The story of an album many times can define how it’s received, and with the many myriad and incomplete ways Blu & Exile’s sophomore collaborative effort leaked out over the past eleven months, it would be easy to forgive those who didn’t stick around to pick up the finished article when it finally dropped Sept. 4. But by letting this record breathe — and taking it out of the highly-anticipated context with which it was burdened — Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them serves as another testament to the way Blu & Exile work seamlessly together to create effortless hip-hop gems.
To recap, this album had a rollout that was strange at best, and head-scratchingly bizarre to most. The story goes that the two originally began working and laying down the tracks in a few days in 2009 following up their well-received first collaborative effort (Blu’s Below The Heavens), only to put it on the shelf in favor of other projects. Then in December of 2011, the album appeared unmixed and unmastered — following on Blu’s tendency to put out raw mixtapes with few bells and whistles — on Bandcamp leading to a backlash of sorts against the sound quality from those who expected the release to continue the polished, smooth vibes of the first record. After label interest in the album grew, the duo finally released a final version Sept. 4 on Fat Beats.
So now that we’re all caught up, we should probably talk about what the album actually sounds like — or rather how it feels. This album feels like when you wake up early on a Saturday morning and it’s raining outside, only instead of putting on your go-to Rainy Day Record (it’s Kind Of Blue isn’t it? I think everyone’s is Kind Of Blue) you toss this on for its lyrical integrity. It feels like a walk through your own past as Blu gives an account of his, a little like listening to someone telling you how your own life has transpired to this point and taking a stab at figuring out where it might go from here.
When it comes to the actual songs, the album is built like a bell curve — or if not a bell curve, then at least a slow-building ray that manages to take its foot off the gas right before infinity and wind up right back in the same jazzed-out, introspective head space it started in. Sort of like the outline of a low-gradient ramp drawn on your test paper on simple machines from seventh grade physics, starting at zero and building steadily until it drops off a cliff and lands back at the bottom. It’s a slow burn that gets hotter and hotter until album closer “Cent From Heaven” leaves you with the same melancholy, rain-spattering-the-windows feeling that “A Letter” does kicking the whole thing off. Old summer days spent inside, or rainy Autumn days spent hiding from gusts of wind, as the case may be in mid-October.
But it’s that sense of nostalgia, of wistfully staring out the window and thinking on life, that permeates the whole record. The project feels like a giant catharsis for Blu, 15 tracks of him getting his past off his chest and contemplating the implications of the present and future presented in a slow burn where the production builds to an eventual musical and intellectual climax. Early album tracks like “Maybe One Day” contemplate what it was about childhood that led to the things we do today (“reflect when I was younger didn’t have to spark nothin’ up/I wonder what it was had me puffin blunts/coughin my blood and guts up for a fuckin’ buzz”) over a laiiiiiid back piano vamp, while “O Heaven” takes a backing track that could be an interlude in a 1930’s musical and sees Blu harkening back to old girlfriends and growing up on the poorer end of the totem pole.
The album hits its stride with the four-song run starting with “Money,” a B.I.G.-esque funk track (think “Respect” off Ready To Die) complete with flute flourishes and Exile scratching over the hook, and continues through “Good Morning Neighbor” — which samples the “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” theme — and standout track “Growing Pains” featuring Fashawn and Johaz of Dag Savage. I spend an inordinate amount of time wondering if there’s a track on every project that can represent a “thesis” of sorts, or at least can be a capsule of the whole album, and if there is one here it’d be “Growing Pains.” Starting from the intro — again a nostalgic throwback, this time to Tecmo Bowl and Bo Jackson and pickup games of “21” — to getting older, losing friends, and culminating in the hook of “everybody grows/and everybody knows/that time moves fast/I just want to make the good times last/you live and you learn,” it’s a series of ruminations on the wisdom that comes with getting through life, however it happens.
Later album cuts like “The Great Escape,” which contains high-energy features from Stones Throw rapper Homeboy Sandman and ADAD, and “A Man” which sees Blu going in on religion and society, provide an ideological epilogue before the album drops right back to the cool jazz of “Cent From Heaven.” It may have taken a while for Blu & Exile to complete the finished article that is Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them, but for those that stuck it out and waited, the duo made it worth it.