Blu (rapper)

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Birth name Johnson Barnes
Born (1983-04-15) April 15, 1983 (age 33)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Origin San Pedro, Los Angeles, California
Genres Hip hop, Alternative hip hop
Occupation(s) Rapper, record producer
Years active 2003–present
Labels Nature Sounds, Sire, Sound in Color Records, Warner Bros. Records
Associated acts Exile, Mainframe, Ta'Raach, Sene, Pac Div, Lupe Fiasco, The Roots, Fashawn, Lost Dialect, Asher Roth, All City Chess Club, Knxwledge, Madlib, Andy Allo, MF DOOM

Johnson Barnes (born April 15, 1983), better known by his stage name Blu, is an American West Coast rapper and producer from Los Angeles, California.[1] Following the success of his 2007 debut album, Below the Heavens, Blu was named HipHopDX's "Rookie of the Year".[2] Since then, Blu has released six full-length albums.[3] In September 2011, he released the album Open, his 4th solo project.[4] His fifth solo studio album Good to Be Home was released on May 20, 2014 by Nature Sounds.[5]

Early life[edit]

Johnson Barnes was born on April 15, 1983 in San Pedro, California. Raised by his mother and stepfather who was a pastor, Barnes was highly influenced by gospel and Christian rap when he was growing up.[1] However, Barnes' was also influenced by gangsta rap that he received from his father, contributing to his delivery of conscious yet raw lyrics. In his early days in the music business, Johnson worked as a hype man for underground rap and soul artists such as Slum Village, Steve Spacek, Platinum Pied Pipers, and Emanon.[1] However, taking influence from Common, Barnes began turning from freestyle rhyming to crafting songs.[1] In an interview with HipHopDx, Barnes talks about what it was like to listen to Common's 1994 song "I Used to Love H.E.R.": "When I heard it, it really changed my life. I felt like I had heard Hip Hop for the first time. It made me change my content and my whole approach. It made me serious about writing and wanting to say something."[6] Blu is also close friends with singer Miguel, who also lived in San Pedro. [7]

Music career[edit]

2003: Career beginnings[edit]

Some of the earliest tracks by Blu can be found on the 2003 EP Brüse Brothers, done with fellow L.A. emcee Jac Spade also known as Blacc/ Donel Smokes.[8] Spade is also a producer and has worked with the likes of Chali 2na and Akil the MC, both of Jurassic 5 fame, and Planet Asia amongst others.


Blu signed to L.A. independent label Sound in Color in 2004, choosing the label ahead of other big name companies such as Interscope Records and Death Row Records.[1] After Blu was introduced to Los Angeles based producer Exile by Aloe Blacc,[6] Blu released his debut album Below the Heavens in August 2007. New York weekly newspaper The Village Voice called the album "one of the most thoughtful indie-rap releases in some time".[9] Following the album's success and Blu being named as Rookie of the Year by HipHopDX,[2] the rapper began working with Detroit rapper-producer Ta'Raach, releasing the collaborative album The Piece Talks under Tres Records in April 2008. In September of that same year, the company released Blu's collaborative album Johnson&Jonson with producer Mainframe.[10]

Following the reception of Johnson&Jonson, Blu and Mainframe formed their joint company New World Color. In celebration of the move, the two released their EP E.Q.E.P.; featuring rappers such as Gonjasufi and Dirty Paper.[11] Aside from these commercial projects, Blu also released his second solo project (So)ul Amazing.


In 2009, Blu released his third solo album entitled Her Favorite Colo(u)r. Although the album was originally released as a free mixtape, the tape was re-released as in album in conjunction with Nature Sounds in 2011.[12] The album is known for its jazz, neo soul feel as well its samples of artists such as Billie Holiday and Jimi Hendrix and Curtis Mayfield. During this year, Blu also released his mixtape (So)ul Amazing II with DJ Heat. The tape features a wide variety of artists including Talib Kweli,, Kid Cudi, Evidence, The Alchemist, and Co$$.

In 2009, hip hop magazine XXL named Blu as one of their Top 10 Freshmen of 09'.[13] That same year, Blu also began experimenting with production, releasing his 8 track instrumental NoSleepForADay. The year also found Blu signed to major label Warner Bros..[14]

The following year, Blu released his lyrical/instrumental full length LP theGodleeBarnes.[15]


In January, 2011, Blu released And If You See The E Drop Em, a title taken from a line on his first track on Below the Heavens:[16]

Blu released three albums through 2011, titled Jesus, NoYork!, and Open with Nature Sounds; the latter of which features a variety of artists with tracks all produced by the emcee. While the album Jesus was released independently under New World Color in July, NoYork!, a project that was supposed to be Blu's major label debut, was not. Initially planned for release under Warner, Blu later dropped from the label in October,[17] deciding to release it for free over the internet instead. On his decision to leave Warner Brothers, Blu said: "Warner sucked! Kweli left, Tick who signed the Beastie Boys left, my A&R Naim Ali (who A&R’d the Roots and Common) left. The president was fired or left. His son, the VP of Sire left. Them niggas got bought out by Russians who didn’t give a fuck about nothing but Rick Ross so..[sic]" [18]

In an interview with Above Ground Magazine, Blu expressed his future intentions with music, specifically on his notion of retiring from rap: “I’ve never seen myself rapping after 30,... I’ve always seen myself doing film. I have like three films I would love to shoot. But I would need a budget for it.”[17]

On February 22, 2012 Blu released Ucla exclusively on his Bandcamp page and claimed that the album was produced by critically acclaimed LA producer Madlib. According to Stones Throw, Madlib's label, Madlib had nothing to do with this album and the album was later removed from Blu's Bandcamp page.[19] In March 17, 2012, Blu released no york e mo work (rmx z 1.3), which is a remix album of NoYork!. In July 2012, plans were announced to officially release a mastered version of Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them, as well as a prelude EP titled "Maybe One Day" on July 24.[20]


Blu's solo studio album Good to Be Home was released in 2014 by Nature Sounds.[21] In 2015, Blu along with underground rapper MED and producer Madlib released a song entitled "Knock Knock" featuring MF DOOM. Along with the song, the trio revealed that they are releasing a collaborative album called Bad Neighbor. This will be their first time collaboration since their 2013 EPs, The Burgundy and The Buzz.[22]

In 2016, he teamed up with Nottz to create a new ep called Titans In The Flesh. The EP is centered around greek and roman mythology.[23]


Musical Style[edit]

Blu is known for his Alternative hip hop and his conscious yet raw delivery style and is influenced by Tupac Shakur, Common, Nas, De La Soul, N.W.A, and The Roots.[citation needed]


Solo albums[edit]

Collaborative albums[edit]


Compilation albums[edit]

  • Open (The Instrumental LP) (2009)
  • No Sleep for a Day (2009)
  • The Norman Rockwell Beat Tape (2011)


  • Maybe One Day (2012) (with Exile, as Blu & Exile)
  • The Burgundy (2013) (with MED and Madlib)
  • Gods in the Spirit (2013) (with Nottz)
  • The Buzz (2013) (with MED and Madlib)
  • Titans in the Flesh (2016) (with Nottz)
  • "Cheetah in the City" (2016) (with Union Analogtronics)


  • "The Narrow Path" (2006)
  • "Lemonade" (2011)
  • "Cellnl's" (2011)
  • "Amnesia" (2011)
  • "The Clean Hand" (2013)
  • "The West" (2014)
  • "The Return" b/w "Thriller" (2015)
  • "Kiss the Sky" (2015)

Guest appearances[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Cordor, Cyril Blu Biography, Allmusic, Macrovision Corporation
  2. ^ a b HipHopDX (31 December 2007). "2007 HipHopDX Awards". HipHopDX. 
  3. ^ Blu – The Greatest Guest Features Collection (4-Disc)’
  4. ^ HipHopDX (5 October 2011). "Blu - Open". HipHopDX. 
  5. ^ "Blu (2)". Discogs. Retrieved 2015-11-14. 
  6. ^ a b HipHopDX (24 March 2008). "Blu: A Kind of Blu". HipHopDX. 
  7. ^ "Blu Says He Is "Biggest Hypocrite Since 2Pac," Talks Working With Rising Star Miguel - Hip-Hop Wired". Hip-Hop Wired. 
  8. ^ Bruised Brothers Bandwidthmusic
  9. ^ Caramanica, Jon (July 13, 2008). "RISING UP: Wale's about to hit the big time". Village Voice. Retrieved September 24, 2012. 
  10. ^ Blu and Mainframe form “Johnson&Jonson”' PlugOne
  11. ^ DOWNLOAD/NEWS: Mainframe & Blu – E.Q.E.P. [LP] (Celebrates New Company) Archived July 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Word Is Bond
  12. ^ "Blu". Pitchfork. 
  13. ^ "Hip-Hop News, Rap Music - XXL". XXL Mag. Archived from the original on 2008-11-05. 
  14. ^ HipHopDX (24 February 2009). "Blu Signs To Sire/Warner Brothers Records". HipHopDX. 
  15. ^ Blu- TheGodleeBarnes
  16. ^ Blu- And If You See The E Drop Em
  17. ^ a b Exclusive: Blu Drops From Warner Brothers Archived January 20, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Above Ground Magazine
  18. ^ "Blu - New Word Color (Interview) - Takin' Mines". 
  19. ^ Battan, Carrie (February 20, 2012). "Update: Madlib Was Not Involved in That Blu Album - Stones Throw says Madlib had nothing to do with UCLA". Pitchfork Media. 
  20. ^ Horowitz, Steven J. (June 13, 2012). "Blu & Exile To Officially Release "Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them"". HipHopDX. Cheri Media Group. Retrieved September 24, 2012. 
  21. ^ Westhoff, Ben (May 16, 2014). "Blu: Stream His Entire New Album, Good to Be Home". LA Weekly. 
  22. ^ "Hear Med, Blu & Madlib Team With MF Doom - Rolling Stone". Rolling Stone. 
  23. ^ Schwartz, Danny (15 July 2016). "Blu and Nottz team up for EP". Retrieved 15 July 2016. 

External links[edit]