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|Johnson Barnes III|
April 15, 1983|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Origin||San Pedro, Los Angeles, California|
|Labels||Dirty Science, Fat Beats, New World Color, Sound in Color, Nature Sounds, Sire, Warner Bros., Tres|
|Exile, Blu & Exile, MED, Madlib, Nottz|
John Barnes III (born April 15, 1983), better known by his stage name Blu, is an American West Coast rapper from Los Angeles, California. He is best known for his group Blu & Exile and their debut album Below the Heavens. He is a forefront member of the California-based collective, Dirty Science. Blu is also co-CEO of New World Color, a label through which he is releasing many of his projects. He is recognized for his collaboration albums between him and various producers like Exile, Mainframe, Ta'Raach, Bombay, Madlib, Nottz, and Union Analogtronics. He has also performed about 300 plus shows and has independently spread his music internationally, with strong followings in places like London, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, Toronto, Zurich, Melbourne, Moscow, South America and South Africa.
John Barnes III was born on April 15, 1983, in Los Angeles, California. He was introduced to Hip Hop through his father, who gave him LL Cool J, Fat Boys, Kool Moe Dee, Ice-T, Too Short, 2 Pac, and Geto Boys tapes as a young kid. His parents split when he was 6, and his stepfather was a pastor who restricted him from listening to hip hop and secular music. He sang in the church choir and the choir in school. His cousin wrote his first rap when he was 13, which they incorporated in their dance routines that they did all over the neighborhoods. In High School, Blu moved to San Pedro where he began freestyle rapping in ciphers, making karaoke mixtapes, and battling rival crews. He broke his ankle in 12th grade and dropped out shortly after he realized he would not be able to play basketball the rest of the season and many of his friends were killed in gang wars. Blu kept rapping while maintaining odd jobs like selling shoes, warehouse work, and doing lights for movie sets.
By age 19, Blu was selling out local shows at the Knitting Factory, House Of Blues, and headlining once a month at the Rumba Room on Universal City Walk. Back then, he recorded with various rap groups such as the Ill Flava Crew, Infinite Legacy crew, The Untouchable Mob, Glory For The People, The LA Metro Crew and the Bridgetown Steel Crew. He was also a contestant on the MTV game show, "Who Knows The Band" and won. Grammy award-winning producer Megahertz had flown Blu out to LA to sign him to his new label after producing hits for Jay-Z, R Kelly, P Diddy, Busta Rhymes, and Nas but eventually walked away from the deal. At age 20, he had started negotiating a record deal with Death Row Records but decided to independently release his first solo album titled "California Soul". It was produced by early collaborators, L's and Bombay. It featured Bridgetown crew members; Donel Smokes (Black Spade) and Miguel as well as then RRAG Records label mate, RBX.
After doing a feature for group Science Project, Blu was introduced to Aloe Blacc, who was also featured on the album. Aloe Blacc said he heard a lot about Blu and said he should work with the DJ/producer of his group Emanon, Dj Exile. Exile came out to a Blu show, and after invited him to be on his new compilation album titled "Dirty Science" on Sound In Color Records. After hearing Blu on various compositions throughout Exile's album, Sound In Color signed Blu to a one-album deal and immediately began to feature him on various releases for the label. After working with Oh No, and reaching out to J Dilla and Madlib for production on his own album, Blu decided to have Exile produce his entire LP for Sound In Color. By the time the album was done Blu had completed two other full lengths albums, one with Detroit hip hop rapper/producer Ta'Raach and with Sound In Color/Operation Unknown producer and CEO, Mainframe.
In 2006, Blu pressed up the "Lifted" EP and mixtape premiering various productions with Exile and songs with J Dilla and KRS-One. While an opening act on a tour with Seattle-based LifeSavas and Dallas-based Strange Fruit Project, Blu discovered all three of his unreleased but fully completed full-length albums had leaked. The leak grew and crowds already knew his songs as he debuted them at each show for the rest of the tour. These three albums began to build a huge buzz online and caught the attention of Okayplayer, as well as other sites like HipHopDX and Nah Right, who all named him "Rookie Of The Year" once his album "Below the Heavens" was officially released in 2007. Sound In Color officially released the album but since they were almost bankrupt, only 7,000 copies of "Below The Heavens" was pressed on CD, with no vinyl other than the single for the album, "Narrow Path", which was also released in 2006. The label went bankrupt a few months following the release.
Blu then signed the other two albums that leaked in 2006 to West Coast independent rap label, Tres Records. Blu & Ta'Raach released the album titled "The Piece Talks" under a C.R.A.C. moniker. It was completely produced by Ta'Raach and featured Shawn Jackson, Noni Lomar, and Jazmin Mitchell. Originally sold on tour in 2005, the Tres release included their white label hit, "Bullet Through Me" (Paul Mc Cartney cover) and the 12 inch single, "Buy Me Lunch".
Blu's album with Mainframe was released under the group name, Johnson & Jonson. It was produced by Mainframe and ghost production by Blu, as well as features from Gonja Sufi and Miguel. It was promoted with an instrumental beat tape called "Powders & Oils" which consisted of exclusive songs. All of Johnson & Jonson music consisted of only two basic elements: loops and raps.
Blu used the production techniques he learned from working on albums with Exile, Mainframe, and Ta'Raach and began to produce beats. He started working on a project titled "GOD is Good" under the production moniker GODlee Barnes. He produced an instrumental album, which was turned into a rap compilation called, "Open" with various artists who rapped over the instrumental version of this album. He also produced an entire album for Brooklyn emcee/actor, Sene, called "A Day Late & A Dollar Short". Later, Blu produced an album titled "Her Favorite Colo(u)r" for himself, which was released for free download online after breaking up with his girlfriend.
In 2009, Blu signed an artist deal, an independent film deal, as well as a label deal for his company, New World Color, to Tom Whalley at Warner Brother Records. He then began working on a movie and album called, "No York". The album would feature production from Los Angeles beat scene heavyweights such as Flying Lotus, SA-RA Creative Partners, Daedelus, Madlib, Knxwledge, Samiyam, and others. The film was to be written by Blu and directed by Khalil Joseph. Eventually, label mates began to leave the label and all the A&R's began to get fired. Then the president, Tom Whalley was fired and the entire label was bought out. This took place over a year and a half and brought complete stagnation to any Warner Bros. releases. Def Jam presidents and A&R's were hired by Lyor Cohen, and Kyambo Joshua became Blu's A&R and creative director. After so much stagnation and no one being paid for contributions, Kyambo eventually helped Blu leave the label and release his music independently.
Blu then released an album in celebration of his independence titled "Jesus", which was released under his imprint New World Color, in conjunction with Nature Sounds Records. This album was recorded in two days, produced by Blu, and featuring production from Madlib, Alchemist, Knxwledge, Hezekiah and Rome, as well as a Cameo from Planet Asia & Killer Ben of Du Rag Dynasty.
During Blu's stay with Warner Bros, he was given 50 beats from DJ Exile. Blu didn't feel the vibe fit his "No York" album but found a bunch of old songs he wrote that had no beats. Blu recorded about 25 songs in two weeks to the Exile beats, which was later released digitally and eventually officially released under Dirty Science/Fat Beats, as the Blu & Exile's "Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them". Produced entirely by DJ Exile, with exclusive features from Fashawn, Dag Savage, and Homeboy Sandman. The album was also released as instrumentals.
The demo songs for "No York" were released as a black album titled, "York", under New World Color. It was mixtape style by featuring exclusive and previously released production from Flying Lotus, SA-RA Creative Partners, Daedelus, Madlib, Knxwledge, Dibia$e, Samiyam, and Exile. It also featured vocals from U-God (Wu-Tang), Edan, Theophilus London, SA-RA, J*Davey, Andy Also, Pac Div, UNI, Tiron, and Ayomari. It was recorded in New York and Los Angeles. "York" was toured along the West Coast with the live band, Koochie Monsters replaying all the songs from the album. A group with Ken Beats, co-producer of "York", also spawned off under a group called, "Neu Ngz". They performed live but never released any material.
In 2014, Blu released a double album produced entirely by one of his earliest producers, Bombay. It was titled "Good To Be Home" because Blu was connecting back with his west coast roots after touring the world. It was released on Nature Sound Records and features Prodigy from Mobb Deep, and West Coast rappers Planet Asia, Strong Arm Steady, Evidence, Alchemist, Chace Infinite, Imani from Pharcyde, LMNO & 2Mex from the Visionaries, MED, Oh No, Fashawn, Pac Div, Co$$, Definite Mass and many others.
Blu followed up with a collaboration album with MED, produced entirely by Madlib called "Bad Neighbor" with features from Stones Throw alumni MF Doom, Aloe Blacc, Dam Funk, Anderson Paak, Mayor Hawthorne, Frank Nitt and Oh No, as well as Hodgy Beats (Odd Future), AMG, and Phonte. The album was promoted by a video and single for "Burgundy Whip" with Jimetta Rose back in 2009. And followed up with the single, "The Buzz" b/w "Peroxide" featuring Dam Funk. The album was also released as instrumentals.
In 2013, Blu teamed up with infamous Virginia producer Nottz, for the EP "Gods In The Spirit" which featured Homeboy Sandman, Aloe Blacc, Dag Savage, and many others. The EP was followed up in 2016 with another EP, "Titans In The Flesh" which featured Skyzoo, Torae, Bishop Lamont and many others. Both EP's were released under Coalmine Records, with plans to re-release both EP's as an LP titled, "Gods In The Spirit, Titans In The Flesh". Blu also released EP's with Ray West and Fate, as well as 45's with Alchemist and The 45 King, and a 12-inch produced by Pete Rock.
2016, Fat Beats released the international collaboration album between French production duo, Union Analogtronics and Blu, "Cheetah In The City". The album features Dam Funk, Phat Kat, Frank and Dank. The single for "LA Counting" was released with exclusive remixes of the song by Exile, Daz I Que (Bugz N The Attic), Dibia$e and many others.
In 2017, Blu & Exile celebrated the 10th Anniversary of "Below The Heavens" at Regent Theater in Los Angeles, California performed in its entirety with a live band.
Blu's style is centered around lyricism and a smooth flow. His content evolves around a self-righteous philosophy, hunger, the love to create, religion, life and death, and a lot of braggadocio. He says each album is a different day in the life of Blu. His style and approach to music were influenced by KRS One, Ice Cube, Common, 2Pac, Saul Williams, Miles Davis, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Noble Drew Ali, Malcolm X, Abraham Lincoln, Langston Hughes, Eric Dolphy and Jay-Z. His favorite animal is the cheetah and the blue whale.