Sleek Rifle and a Shotgun" and "Watching the Throne."
Miss Special: Yes. Are you going to be working with them anytime soon?
Blu: Possibly, yeah. I have been working with them.
Miss Special: Okay.
Blu: Yep, and something should be releasing later on this year.
Miss Special: Oh, I am too excited for that. Oh my goodness. Then the track that you did with basically all the west coast all-stars doing something, was that your idea?
Blu: It was like that generation of-they all came out around like between '06 and like 2010. The West Coast MC's around that time should have been its own Freshman Class Cover of the Year. We just did this squad past year with U-N-I, trying to get a merger with David.
Miss Special: So is that just like a one-time thing? You guys performed it live and stuff like that but can we [inaudible 00:01:37] cause that shit was so dope.
Blu: Yeah. Well I always definitely work ... I work with Thurz, U-N-I, Likewise ... I know Likewise. We've all been working with [inaudible 00:01:51]. So the circles are moving.
Miss Special: Good stuff. And then the newest release, "Give Me My Flowers," did you not ... like people are speculating that you didn't mix and match it on purpose. Like that sound ... and then later on you're gonna come back and mix and match it and put it out. What's the whole thing with that?
Blu: Well, we planned on releasing it as a demo, because we sat on it for a few years and people really wanted to hear it as it is. People have heard it and enjoy listening to it as it is and some of our music has leaked with that essence to it and they still appreciate it. So, we don't feel bad about letting people accept that from this. But we do plan on putting out a more master-mixed version of it right here. People are excited about that. With some additional features and what not.
Miss Special: And then the tracks are from 2009. Was that delayed because of the label or you were just like "Let me hold on to this." What was that?
Blu: The NoYork! was delayed because of the label.
Miss Special: Okay.
Blu: Yeah. But in 2009, we just ... we made the record in two weeks and we wanted to make something else.
Miss Special: So you used to produce in back in the day.
Blu: Yeah.
Miss Special: You ever choose the samples for Exile?
Blu: Yeah. I chose a part of a few samples. "My World is Blue," "Pearl Gates." Some other ones too. I can't remember but Ex goes in, though.
Miss Special: Definitely. One of my favorite producers. And then NoYork!--you said that you had enough tracks to make a triple album.
Blu: Right. It's a lot of shared [inaudible 00:03:50]. Sire Records kind of got stagnant so we started talking to Warner and we're just working other possibilities right now. (laughs)
Miss Special: And then, hard copies of "Below the Heavens." Very hard to get. Will they ever be easier to get in the near future?
Blu: The vinyl just got pressed. Official versions of the vinyl that was just pressed are now available. Think of like four different color, cover editions. It's been a few years since we get to actually have an official release.
Miss Special: (music plays) Special Sundays Radio Show is live every Sunday from 2-4pm on ksfs.sfsu.edu and for everything special check out specialsundays.com

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