Don’t worry, it’s not as cold as the title makes it out to be. It’s pretty cold, but not that cold.
I’ll admit right off the bat that I slept on Below The Heavens, the ambitious debut record of the Los Angeles duo of Blu and Exile, for a good long while. It’s a record I heard much about, and gathered a lot of praise about it, but I never sat down with the record until well after I heard the rapper Blu and producer Exile on other joints. In the past few years Blu has picked up considerable attention from the underground for his skills and intriguing rhymes, scoring guest spots on records by artists such as Fashawn and The Roots. As a solo artist he’s issued several really solid records. Exile has also gained a lot of clout in the rap world for his fantastic soul and R&B-inflected beats. I really got into Exile’s producing on Fashawn’s big-label debut, Boy Meets World and I’ve been a fan of his work since.
I’ve been putting Below The Heavens through the paces for the last few days, and I’ve been digging Blu’s reassuring lyrics and Exile’s very heartfelt sounds. This particular one really sticks with me. Touching on the senselessness of violence and the harsh reality of a kid coming of age in the ghetto, “Cold Hearted” is an emotional listen with Blu providing some poignant commentary about his come up: Seeing his father leave, his mom struggling, friends dying, and trying to learn about life in a hellish environment. I especially enjoy that line, “Dumb kid with a tongue / That I got from hip-hop…” in contrast to his repeated lines about being a dumb kid with gun. Exile’s instrumental adds to Blu’s words very well, providing a warm, reassuring sound which makes the track seem not as hopeless as it sounds, made even more striking by the guest vocals from Miguel Jontel. It’s quite the listen.
Originally posted on my old Tumblr-ass Tumblr blog, Emaciated Wildebeest, on June 27, 2011.
But wait, it’s 2017, and I’ve got more to say!
This record is remembered fondly by many hip-hop heads for being a breath of fresh air at a time when hip-hop was in a bit of a malaise. It was 2007, and fans were arguing over hip-hop’s lack of originality (Damn, Nas even declared it dead), the burgeoning use of Auto-Tune, and Southern rap’s domination of the airwaves. For the fans who grew up on the soulful, intelligent groups like Tribe or dug Little Brother this record gave em something that they could feel, and I remember people hailing it as a classic damn near the minute after it dropped. Below the Heavens had a pretty notable impact on hip-hop, and each person featured on this track has gone on to have a pretty substantial career. Blu was a force to be reckoned with in underground hip-hop from 2008-2012, Exile has produced for more than a few acts, and Miguel is that Miguel, a bonafide superstar. Pretty wild, huh? Happy 10th birthday to this one.