Like many other traditionalists, Blu is guilty of being born in the wrong decade, although perhaps ‘traditionalist’ sells the underground rapper short. To wit, 2011’s NoYork! was one of the most exciting left-turns in hip-hop this decade, finding Blu rapping over glitchy beats from Flying Lotus and Knxwledge. In a way, NoYork! predicted Mac Miller’s Watching Movies with the Sound Off or Flying Lotus’ alter-ego Captain Murphy’s Duality, to say nothing that four years later, Kendrick Lamar would hook up with those producers on To Pimp a Butterfly. No, Blu’s biggest fault is his defiance: after creating his own Blueprint on breakthrough Below the Heavens, his discography has been almost impossible to follow, with feints (the Madlib-produced UCLA that Madlib denies being involved in), and jabs when they should’ve been uppercuts (releasing proper follow-up Give Me My Flowers While I Can Sell Them unmastered on bandcamp or leaking NoYork! himself).
In a way, A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night – produced entirely by Oh No – feels like Blu’s first ‘major’ release since Give Me My Flowers or NoYork!. There was, of course, the Madlib-produced Bad Neighbor, which would’ve been much better if Madlib’s beats were a little sharper and if Blu didn’t share microphone time with non-entity MED (be sure to listen to “The Strip,” which features a pre-famous Anderson .Paak), as well as a slew of EPs, notably Titans in the Fleshproduced by Nottz. But Oh No – Madlib’s younger brother – carries more weight than the French production duo Union Analogtronics, who handled 2016’s Cheetah in the City which was mostly forgettable, and one wonders how much better the project would’ve been if Blu hadn’t stretched himself thin with all the EPs earlier that year.
Blu practically announces as much, and he hasn’t sounded this hungry since his breakthrough. On the first proper song, “The Lost Angels Anthem,” he plays around with the same word and/or syllable in a loose stream of consciousness that might not mean anything (ie. “I bust back rapidly, raps wrap packages / Ship pack in the clip, gift-wrap rap packages / Stadium packed, packed bag”), but despite the speed, Blu enunciates each word more clearly than he has in years.
Most of the songs are short, bringing to mind a famous album by Oh No’s brother, but sequenced more carefully: there’s a loose narrative throughout, culminating in Blu being sent to jail and listening to his new inmates (as guest rappers) on posse cut “Jail Cypher” before being released on closer “Fresh Out”; Tri State’s opening line on “The Robbery” makes me think of Kendrick Lamar’s “good kid” (“The first thing’s first…where you from?”) and the narrative of the actual act recalls Lamar’s “The Art of Peer Pressure.”
Alas, Blu and the various features here don’t have the talent to really drive the narrative; I’m just picturing what Ghostface Killah circa 1993-2000 would’ve done over these beats! And what results is a collection of mostly fine raps and beats tied loosely together. Mostly fine: the hook of “Pop Shots” is pretty lame, and Tri State hands in a few groaners on “The Robbery” (“So take it off slow…run the jewels / Not the rap group, nah, I mean chains and shoes”; “No Mask Off, I see the Future”), and while the first verse is loaded with internal rhymes, the flow itself is quite choppy. Ca$hus King, previously known as Co$$ and who had worked with Blu on NoYork! does better, especially when Blu makes room for his knottier (albeit brief) flows on “Liquor Store.”
Ultimately, I came to A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Nightbecause the vibrant cover and because I’ve been a fan of Blu for a decade now, despite the fact that his aforementioned output sometimes makes it hard. But I stay for Oh No’s beats: the cinematic elements of "It Never Rains in South L.A.", the keyboard climbs through “Straight No Chaser” (despite another annoying hook, which this time sounds grafted in) and the triumphant horn line (linked by jazzier ones) on “Made the Call.” Some of my favorite beats are on the short ones: the minor key detective fiction drama of “Stalkers”; the sad backdrop where Blu details the charges on “Facing Time,” replete with soulful vocals and dusty guitars”; the appropriately sunny horns on closer “Fresh Out” once he leaves prison.
It’ll take a better rapper than Blu to create a concept album with Madvillainy-style beats (I’m picturing Danny Brown or Freddie Gibbs), but Oh No’s beats and the ambition here still result in Blu’s best album in years.