Interview: Blu & Exile

It’s a rainy afternoon in Groningen, a bustling university town in the north of the Netherlands. Blu, Exile, and fellow members of the Dirty Science collective Choosey and Pistol McFly will tonight perform the last show of their two-week-long European tour.

At first glance, it’s obvious the crew has been moving from city to city; from country to country. Though tired, they look happy and laid-back. Ready for the last chapter of their brotherly journey. As The Find Mag’s Jelger and Frank Stevens (co-founder of local hip-hop platform Homebase) take Blu and Exile on a career retrospective, cannabis fumes and laughter fill the room.

(Interview: Jelger Staal & Frank Stevens | Concert Photography: André Eggens)

Frank: Before there was the duo ‘Blu & Exile’, how did you guys meet?

Exile: The homies from a group named Science Project were trying to start a label and thinking of having this cat named Blu, and as they were talking to me and Aloe [Blacc] we just kept hearing about Blu. After Aloe met Blu, he brought me to a show that Blu was doing and I met him there.

Blu: [chuckles] Exile with the long ponytail, OG man bun…

Didn’t you have that haircut in the Rootdown Soundclash DVD as well?

Exile: Yeah, this was even before the Rootdown. Blu said he liked the stuff Aloe and I were doing. Back then, I was working on an album and I asked Blu if he’d be down to work on something for me. He did, and after our first session, we started discussing what we wanted our album to sound like.

Blu: Yup, right after the first song we were like “Yo, we gotta do an album!”

Were there any guidelines? As in, certain samples or examples, for what you wanted the album to sound like?

Blu: Yeah. “We gotta be like Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek.

Exile: [chuckles] “We gotta be like a Westcoast version of Talib and Hi-Tek…”

Jelger: So Blu, when Below The Heavens was released it garnered a lot of critical acclaims. What kind of impact did it have on you and did you ever suffer from the pressure of people’s expectations?

Blu: The biggest difference was being able to see Europe. But most of the pressure was put into finishing the album. Releasing it felt like a relief.

Exile: I developed a coke habit, banging mad chicks…. [everybody bursts into laughter]

“It felt like a journal of Blu’s mind. It seemed like a darker Blu than the Blu from Below The Heavens
— Exile

Blu, on Below the Heavens you mention “being out of the loop with politics.” That was in 2007. Has your stance changed in twelve years’ time? Nowadays everything seems so politicized that it might be hard to be out of the loop with politics…

Blu: It changed when Obama came into office and I was all amped up about it. But then when Trump came, it was back to old Blu again. So I just leave politics alone.

Blu live at Homebase Groningen (Photo: André Eggens)

Frank: The follow-up to Below The Heavens came out five years later: Give Me My Flowers… Did you guys have any feeling of needing to step your game up or did you go into it with a similar mindset like, “Let’s just do another record?”

Exile: It certainly has a different tone. It felt like a journal of Blu’s mind. It seemed like a darker Blu than the Blu from Below The Heavens.

Exile, what was your prime motivation to start Dirty Science?

Exile: Actually, it was because Blu dropped Give Me My Flowers… early and I had to get my shit together and put the album out. Then I made a distribution deal and put Flowers out.

How do you choose who to work with?

Exile: Basically just kind of the same way it happened with Blu: meeting cats and playing music, rapping, making beats and seeing how the connection is. If it’s good then we keep the discussion going. And in the case of Choosey, with the Black Beans album, it just felt natural.

What’s the difference between touring in the US and touring in Europe? Sometimes it’s said that in Europe people are way more into indie artists from labels such as Stones Throw and Rhymesayers. Is there truth in that, from the perspective of Dirty Science?

Exile: I always hear people saying that but I feel that at shows back home people are just as much into it.

Blu: I think in Europe the smaller cities have a bigger draw for us. In the States, the bigger cities have a bigger draw for us. Over there the major cities will bring out a lot of people, but in the smaller towns not too many people will come out. But here in Europe in the smaller cities heads come driving out from four hours away just to see what’s up. So it’s a lot of love man!

Exile live at Homebase Groningen (Photo: André Eggens)

A lot of artists are really protective of their gear. But Exile, I see you bringing your MPC everywhere. Did something ever happen to it?

Exile: One time we were in Madrid and we partied aaaaall night long, and when we got to the airport I was like “Damn…where is my MPC?!” I had to go home without my MPC but luckily somebody in Madrid just bought it and send me the money. And then I bought another one back home.

You guys work with a lot of people. Are there any artists left that you still want to work with?

Blu: I wanna get a DJ Premier joint… And work with the old homies again: Ta’raach, Bombay, Mainframe…

Exile: I wanna do a joint for Evidence.

“As a kid, I played [2 Live Crew] on my stereo system with literally all the treble and mids turned down, so you’d only hear the bass just like the cars that I saw driving by.”
— Exile

So Blu, how’s the movie coming along?

Blu: I got a movie that is shitting on Stanley Kubrick AND George Lucas. Crazy, right? Don’t know when it’ll come out. Maybe when I pass away and somebody reads it and puts it out. But it’s a big one. A five-part film.

Jelger: Early 2019 in Los Angeles, Nipsey Hussle was gunned down. Do you think the black on black gun violence will change in the foreseeable future?

Blu: Yeah, a lot of change is coming. But I think it’s already here. The change was immediate. People stepped out immediately to make a change. Now it’s about moving on from there; the marathon continues. Rest in Peace to the king, you know what I mean?

Can you name your favorite album from when you were really young?

Exile: 2 Live Crew’s first album was a big one. But mainly for Mr.Mixx and the 808 beats. When I was little I would hear the cars driving by booming I was like, “What IS that?” I always wanted to know what it was and when I found out, I played it on my stereo system with literally all the treble and mids turned down, so you’d only hear the bass just like the cars that I saw driving by. Later I would emulate the scratching of Mr.Mixx and whatnot. What else... Ice T, King T, LL Cool J’s Radio

Blu: Common’s Resurrection! The song “I Used To Love H.E.R.” was the song that f*cked me up when I heard it. Nas’ Illmatic – that was the first album on which everything I wanted to hear from an emcee. DMX’s first album, that’s when I got into writing raps. All my raps used to sound like Too Short. [laughs]

Do you also have some non-rap entries on that list?

Exile: My first two tapes when I was little I got for Christmas from my older cousin, he gave me Sex Pistols and LL Cool J’s Radio. I was a fan of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, The Doors, even Depeche Mode, The Cure, Joy Division… All that stuff. After that, hip-hop took over.

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