December 8, 2011 31 comments
‘To me, Blu is the rap version of Len Bias.’
I was watching a UFC fight today with one of my roommates. I watched Jon Jones absolutely destroy this cat named Rampage Jackson. Both are extremely skilled fighters, but Jones simply overpowered Jackson. We started comparing UFC to boxing, and the recurring theme we had was that the heavyweight division in boxing will never be what it once was. This is the case for two main reasons: 1) few boxing matches end in a KO or TKO so the decision is always an iffy result, and 2) boxing is extremely corrupt. There’s probably some boxer out there right now who could run amuck in the heavyweight division but he will never get a chance to show his exploits on this type of platform. Even though his talent is equal or superior he doesn’t have a certain image that the promoters feel is marketable, therefore they don’t want to risk him becoming an unmarketable champion. In the end, champions, of all sports, are commodities and it’s easier to profit off of ones that are marketable.
I like to view musicians just like sports champions. All professional athletes are talented, just as most musicians are talented. It takes a certain kind of talent to arrange melodies or lyrics in a manner that makes them appealing to listeners. However, the difference between a regular, run of the mill artist and a full-fledged superstar has little to do with the music usually and more with the package deal. The perfect storm of elements that help to catapult an artist from the middle of the pack to that champion status, where they are revered as one of the best in their profession. Sometimes you are just in the right place at the right time to reap the benefits of a great situation. Just ask The Game or Adam Morrison.
I feel that an artist cannot become successful in the music industry unless they have the right combination of talent and buzz. A lack of talent must be compensated by more than average buzz, and vice versa. And once it is discovered that a particular artist has talent and buzz they must capitalize on that buzz. It’s one thing to be viewed as talented; it’s another once your talent is acknowledged while you are at the height of your popularity so that you expand the time frame of your 15 minutes of fame. For example, let’s look at Drake. Drake is extremely talented and generated a ton of buzz by aligning himself with Lil Wayne and his Young Money label, and capitalized on this buzz by releasing his #1 album “Thank Me Later”. Kendrick Lamar is another artist that comes to mind that used his talent to generate a buzz and is capitalizing on the buzz that he is generating. Capitalizing on the buzz you generate is what separates talented artists. That is the main difference between an artist such as Lupe Fiasco and a very similar, lesser known artist such as Blu.
Blu is a rapper out of Los Angeles that makes music much in the vein of a Phonte or Joe Budden. He is a worldly lyricist that drops gems that are relatable to the average fan. He also is very experimental in his approach to music, and definitely tries his hand at as many lanes as possible. He released the album “Below The Heavens” in 2007 with producer Exile, which received much critical acclaim. He then followed this up with “Johnson & Jonson”, another stellar feather in his cap. He was offered a spot by XXL Magazine as one of its Freshman to Watch For in 2009, along with Wale, B.o.B, Charles Hamilton, Asher Roth, Kid Cudi, Ace Hood, and Curren$y among others. Anyone familiar with rap music knows that the majority of these names have gone on to carve mainstream niches for themselves, but here’s where the story gets a little murky for Blu.
Blu gets this national spotlight, appears on the cover of this magazine, and then proceeds to never release an album. He released “HerFavoriteColo(u)r” which is less than 30 minutes of music total, and then seemingly focused his efforts on production work. He released 2 instrumental mixtapes and produced “ADayLate&ADollarShort” with emcee Sene. I think that’s really the most puzzling thing I’ve ever seen someone do that was trying to become known as a rapper. To have that talent and that national platform, one would think that they would focus on honing their skills and capitalizing on the buzz they generated. Instead, Blu teases us with flashes of his talent that always have us questioning what might have happened if things had gone down differently.
For comparison’s sake, let’s compare Blu’s path with that of another XXL freshman, Lupe Fiasco. Lupe made a previous edition of the XXL freshman list after dropping his critically acclaimed “Fahrenheit 1/15” mixtape series. He then followed this up with a show-stealing guest spot on Kanye West’s single “Touch The Sky”. He then released his debut album “Food & Liquor” which was executive produced by Jay-Z (which is not to be overlooked in terms of importance) and his follow up album “The Cool”. Lupe was able to turn the corner and capitalize on his buzz and is now one of the most recognizable figures in the conscious hip hop realm. He’s often solicited by CNN when they want a rapper’s comment on race or politics.
Blu and Lupe Fiasco are similar in terms of talent but there is a huge disparity between the popularity and average consumer awareness of the two. And that is due to Blu not capitalizing on the buzz that he generated. To me, Blu is the rap version of Len Bias. Bias was an extremely talented NBA prospect that died shortly after being drafted. He is viewed as one of the best basketball players to never play professionally. To this day, over 20 years later, people are still wondering what might have been had Bias not had such an abrupt death. He had the buzz and the talent but was never given an opportunity to display his gifts on the biggest stage of them all.
Blu hasn’t undergone such a drastic tragedy but he is going thru a similar fate. He is extremely talented but caught in a situation where his fans constantly wonder what might have been had he not squandered the buzz that he generated. Most of the other artists on the XXL cover that same year have gone on to do great things in terms of mainstream rap music. Only Blu is left in the shadows, somewhere stuck between popularity and anonymity. The great thing is that he has time on his side, but we’re not even sure if Blu will want to crossover to that successful state. No one knows Blu’s intentions, except for Blu. And that’s the way he would like to keep things.