Blu & Exile Credit: Zach Mack

Since 2007, Los Angeles rapper Blu has dispensed more than a dozen albums indebted to hip-hop’s golden age, and on his releases with producer Exile, his garrulous style finds a firm footing. The duo’s third effort, the double disc Miles: From an Interlude Called Life (Dirty Science), spans the globe and the history of the African diaspora. The nine-minute epic “Roots of Blu” tells the story of humanity through the accomplishments of Black folks, name-checking the likes of Tutankhamun, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Sun Ra; meanwhile, the rangy narrative of “Blue as I Can Be” spins listeners through Blu’s Los Angeles childhood. His expression of creativity, determination, and lyrical munificence is deeply personal, but he also dissects life on the road and the complexities of navigating the music industry with the day-in-the-life vantage point of “Miles Away.” What isn’t expressly addressed is that following the critical embrace of Blu & Exile’s debut, 2007’s Below the Heavens, Blu made NoYork! under his own name—it leaked in 2011, while he was under contract to Warner Brothers, and within weeks that major-label deal was over. (The album got a formal release through Blu’s own New World Color label in 2013, and was later retitled York!) That album seemed to strike out for purposely different territory than the MC’s soulful work with Exile: Blu’s vocals float over relatively electro-related productions that, while not exactly anti-commercial, might’ve been a bit jarring to traditionalists. Whatever the significance of his ill-fated dalliance with Warner Brothers, Blu retains his ability to transform personal insights into ambitious narrative projects—Miles is the most expansive and all-encompassing exploration of his life thus far. This probably means we can expect him to unfurl a few more novel-like albums before this serialization is complete.   v