When Blu & Exile dropped Below the Heavens  in 2007, the seminal album descended on a substance-starved hip-hop nation like a gift from the gods. The seamless chemistry of Exile’s soulful sample-based production and the poetic poignance of Blu’s multisyllabic lyricism instantly took jaded heads back to an era when dynamic duos routinely amazed–while making internet era fans feel as though they were experiencing the birth of a classic all their own. It wasn’t hard to imagine the tandem eventually taking a place alongside the likes of Guru & Premier or Pete Rock & CL Smooth in the pantheon of MC/Producer teams that simply made magic.

Things haven’t exactly panned out as imagined, with both artists choosing to expand their individual brands instead of doubling down on the buzz of their collaborative debut. In the subsequent years, Blu has established himself as a message board fixture, releasing material at a staggering clip, but failing to deliver a project of the vision or consistency that elevated BTH. Exile has continued to refine his production chops, most notably on a sonically daring solo album and Fashawn’s inspired Boy Meets World (a watershed in its own right), but has yet to catch fire outside of the same underground circles that have always embraced him.

Five years after they first shook the earth, Blu and Exile have re-united, and if the title of their long awaited follow-up project is any indication, they are out to collect the props that have largely eluded them. Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them is a solid hip-hop album, and but not the magnum opus for which the table was set, or the personal statement that was Below the Heavens.

Where their debut was fueled by propulsive drums and soulful samples, Flowers is a decidedly mellower, jazzier affair. Exile’s beats approach J. Dilla levels of intricacy and nuance, while Blu’s always dexterous flow weaves in and out of the pockets and crevices with ease. The Black Spade feature “Maybe One Day” is so hypnotic, thanks to stuttered percussion and understated keys, that it will probably take multiple listens for the sophistication of Blu’s rhyme schemes to fully sink in. The reflective “O Heaven” floats atop a filtered choral sample, as Blu unfurls a stream-of-conscious meditation on the passage of time and love. Similarly, “More Out of Life” is vintage Blu, with bittersweet personal memories giving way to piercing vignettes from a world weighed down with regrets. It’s a space that Blu has owned over the past five years. It’s also a space that Flowers fails to leave, making it ultimately a predictable, if well rendered affair.

It was the specificity of Blu’s memories and musings that made BTH breath and bleed. But, after five years of mining pain, doubt and regret, it often feels like all that is left for Flowers is somber generality. Even his delivery, once colored with subtle intensity and punctuated with inflection, now too often deflates into gloomy monotone, sometimes fading into the background on less structured tracks like “Seasons” and “Money.” Perhaps tellingly, Flowers tends to soar highest when there are co-pilots in the cockpit. The unbridled energy of Fashawn and Johaz accentuate the playful bounce of “Growing Pains,” and even seem to inspire Blu to deliver one of his most lively flows. Likewise, Blu opens the tense “The Great Escape” with a whimsical sing-song flow, setting the stage for the mic vandalism of Homeboy Sandman and ADAD.

Perhaps it isn’t fair to hold artists to the standards of a legacy shaping classic. Perhaps it isn’t realistic not to. Enjoyment of Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them will probably be directly correlated to the listener’s ability to separate it from Below the Heavens. That in itself is a testament to the talent of the two artists involved, who have more than any flowers that come their way.

- Jeff Harvey

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Comments

  • Rashad Hines

    “Enjoyment of Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them will probably be directly correlated to the listener’s ability to separate it from Below the Heavens.”

    Nailed it.

  • http://classicdrugreferences.com sweeneykovar

    i’d say Exile producing for Big Sean, Kweli and working in depth with NO ID qualifies as “catching fire outside the same underground circles.”

  • jthm

    below the heavens was honestly not that great of an album.a few tracks were spot on but it was generally kinda boring.after that is when Blu really came out and killed it.and Exile only got better as well.but like always people can only ever grasp one idea at a tine.

  • thomas

    it makes me so mad cuz i know its a great album (A Man is one of the best tracks of the year imo) but i just cant get past it not sounding like Below The Heavens. i love that they’re doing what they want in a new direction, i just hope they eventually make a Below The Heavens 2

  • http://www.illregularinstrumentals.com J. Bizness

    Judging an artist by their last work is inevitable.
    @jthm VERY surprised to read your opinion on Below The Heavens, but I respect.
    I have yet to hear this particular album, but I’m sure it will deliver nonetheless.

  • FritzyThePatzy

    Damn, i didn’t imagine or even expect this one to be as good as it is, eventhough i copped it when it first dropped on bandcamp a while ago and kind of liked most of what i heard but loved only a few tracks on there… Received the CD today, playing it for the third time in a row, and the mix is tight, the tracks are great, and what’s been added since it first came out (sung vocals among others) as well as the mix of the songs make a lot better now.
    As Common once said “One day it will all make sense”. Now this songs all together are great and the sound of the whole project sound tight.
    And, of course, it’s not Below the Heavens, there will never be another one… But it’s no surprise from the guys (though every release is loaded of many surprises) as they never dropped twice the same since they started (Below the heavens different from Crack Knuckles being different from Johnson&Jonson, different from No YOrk, from Jesus, from each exile’s project, etc)…
    Let this one grow on you, and i’m pretty sure you’ll definitely seperate it from Below the Heavens and enjoy what it has to offer. Play it, put the bass up, enjoy…. To me it’s one of those up there for this year, with Oddisee’s album, and Gangrene’s, among a few.