Blu, Johnson Barnes, HerFavoriteColo(u)r. B e s t l y r i c s: Here’s LA MC Blu’s best lines PART ONE:
AMNESIA – HER FAVORITE COLO(U)R
I go back and forth, but these might be the best lines Blu ever wrote. Tragic, beautiful, confessional. The ‘blue heart, red skies’ section sounds deceivingly like it could have been written by a college student who’s just learned about ‘juxtaposition’ in a Creative Writing class, but it’s just a delivery system for the sobering line that follows: ‘true art died in the heart of my mind’.
It’s such a powerful image, the death of art, especially in a culture where everything is so ephemeral and true art couldn’t be more essential. It’s chilling and beautiful to think of artistry perishing in the depths of some seldom-tapped part of a poet’s own inner sanctum. To consider something pure decaying in some lonely mental cavern. Whether you like this sort of beautifully bleak imagery or not, the introspection and confessional nature of the whole thing certainly defies any lingering perception of Hip-Hop as materialistic and shallow.
And who’d expect an MC so young (Blu was 27/28 when he recorded Her Favourite Colo(u)r) to bring such evocative lines to bear? This was a still-developing artist who’d released one album prior to the Jazz tapestry fever dream that is Her Favourite Colo(u)r. Blu’s young age only serves to make the image of his artistic sensibility slipping away from him that much more tragic and poetic.
And he still leaves you wondering why trying to be more ‘real’ killed the ‘poet inside’. Shouldn’t it be the opposite? What does real even mean? Reminds me of this quote from Dylan: “I define nothing. Not beauty, not patriotism. I take each thing as it is, without prior rules about what it should be.”
PEROXIDE – BAD NEIGHBOR
Sick of all the poetic stuff? There’s a whole bloody vault of Blu material, and half of it is some of the slickest shit-talking ever to emerge from an MC’s vocal folds.
When it comes to flow, Blu is unmatched. He often seems to merge with whatever beat he’s given, the two becoming one transcendent Hip Hop entity. And Peroxide, from his MED/Madlib collab album Bad Neighbor, is one of those instances.
In his verse, which oddly comes straight in with the first beat of the track, he’s managed to carve his own little space out of Madlib’s jittery synth backing, from which he hurls amusingly opaque lines about Monica Bellucci along with various metaphors for Coke.
But these few lines that begin with him contemplating his ‘Bubblegoose‘ and its utility for sneaking assault weapons into movie theatres are just brilliant. The way the words sync with the beat, it’s like you couldn’t imagine the music without the lyrics. Even the ‘bubble’ part of the aforementioned ‘goose brings to mind Peroxide bubbling ‘in the cut’, as that Pac Div sample says during the chorus.
And just when he’s confused the shit out of you (because the lines don’t really make a lot of sense, but they kind of do) Blu pushes things even further – brushing off whoever this disapproving ‘she’ is who informed him his ‘new steeze’ (I’m sure he says ‘speak’ but several lyric sites disagree) is too inapprope’. Instead, he simply moves on to deliver a sort of absurdly underwhelming image of Hennesey and Coke. What the hell is he talking about? Who cares? When it fits this well with the flow, and makes some sort of weird sense on an aesthetic level, all that matters is that he said it and he doesn’t care about how ‘innaprope’ you think it is.
JESUS – JESUS
This song is full of some of the best stuff you’ve ever heard, but this little image stuck with me just because it seemed so tragic. Jesus is packed with these micro-images that don’t have any real context, and so, to the literal-minded, won’t make much sense. But we don’t care about those types here.
I chose this one brief moment not just because of the effect of two powerful images clashing, but also because it dragged an entire story out of nowhere. Metal popping, I’m assuming, refers to a gun going off, and for a moment, a whole narrative that culminates in some unbearably tragic finalé played in my mind, whereby a gun goes off and for the one on the end of the barrel, a buried memory of holding hands with a loved one is the last thing that flickers into view.
It’s so evocative, calling to mind moments when we rely on the people closest to us to get through the worst nightmares life has to throw at us. All we can do as the ‘metal pops’ sometimes is hold hands and continue to go “shuddering through nightmare life” as Kerouac once put it.
This little image might pass unnoticed for some and hey, it’s all subjective when it comes down to it. But it shows Blu’s ability to say so much with a phrase so terse, if it lost any more words it would immediately lose all its power. A perfectly tuned vignette, smuggled into the middle of a masterpiece. Only real artists can do this kind of stuff. Whatever happened between Her Favourite Colo(u)r and Jesus, he obviously found a way to exhume that previously expired art that “died in the heart of his mind.”
MAYBE ONE DAY – GIVE ME MY FLOWERS WHILE I CAN STILL SMELL THEM
“Mourning over urns with a burnt feeling, thinking ’bout my friends as the earth spins”. I remember reading something Blu said once about how when the world and everything in it is your inspiration, how will you ever run out of things to say? Or something like that. And it’s these kind of lines that show how easily Blu can tap into that kind of worldly energy. It’s image after image, packed into two lines and before you know it you’ve gone from an intensely intimate moment mourning with the lyricist, to a grand perspective observing the entire planet in orbit.
The rest of the verse is worth quoting because this song, Maybe One Day, is like a bridge between Blu’s earlier Below the Heavens persona and the more abstract, poetic lyricist he would become later in his career. The song’s lyrics are some of the more straightforward on the entire Flowers album, with Blu even echoing lines from Below the Heavens, about the ultimate emptiness of pursuing cash – momentarily resurrecting the Below The Heavens persona who told us ‘the bucks don’t matter’ on Soul Amazin’ (Steel Blazin’).
But throughout the song, little metaphors and abstract ideas puncture the otherwise lucid lines, and by the end he’s off on a fully fledged poetical journey featuring war ships, grief, and the laws of physics – signalling the arrival of the new, wiser, slightly jaded, abstract poet that is the modern Blu. Maybe one day/he will/rise again.