Blu & Exile
Miles cover photo by B+
Blu & Exile Talk New Album 'Miles': "We're Hoping That This Music Heals People"
"Left a hole in the speaker/stepped in the stu, no shoes, but got more soul than sneakers," Blu declares on "Miles Davis," the lead single from the new album Miles: From An Interlude Called Life with producer Exile. A cool piano loop plays around the dusty beat, with what sure sounds like a sample from a trumpet solo by the man himself. The track has spiritual soul even as it's got its heel on the blacktop. It's been eight years since Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them, Blu & Exile's last full album together. But their new release shows they haven't missed a step.
Though it's been a long time since the last full-length, the duo hasn't been idle. Exile has worked with everyone from Snoop Dogg to Open Mike Eagle to Aloe Blacc in the duo Emanon. Blu's laid-black syllable twisting flow ("my tongue is a machine" he says on one recent track) has worked with Madlib, Pete Rock and Nottz. But the two will probably forever be linked to their debut, 2007's Below the Heavens, an album with soil under its fingernails and its eyes up above.
Miles, which runs two hours and 15 minutes and drops on July 17 via Dirty Science Records, is a welcome return to the same vibe, with two LPs of Blu tying smooth lyrical loops around Exile's jazzy production. The album is laden with the duo's old friends and collaborators, including Aloe Blacc, Fashawn and Miguel, who provides one of his patented silky-voiced hooks for "American Dream."
When you talk to Exile and Blu together, you can hear a bit of the album's chemistry. They toss questions to each other, finish each other's sentences and riff on each other's answers. They obviously enjoy being together, on the phone or on record. Miles is a chronicle of the figures who have inspired and influenced them, whether it be Monk, Mandela or Bernie Mac. It's also about getting the band back together. For Exile and Blu, some of their best roots are each other.
How did the two of you meet and start working together?
Exile: It was around '02 or '03. My longtime friend Aloe Blacc had met Blu, and I kept hearing about him and how I needed to work with him. And eventually Aloe took me to go see a show where Blu was performing. I think he was probably too young to even be in the club. He just had to perform and leave.
I guess he had heard my music before then, and when I met him after the show. I invited him to come work with me. I was working on an album called Dirty Science at the time with a bunch of different artists. And we got together to record our first song and we hit it off. And basically right after that after we made the song, we're just probably having a cigarette in the car or something and really just talking about what we wanted our album to sound like.
Blu: Definitely, yep. That was the spark right there. And that was before the first album. That was that first song, and we knew we wanted to do an album.
What do the two of you like about each other's styles?
Blu: Well, I think Exile has many, many styles. He fits well with many different artists. But I think our chemistry works well just because of the friendship behind it. Exile's hella versatile. And I try to stay the same way with my catalog in collaborating with other producers.
Exile: I think at the time when we met, I just really loved how hungry Blu was. It just created a good energy to explore where we take our art.
It's been eight years since you worked on a record together. What made you decide to team up again?
Exile: We've always worked with each other. All the projects I've put together always have Blu on them. I think Blu had other personalities that are very much Blu to explore, also, but I think I tend to encourage him to draw a lot more from his emotional side .
Also, we had created a purely electronic album. But we didn't release it.
Blu: It wasn't really answering the call for Blu and Exile.
Wait, you have a whole album you didn't release? And that's the reason it's been so long between your last album?
Blu: Yep. Yes. We have a couple.
The cover image for this new album is the two of you standing with a giant tree with exposed roots. Why is black history and black musical history important for this album?
Exile: I think that actually personifies the album. Exposing our roots.
Blu: We were just on the path to speak more vocally about revolutionising through music and reflecting on our roots at the same time. And all that just happened right before the quarantine and right before the upheaval for racial justice, you know.
We're hoping that this music heals people. We hope that it touches people because it does relate to the times. Songs like "Troubled Waters" and "Roots of Blue" and "True and Livin'." They're for the people that are here today.
Exile: We had a conversation about what we wanted the album to be about, which was healing or exposing. We wanted it to be something that's more than just flexing style. I felt like the music that is important to us has more of a message. And that's what we were trying to do with this album.
Were you thinking about Trump in particular? He gets mentioned a couple of times.
Blu: Yes, we are definitely thinking about Trump. Some Trump songs got left off the album. We don't want to overload the people with the Trump invasion.
The album is named for Miles Davis in part. Why is he important to this record?
Blu: Yeah, one of my favorite people on this earth is my grandfather. And my grandfather's favorite artist is Miles Davis. And growing up, he would play Miles Davis a lot. But I wasn't really hip to it until later on when I got older and I started digging for records in my early 20s. So he gave me all his Miles Davis records. That really set me on a path to listening to jazz, and really getting into jazz music opened my eyes.
I eventually read [Davis'] autobiography and listened to all his great records. It was tough to understand jazz completely right at the beginning, but, but after five years of listening, Miles Davis is one of my favorite artists of all time.
Exile: There's also a double meaning for the word "miles" aside from Miles Davis. In terms of a journey and appreciation for our journey, and of how long we've been gone.
Blu: It's also a representation of that we feel like we've [traveled] miles beyond our last album. So this album was catching the people up.
There are a couple of songs on the album, "African Dream" and "American Dream." Could you talk about how those two are related?
Blu: They're a contrast. The songs are close to each other on the album to show the difference between the two. One is like a personal dream, and the other is what I'd like America to be. The African dream is me wanting to be in Africa. And the American Dream is me wanting a better life in America.
Could you talk about how you're hoping to respond to COVID? With people not touring now, did you have ideas about how to promote the record?
Exile: We did have plans to do some live shows and whatnot online. It's funny because the tour that we were going do in June was going to be Below The Heavens vs Boy Meets World [the 2009 Fashawn album produced by Exile], which was also dubbed a classic. And it's funny because Timbaland and Swizz Beatz did this online verzuz battle. And I thought damn, people are probably going to think we're just doing an extension of that, because we were thinking of doing it live on Instagram.
But since the [protests], I've reevaluated my plan for that. I still want to do it, but it didn't seem like the right time [because of the protests]. But at the very least I know we'll do a live performance of the album, Miles. And beyond that, we'll have to see how this whole thing plays out.