The Making of Blu & Exile’s Below the Heavens

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  • 1. Below The Heavens
    The Making of Blu & Exile's <em>Below the Heavens</em>
    Five years ago, the indie hip-hop landscape was pleasantly surprised by a then newcomer Blu and his official debut album <em>Below the Heavens</em>. Molded by producer Exile, of West Coast underground's popular duo Emanon, the project was one of 2007's most celebrated hip-hop releases. The heartfelt lyricism, vivid vignettes, and flawless flow displayed by Blu, over Exile's emotion-tingling soul-sampled production was an impeccable combination that won the hearts of both fans and critics. It certainly convinced <em>XXL</em> to place Blu as one of 2010's Freshmen.<br /><br /> The legacy of both Blu and Exile continues to evolve, and a long-awaited follow-up, <em>Give Me My Flowers While I Can Smell Them</em>, was released via online last year December. While it received positive reviews, both fans and critics weren't pleased with the album's overall sound quality. As a means of satisfying the fans and presenting new materials, the album will be <a href="http://www.fatbeats.com/products/fatbeats-products-givememyflowerscd">re-released on September 4th</a>. In the meantime, a 12" EP will drop on July 24th. <br /><br />It all started, however, with <em>Below the Heavens</em>. It's the most celebrated piece of work on both Exile and Blu's catalog to date. The album has been deemed as an underground classic, and its limited pressing during time of the release has earned a cult following of fans that have paid 10-times the original price of the CD on eBay for a physical copy. Today is the five-year anniversary since the release of Blu & Exile's <em>Below the Heavens</em>, and to commemorate the occasion, <em>XXL</em> has sat down with its key players to dissect the creation process of an underground classic. —<em>Jaeki Cho</em> (<a href="http://twitter.com/jaekicho">@JaekiCho</a>)
  • 2. The Genesis
    The Genesis (Coming Up With The Title)
    <strong>Blu:</strong> "I came up with the concept for <em>Below the Heavens</em> at Pedro High, when I was in high school. I was in the 10th grade, and I met a really dope MC whose name was Sixth Sense. Actually, I didn’t even meet him; his little brother would come to school kicking me his raps and shit; it was like the most amazing raps. And, I was like, ‘Dude, I got to think of something on that level.’ And, I thought of <em>Below the Heavens</em>. And, about seven years later or so it came into fruition.<br /><br />"I’ve always known it was going to be my first album title. Pretty much, I just carried [the title] for a while until we actually finished that record."
  • 3. Linking with Exile
    Linking Up With Exile
    <strong>Blu:</strong> "I met Exile though Aloe, and I met Aloe Blacc through Science Project; Aloe was recording with Science Project; I was recording with Science Project, and Aloe was like, ‘Yo, you got to meet this dude Exile.’ [Exile] was working with Slum Village at the time. [And then] Exile came out to a show, back when I used to host shows in Hollywood, help set up events and shit like that. I would wrap up the night with a little set. [Exile and I] started working from there. He was like, ‘Yo, I need a song for my record, if you don’t mind.’ He was working on a <em>Dirty Science</em> record. We linked up to cut something. I forgot what song it was, but on the drive there, he starts playing some crazy-ass beats. I was like, ‘Am I real right now? Am I sitting in the car with the illest producer I’ve ever heard?’ I just started going through raps in my head, just kicking raps off the dome, and we put together like three songs right there in the whip. [Exile] was like, ‘Dude, we got to do an album.’<br /><br />"It just so happens that our chemistry clicked in the studio as opposed to him seeing me live or anything. And once we got in the studio, we kind of just didn’t stop recording for a while. We recorded about 75 songs for <em>Below the Heavens</em>."
  • 4. Linking with Aloe Blacc
    Connection With Aloe Blacc
    <strong>Aloe Blacc:</strong> "There was a group out SoCal called Science Project that I had done some work with and they had some musician friends in Long Beach who were also friends with Blu. I was hanging out with all of them one day and we started reciting lyrics from Dilla's <em>Welcome 2 Detroit</em> LP. Eventually I heard him spit his own lyrics and I was impressed.<br /><br />"I brought Exile to a show that Blu invited me to attend and we were both blown away. We hadn't really heard anyone like him and I thought he would be a really good addition to the crew. Exile started to record with him when he moved up to Long Beach. I think they recorded or developed songs almost everyday for at least a year.<br /><br />"Blu is dope. One of the best of our generation. I never considered Blu a hypeman and I don't think Exile did either. We brought him on stage because we were seriously considering adding him to Emanon. We already considered him crew and felt comfortable letting him share the stage with us. I wanted our fans in Europe and the U.S. to see as much of him as possible so that he could receive a warm introduction to our audience. All that needed to happen from there was to release some music.<br /><br />"I was around in the beginning when Exile started working with Blu, but I started to feel a sense of freedom and started working on other music that ended up becoming my <em>Shine Through</em> LP with Stones Throw. I wasn't writing rhymes as much as I was experimenting with other genres and I honestly felt like Exile and Blu would better represent hip-hop music from the crew at that time. Exile has a class-clown personality when he isn't being serious on the MPC, so he would always set up some kind of practical joke."
  • 5. Linking with Miguel
    VIbing With Miguel
    <strong>Miguel:</strong> "It was a good time, man. Just being a part of that project, especially for someone who was a good friend of mine since high school. It was just cool to see everything kind of progress, and then we were already on our own path, we were friends and we respected each other musically. <br /><br />"[Blu and I] went to San Pedro High School together. I’ll never forget walking in—and I just saw a cypher. I’ve always loved music so that’s the first thing I was drawn to it. I walked straight to them and I kind of pushed my way through. People were rhyming, and I’ll never forget seeing this tall, lanky dude, but he was nice, and he was just vibing and it was dope. Coincidently, we had our first class of the year together which was computers class. And I was just like, ‘Yo, man, I heard you out there, you’re dope.’ I told him I loved music, and I sing and I write. And ever since then, he’s just been my boy. I came in playing sports, he came in playing ball. It was sports, music, and you know girls. Pretty much what it was. But it was always music first. <br /><br />"I remember he signed with Sound in Color. I was enrolled in college, ‘cause I never attended, I was just enrolled. [Blu] was standing in the Sound in Color house in Long Beach. I loved that house. It was our spot. I knew he was like in between high school and working on a couple solo projects, like completely independent. With this dude that would press CDs, and he would work at his studio. And he did a couple projects like that, and it was like Exile and Aloe that put him on Sound in Color. It took a while for Louis to be convinced that Blu was really, really dope, but everybody from the label was telling him that. And eventually he signed him and that’s what happened. I think <em>Below the Heavens</em> got the most attention from Sound in Color, as an indie label. Compared to any other project from the label. Louis took a mad long time to sign Blu.<br /><br />"I just remember Blu wanted to do it independently, but he wanted to do it with the indie that kind of understood hip-hop and had some kind of foot hole in the independent scene you know and because of Emanon and Exile and the relationship he was building through them they were really suggesting Sound in Color. He had obviously been talking to Stones Throw. I don’t know why he wasn’t really pursuing Stones Throw, I think he liked the idea that Sound in Color was an up-and-coming indie. They had some pretty dope independent remix and hip-hop but it wasn’t the premier independent hip-hop label and [Blu] kind of liked that because he wanted to be the one that helped build their story as well, and he did, you know?"
  • 6. My World Is...
    “My World Is…”
    <strong>Blu:</strong> "'My World Is' was probably the last song recorded for the record. Exile and I would go periodically to Mainframe’s to record. He actually signed Exile and I to Sound In Color. He was one of the original owners. We would periodically go to his spot as opposed to the Sound In Color studios. So we found The Dells’ record at Exile’s, and we brought it to Mainframe’s to chop it up there. But we brought it to Mainframe’s house and lost the record there, and we couldn’t find the record for I don’t know how long. So as we were recording the record, we were going to record shops trying to find this The Dells’ album and shit. We couldn’t find the shit. No record stores had it, no thrift shops. So we were forced to sample off a CD, man. That’s probably my biggest regret of the album. That was the only sample that wasn’t from vinyl. No less than a week after we make the song, like three copies of the fucking vinyl surface. I got like four copies of that Dells record." <br /><br /><strong>Exile:</strong> "I remember Blu kept trying to push me to sample the record used for 'The World Is' and I wasn't into it, but eventually I got it done and we went in the studio to record the verse. When he spit it to me we knew this was the song that would start off the album. When he did the first take and he recorded the first verse with the line, ‘I flow conscious rep the Koochie Monstas’ I was like, ‘Nah, spit it differently like this.’ Back then Blu was a lot more open to trying ideas in the studio. But the funny thing is, listening to the song now I actually like the OG patterns he used for the line. Every time I hear it I’m like, ‘Why did I ask him to do that?’"<br /><br /><object width="620" height="30"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/jjTyrfmO_Mw?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/jjTyrfmO_Mw?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="30" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>
  • 7. The Narrow Path
    “The Narrow Path”
    <strong>Blu:</strong> "We had mad melodies. Blu got mad melodies. Before Below the Heavens, I had few underground albums that never really surfaced. And I definitely had sing-along hooks and shit. I used to write for singers that I would collaborate with or what not. Coming up with a hook was the fun part of the song. The verse was like the work. ‘Cause niggas were beasting at the time. I actually wrote ‘The Narrow Path’ while listening to Elzhi. So, I just wrote that whole song to one of his songs off like <em>Dirty District</em>. And, I was like, ‘Ex, I got these verses.’ And he was like, ‘Let me make a beat.’ And he chopped up ‘The Narrow Path’ sample, man. That shit was so raw. It just fit that mood so perfectly. I was just on some ill street narrative shit. ‘The Narrow Path’ was the first single, and it was definitive of the <em>Below the Heavens</em> record.<br /><br />"I always felt like honesty was my best policy, so I would never front. So anytime I pick up a pen and I start writing, I’m an open person. A lot of people after [hearing] the record said, ‘Damn, man. That was a real personal record. You got some sad songs.’ But for me, it’s either venting or expressing myself or letting someone know something that can possibly help him or her in the future. ‘The Narrow Path’ was definitely personal, but it was more so the best introduction for me."<br /><br /><strong>Exile:</strong> "‘Narrow Path’ was the first Blu 12-inch we put out on Sound in Color. Back then it was titled just Blu not Blu and Exile. This was the song Blu would do a guest spot when Aloe Blacc and I would do our Emanon shows. I used to love it when this part of the show came up. Blu would get up on stage so hungry and just spit this raw heartfelt lyrics and the audience was always like ‘Who is this new cat killing it?’ It was a perfect way to slowly start getting him known."<br /><br /><object width="620" height="30"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/folUIf__AaQ?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/folUIf__AaQ?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="30" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>
  • 8. Soul Amazin
    "So(ul) Amazin' (Steel Blazin')"
    <object width="620" height="400"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/jq-crVkXcaw?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/jq-crVkXcaw?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="400" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object><strong>Blu</strong>: "I wrote ‘So(ul) Amazin’ to a Dilla beat that wasn’t actually a Dilla beat. At the time Dilla was recording with Operation—with Mainframe under OX, and he would drop off beat CDs. And I was recording with Sound In Color at the time, so I was like, ‘Yo, man, is it possible if we could work?’ Dilla was like, ‘Man, I got mad beats.’ So Mainframe hooked it up. And, I’m going through the disc, and I picked a few songs. We did few songs to demo, but one of the main songs was the ‘Soul Provider’ song. So we play Dilla several songs. He’s like, ‘I like this one. I like this one.’ ‘Soul Provider’ comes on and he’s like, ‘I didn’t do this beat.’ I was like, ‘Damn, that’s weird ‘cause all the records on the CD had this cassette quality. And four beats at the end were hella clean, so I snatched up the clean ones. And Dilla was like, ‘Nah, man. That one is not mine, but the rest of it, if you want to fuck with them, then yeah.’ So I went back to Ex like, ‘Yo, that’s not even a Dilla beat.’ So, Ex was like, ‘Don’t trip. I love that song. I’ll be honored to remix it.’ There are three versions of the song. There are ‘Soul Provider,’ Dilla or fake Dilla version, then there’s the ‘Soul Provider (Remix)’ where I did new verses but we called it the ‘Soul Provider (Original)’ and that was on a Kardinal Offishall b-side he did with Exile. So we used the Dilla verses, and we remixed the remix. That’s how ‘So(ul) Amazin’ came about. ‘So(ul) Amazin’ was the Steel Blazin’ ‘Soul Provider (Remix).’<br /><br />"That’s my favorite song on the record. And that was like our video premiere. That was a big record for us. We were like, ‘Cool, this is the sound we both feel, and that we’re both going for.’ Anytime we would connect, it would be like one of those records that made the record. As opposed to the other 70-something songs we did. But, like a song like ‘So(ul) Amazin’’ was just undeniable; that was always going to be on the album."<br /><br /><strong>Exile</strong>: "Blu first recorded this song to what we thought was a J Dilla beat, but later [when] Blu played it for Dilla he was like, ‘Damn, I hate it when this happens.’ It turns out some anonymous producer snuck it on a Dilla beat tape to play it off like his beats was one of Dilla’s beats, for some reason I guess this happened a lot to Dilla. Later we used the lyrics over my beat that we used for the album and it just fit perfectly. The scratches I laid on this song to me are my best scratch chorus work. If I do say so myself the ending is classic the way I scratched the M.O.P. sample saying, ‘It’s so amazing!’ The way I used the ‘zin’ and the end of the line to recreate Africa Bambatas ‘zin, zin, zin, zin, zin, zi, zi, zi, zi, zi, zen,’ like they did on the classic ‘Planet Rock’ joint."
  • 9. Juicen Dranks
    “Juicen’ Dranks”
    <strong>Blu:</strong> "I met Ta’Raach on a tour with Aloe Blacc. And Ta’Raach didn’t know me. I was the hypeman for Aloe on the tour. And, I was like, ‘Yo, I just heard some shit, bro. You got some ill ass shit.’ Like, I heard like the <em>Lacks</em> project. And, he was like, ‘Aw, man. You ain’t heard nothing.’ He was just recording under his new alias Ta’Raach at the time. He dropped a dope-ass album back in the day, <em>Relacks the World</em>. He had cassette tapes, too. I went up in San Francisco, and like three heads had his tape. And, [Ta’Raach] was like, ‘Oh shit. I ain’t never seen this tape in my life until ol’ boy broke that shit out.’ But, yeah, ‘Raach played me some beats and I was like, ‘Dude, we got to fuck around.’ As soon as we got off the tour, we ended up doing the C.R.A.C. album in like a week, bro. We got it in for a week and did an EP and pressed it up ourselves, and then a few years later, for the reissue we added a few songs for re-release on Tres Records, <em>The Piece Talks</em> LP.<br /><br />"I was definitely like, ‘I got to get ‘Raach on the album.’ We got a few ideas, but ‘Juicen’ Dranks’ was the record that was like closest to C.R.A.C. and closest to what Exile and I were doing. I mean ‘Raach and I can fuck around and give you a ‘Buy Me Lunch’ record. You throw that on <em>Below the Heavens</em>, niggas’ll be like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ So we wanted something raw that meshed that Cali and Detroit feel. And I thought that ‘Juicen’ Dranks’ was definitely that joint."<br /><br /><strong>Exile:</strong> "It was going to be used on my <em>Dirty Science</em> album, but I ended up using the song ‘Move On ‘Em’ with Ta’Raach instead. But then Blu wanted to jump on it and use it for a song on this album and it worked out dope."<br /><br /><object width="620" height="30"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/Eq01Gajbhes?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/Eq01Gajbhes?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="30" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>
  • 10. In Remembrance Of Me
    “In Remembrance of Me”
    <strong>Blu:</strong> "I just had childhood memories that I thought were dope. I didn’t grow up and shit. I felt like reminiscing. That was a record I enjoyed writing. It got like a lot of good feelings from my past. A lot of good events that happened in my life that can help people define who I am. It was definitely a real personal record, man. This nigga [Exile] was like, ‘You trying to do ‘Memory Lane,’ fool.’ I was like, ‘I know, but don’t tell nobody and shit. Keep that shit low key.’ But, we did the record, and we thought it had like an ill swing to it. It had that doo-wop like dip. So, I was definitely fucking with it, man. <br /><br />"The line about missing the last shot in the championship…the worst. I didn’t make the team. I re-tried out, and by the end of the season, I was starting. We took our team all the way to the championship, which we lost by one point. At the buzzer, my G. And, that was a big one that happened to me, so I was like, ‘Let me just drop that in there.’ That shit killed me, nigga. Imagine. I would’ve had a nice trophy right now."<br /><br /><strong>Exile:</strong> "Blu had recorded this without me, over at Mainframe’s crib in Long Beach in the later sessions of the making of the album. When he played it though I fell in love with it, and laid the scratches right away. He was 22 when he recorded this and the Pete Rock and CL sample worked perfectly in the scratch hook that goes ‘22 years ago to make exact.’ Time literally flies; Blu was only 19 when we made our first recording. I made Exile’s <em>Dirty Science</em> album, Emanon <em>The Waiting Room</em> and <em>Below the Heavens</em> in those three years."<br /><br /><object width="620" height="30"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/cIhY62SRWXY?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/cIhY62SRWXY?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="30" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>
  • 11. Blu Colla Workers
    “Blu Colla Workers”
    <object width="620" height="400"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/lpsBEjiIrsE?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/lpsBEjiIrsE?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="400" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object><strong>Blu:</strong> "That was a tough time, man. I was so tough in the studio; I would hate hitting the lab and then hitting the club. And then, chicks go, ‘Damn, what the fuck you been doing?’ ‘We’ve been just cutting for hours.’ Like, we’ve been cutting for three days, and we just stepped out. Into the club, trying to get with a chick. And, she was like, ‘Who the fuck? Where’s your job? Where’s your…’ And, it was like the worst shit trying to explain I was a rapper at the time; it just wasn’t the shit unless you were on Cash Money or something. So, I was like, ‘Let me just make this song to describe this feeling.’ ‘Cause we would go out plenty of times and see some very beautiful women, man. But, it was like we were so into our grind. When you see a beautiful woman, you feel like you couldn’t even approach her. You got to be putting in that work, but we were putting in work on the music end, real talk. So, we were trying to let females know that. And that’s what ‘Blu Colla Workers” was about. We were kind of just slanging trees, you know. Just chilling. We were in Long Beach just chilling, bro. Couch to couch hopping and shit. I was biking, bussing, walking, or bussing."<br /><br /><strong>Exile:</strong> "It was a beat I made while Blu was chilling at the crib and he had the whole song written by the time I was through. I love it when songs would come together like that. Those usually end up being my favorite songs."
  • 12. Dancing in the Rain
    “Dancing in the Rain”
    <strong>Blu:</strong> "[I pieced] the record around ‘Blu Colla Workers.’ The line about my boy going, ‘Don’t come at me with no bullshit like that. Niggas be like scraping up fucking pennies trying to get some chips to eat and shit. Nigga, you trying to tell me you can’t write a fucking rap? Nigga, you better go cut.’ But, yeah, ‘Dancing In the Rain’ was just a song of freedom, bro. Just being free to express how you feel, to live how you feel. Free enough to dance in the rain. People walk through the rain trying to get out of the rain. With umbrellas, overdressed. But the rain engulfs the earth. It’s a beautiful feeling, man, just to step out. <br /><br />"That was probably the oldest beat on the record. And, I think that was my oldest rap on the record also. I wrote that rap at like 19 or some shit like that. I mean, ‘Dancing in the Rain” was going to be an interlude. We just wanted to make it to make it. Beat was old; the verses were old, but we just felt it." <br /><br /><strong>Exile:</strong> "This was recorded when Blu was working at the pharmacy in Long Beach he used to take the bus back then and I would pick him up to go session at the Sound in Color studio or over at the homie Albert’s spot in Carson. He had a computer in the corner where he used to work at the pharmacy and he would draw and just write raps all day. I think the inspiration from this came from taking the bus to work and being stuck in the rain thinking about his life and pain, but still finding happiness in all of that is his life."<br /><br /><object width="620" height="30"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/Ml5RhkyKXyc?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/Ml5RhkyKXyc?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="30" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>
  • 13. First Things First
    “First Things First”
    <strong>Blu:</strong> "Miguel and I probably done like a couple album worth of songs at that time. So when 'First Things First' came around we were at home doing songs, we cut that shit one Sunday morning, we just woke up over some mimosas at the homie’s and just fucking wrote that shit. About some last night at the club shit. And Miguel had a bunch of club records at the time, banging shit. I was like, ‘Yo, man, I got to get you on the record on some ladies’ shit.’ You know what I’m saying? So, that shit was like a no brainer, man. That was like cut with ease." <br /><br /><strong>Miguel:</strong> "We just woke up, and it was one of those Sunday mornings, overcast outside. [Blu] was like, ‘I want to do something with this beat.’ And I was there, shit, we were just fucking sitting in the living room, and we were like sprawled out, trying to come up with some shit. Like we were kids. Like you know when you’re kids and you’re like coloring and shit? Just thinking back at the time, I would never do this now, but we were literally like kids, sprawled out on the fucking carpet. We would just lie out on the carpet, the music wasn’t blasting, ‘cause [Anthony Williams a.k.a Basic] didn’t want the neighbors to complain and shit. So, he had to play it in reasonable volume. I remember sitting and trying to come up with the hook and I was like, ‘Yeah I want to follow the [humming beat]. But yeah, we worked on that song during that morning later on." <br /><br /><strong>Exile:</strong> "With this song we were like, ‘Our first radio hit, but we’re not selling out!’ We were hyped off this one because we felt like we had a joint for the ladies, but Blu was still able to tell the truth about our then, janky broke ways of partying. But it still came out fly and fresh for the clubs. I remember I brought this to someone who was helping with the record at Sound In Color Records and was like, ‘Yo, we got a hit.’ And dude tried to front and be like, ‘Wait, hear this. This is a hit.’ And played the Dilla-produced song by Steve Spacek called ‘Dollar.’ Don't get me wrong, that’s a classic song that came out on Sound in Color, but it just told me that this dude does not give a fuck about Blu and Exile. You see, this dude did not sign us to the label; someone else did so it felt like he put the artist that he signed before us hence the shitty promotion of the album. But I guess this album needed was to be heard as promotion. Its funny how things work."<br /><br /><object width="620" height="30"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/9nb3YEEc5is?version=3&hl=en_US"/><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/9nb3YEEc5is?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="30" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"/></object>
  • 14. No Greater Love
    “No Greater Love”
    <strong>Blu:</strong> "It was actually about my relationship before I started working on the record, so it’s about my love before my love for music. So, it’s like that real love. That whole song is a comparison of the love for a woman versus the love to make music. Some street life versus house life type shit, music versus the women type shit, man. It just needed to be expressed. It was at a time the record was pretty much done in our minds. Exile was just making a lot of ill beats, kind of crafting out a new sound at the time, a little darker sound with the samples. And, I came across that record, man, I just wrote it, not really intending it for it to be on the record or anything. At the end of the day, it was just a mood that was missing. That just slid in, and it was this dark, eerie romance. It was weird, man, but it definitely set the mood and described the feeling of that struggle. It’s that driving around at night love song as opposed to that daytime love song." <br /><br /><strong>Exile:</strong> "Blu was at my crib when I was creating the beat. I think he gave me a few pointers for this one as well and again had the lyrics done when the beat was through. I remember my zip disk was corrupted and the beat was gone! That shit is almost like a death when this shit happens. You have to pace around, yell to the wind, calm your ass down and remake it. It’s hard to get the mojo up to recreate the beat and hope it comes out the same off memory."<br /><br /><object width="620" height="30"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/lzGIKShL1SI?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/lzGIKShL1SI?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="30" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>
  • 15. Show Me The Good Life
    “Show Me the Good Life”
    <strong>Blu:</strong> "After I met Aloe, I started opening up for Emanon and even hypemaning for them. We would do like tours in Europe and everything; they took me around the world and really opened me up to like a bigger stage. I was used to doing little hubs and shit. And, they had me doing sold-out crowds, like even in Germany and shit. You know what I mean? Like, ‘Damn! What the fuck?’ And it was dope to see the same songs that I like from Emanon, you had motherfuckers thousands of miles away, who fucking know the whole shit and love it just a much as I did. It’s like reciting the whole shit, bro? I got crazy chills back in the days. My first time going to Europe, and it was just a newfound love. When you find that underground crowd in Europe, bro, you’ll never leave it.<br /><br />"‘Show Me the Good Life’ was supposed to be on Common’s album. Exile was submitting beats for Common’s record. I think the <em>Be</em> record. Yeah, it was a dope beat. He made that beat, I was like ‘Dude, you know. Don’t even play me any shit like that.’ Exile was doing beats for like Snoop at the time, so it was like certain beats that I’d have to fight for, like strong-arm somebody for. And, ‘Show Me the Good Life’ just fell in my hands. We were finishing up the record, and Exile was like, ‘Common turned down the song, so if you want to use it.’ And I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’ So Aloe came through, laced it with ease. Put some old soul on that too, man. What Aloe was talking about on there is deep, man. He brought his element ‘cause Aloe is a very deep writer. He’s very deep-rooted as an African American. I was over appreciative for that. My homeboy Sir Joseph sang on it.<br /><br />"Man, Exile killed that fucking sample. It was a Roberta Flack record, bro. You’ll never figure that shit out. Like, how the hell did this nigga chopped up such small increments to recreate that. But, it was such a lush, electronic, soulful palette. People felt that. That touched a lot of people, man. A lot of shows, a lot of love came from that record. To me, it was probably the record I slept on the most on the album, but it built its credibility as one of the best records on the album. And it was crazy ‘cause then fucking Kanye dropped the ‘Good Life.’"<br /><br /><strong>Exile:</strong> "I was hyped the way I flipped this sample sounds nothing like the original except for the vocal sample. Blu kind of manifested destiny with this song, at the time he didn't have a kid and now he's a daddy. I think he was just rapping through the eyes of himself, if he had a child at the time. Aloe Blacc really laced this verse properly, one of my favorite Aloe Blacc verses. I remember we were actually in Oxnard, California at the Loot Pack DJ, Rome’s recording [joint]. We were recording this song and Oh No came by and got us super high. Three blunts back to back is a lot for me. When we got in the studio to record, Blu had wanted me to get up and say some shit on the song but at first I was too high to do shit. I was like, ‘Nah, I’m good.’ But he called me a punk or something and I got up, said a little something in the intro. Blu actually never smoked herbs when we first started making the album; he was like I’m going to smoke my first blunt when the album’s done. I wish I could remember what session it was when he first smoked. I’m not sure but I was there. Now he's a pro at smoking!"<br /><br /><strong>Aloe Blacc:</strong> "Blu is pretty easy to work with. He shared the beat with me and asked if I could collaborate. I had an idea for a verse that I thought Blu would write well and he executed like a pro. After he dropped his, I tried to match the potency of his verse with a few imagery devices while remaining on topic. Really I was just trying to keep up. I think I took the beat home and recorded on my own time so that there was no rush in the studio."<br /><br /><object width="620" height="30"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/N4cyNAHnk70?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/N4cyNAHnk70?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="30" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>
  • 16. Simply Amazing
    “Simply Amazin’”
    <strong>Blu:</strong> "Fuck, that’s what we wanted the record to be, just some raw soulful shit. But we ended up expressing so much. Like, my boy said, ‘Man, you got to just tap in like Jimi Hendrix was tapped in.’ So, a lot of more personal records came out, but that raw feel with ‘Simply Amazin’’ was definitely the direction. And it was definitely that feel, man. Like, one of the more raw records, one of the bolder records on the album, and it just felt right. That style is probably one of the only styles of my old styles that I keep with me until this day. Just busting that raw shit over some soul shit, man." <br /><br /><strong>Exile:</strong> "I believe Blu was chilling at my pad when I made the beat. I loved producing when Blu would kick it, he would soak everything up and have great input on what I could do. My ears were open and he always had good direction for my beats. This is another beat that I had to recreate, fucking old-school MPC zip discs are real unpredictable, but I swallowed my pride and re-created it."<br /><br /><object width="620" height="30"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/u0ELHgxTZlw?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/u0ELHgxTZlw?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="30" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>
  • 17. Cold Hearted
    “Cold Hearted”
    <strong>Blu:</strong> "That was probably the most personal record I ever recorded in my life. It’s pretty much a wrap up of my sadness as a child. The sadness of name Blu comes from. It’s like ‘Cold hearted’ is like a tear on the record. I blanked out when I wrote that shit, bro. I just remember I was lying under somebody’s table. I was too high to remember where I was. I wrote that shit to the grimiest beat of all time, bro. And it just so happens that when I kicked it to Exile, he had just made this very, very soulful beat that was just talking about a man traveling in sea to escape his love, bro, that’s just tearing him up. And when we cut it, I hit up Miguel immediately. I was like, ‘You got to come hear this shit.’ Miguel came through and blazed it. I was like, ‘We just need a hook or something.’ He wrote his part longer—long as my shit; my shit was like 32 bars; his hook was like 24 bars. That shit was a wrap. Niggas shed tears on that session, bro. <br /><br />"Like, a lot of people can relate to that, man. A lot of people have told me some crazy shit about how they relate to that record. Man, I can’t even describe “Cold Hearted.” But, I would say it’s a tear." <br /><br /><strong>Exile:</strong> "Blu went the fuck in on this song, Miguel came through and blessed us in the studio, and the vibe was heavy but full of life and excitement for the record that was made. Blu and Miguel go way back they had a group together called Rhythm and Blu. [Laughs.] <em>Below the Heavens</em> started to really feel like a classic when hearing this song being created in the studio. We sometimes knew we had a classic and sometimes hated the album, we never really knew until the fans responded."<br /><br /><strong>Miguel:</strong> "I remember the day we did that. I remember Exile being in this little room, I remember the smell of the room, and I remember the house, going up to the Sound in Color house. It was more of an apartment. It was like their office and then I think Louis stayed there on occasion as well. I remember walking up these stairs into this little room at the very top with this circular window, and [Blu] played me his verses and I was like, ‘What the fuck? I’ve never heard you rhyme like this. I’ve never even heard anyone rhyme like this.’ I had to play it like three or four times to kind of understand the story line. I was like, ‘I’m not going to ask him. I’m going to feel stupid.’ I remember starting to form the question, but I didn’t want him to think I was dumb. But, I remember after that fourth time I got the pattern of it. So I wrote the chorus, kind of along the same line. I’ve never written a hook like that before, and I’ve never written a hook like that since. Still one of my favorite hooks I’ve ever written."<br /><br /><object width="620" height="30"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/Q4OQU8qlSgo?version=3&hl=en_US"/><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/Q4OQU8qlSgo?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="30" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"/></object>
  • 18. The World Is...
    “The World Is… (Below The Heavens)”
    <strong>Blu:</strong> "So we finished the record, and Ex was like, ‘What the fuck does <em>Below the Heavens</em> mean?’ So I just went home and wrote a song, and Ex didn’t like the beat I wrote it to, so he flipped the beat. That shit is one of the most beautiful beats, bro. Like, chops in there with the little clap and shit. That shit is killer, man, Then, I had I put that Nas hook on it. Now, when we do shows, we just do like Nas and Jay Electronica lyrics to it, let the crowd just [vibe].<br /><br />"That song took two different sessions; the original session was way more raw. I had like a strange loop. It reminded of me of that record, ‘A Friend’ by KRS-One. Ex was like, ‘Dude, we need a new beat for this, bro. This shit is amazing.” And, the band came in afterwards. They were supposed to just play little pieces on it, but they ended up just changing into an outro. And, that was ‘You Are Now In the Clouds With (The Koochie Monstas).’ That was the band at the time."<br /><br /><strong>Exile:</strong> "It was originally created to a slow bouncy fake Kanye chipmunk-soul style beat and it almost made the album until this beat was made. I was like, ‘Yo, try the verse on this beat.’ Once Blu laid the lyrics? Wow. That’s all I can Say, I love this song."<br /><br /><object width="620" height="30"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/ItSMa4KvtuE?version=3&hl=en_US"/><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/ItSMa4KvtuE?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="30" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"/></object>
  • 19. You Are Now In the Clouds...
    “You Are Now In The Clouds With…(The Koochie Monstas)”
    <strong>Exile:</strong> "Blu's old-school homies would chill with a group called Glory, and some other homies also known as the Koochie Monstas blessed us on this song! We just needed them on the album to make the family circle complete, plus they’re ill-ass musicians. Blu handled the recording on this and I handled the arrangements with Blu and DJ Romes to make this outro happen with Miguel’s vocals. I remember I was super duper high from some of Oh No’s weed. I have to admit I’m a lightweight with herb. Once again Blu picked the wrong time to get me to lay some vocals and a beat box over the song and I was like hell no I’m chilling man, I’m in a zone. [Laughs.] He got pissed and yelled at me and I had to go outside before I lost my mind to gather my thoughts. [Laughs.] But then I came back and laid the vocals and it was all love."<br /><br /><object width="620" height="30"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/YSHP3RA4SmU?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/YSHP3RA4SmU?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="30" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>
  • 20. I Am
    “I Am”
    <strong>Blu:</strong> "The first song [we] recorded was the last song on the album. 'I Am.' We started recording, and I hooked up with Oh No. And that nigga Oh No had mad beats. I was like, ‘I got to get Oh No on the record.’ But Exile was like, ‘Dude, you can’t put that fool on the record. I’m battling that fool. So, we kind just held out for a little while ‘cause I knew Oh No before Exile. I down to collab with [Oh No], but they had a big battle coming up, so we had to hold off. And we had a session, Exile pulled out the Sesame Street sample. That shit was the craziest. It went, ‘I am blue.’ The Grover joint and shit. I was into 45 King. Happy samples. Prince Paul loops and shit. So, I was definitely down for the Sesame Street chop and it wasn’t ‘till we finished that song. We cut that song FourTrack. That was the first song on the record that we knew that was going to make the record; everything else we cut previously was pretty much for Dirty Science, but when we cut ‘I Am’ we was like, ‘Yeah, we starting the record.’"<br /><br /><strong>Exile:</strong> "This song was actually first recorded on FourTrack in the real early makings of the album. Blu had brought me a Sesame Street record to sample Grover singing about being blue. I made the drums and sampled the record without even trying the sample. Blu wrote the verse on the spot, I recorded it and then I made a different version of the beat. I was like, ‘Yo, let’s do some old-school back-and-forth rap shit. We wrote back and fourth I wrote some of his lines he wrote some of mine. After we were through we stayed up building ‘till the sun came up and decided that we were going to make the album together. There were times Blu was thinking of doing a project with Oh No or using both of our beats but this was the session that solidified Blu and Exile, which led to the creation of the now classic <em>Below the Heavens</em>."<br /><br /><object width="620" height="30"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/L9ml9fbHXoU?version=3&hl=en_US"/><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/L9ml9fbHXoU?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="30" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"/></object>
  • #Blu_Thumbnail
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  • Chris S

    How has nobody commented on this??

    Best post on XXL I’ve ever read. Great work to the staff and thanks to Blu, Exile, and the rest of the people who let us in on the story behind this landmark album.

    I think about 10 years from now, this will be considered a consensus top 3-4 album of all time. It’s number 7 on my list right now.

  • Christian L

    Seriously?? where are the rests of the comments? It irritates me to know “hip hop heads” are considered technology savvy, are given an amazing article, and no one is capable of giving it the credit it deserves!! I digress:

    Amazing job XXL!! Below The Heavens has to be considered, in many circles, the revival and/ or renaissance of west-meets-east balancing act that very few emcees are capable of accomplishing. Valuable insight on cohesive projects like this one really garnish the attention that songs like “No Greater Love” and “Show Me The Good Life” offer, not only as a piece of Hip-Hop history, literary and poetic compositions, but an undeniable atonement to the personification of abstract qualities that shape the background of the human spirit. Thank you to the staff for applying themselves to an album that countless individuals credit as the “reason” they returned to Hip-Hop. Thanks to Blu and Exile for allowing such an interview to take place and for answering the questions fans were eagerly awaiting a response for.

    I agree with Chris S on the consensus, this album is definitely in my top ten.
    Blu and Exile #onrepeatforever