Blu: NoYork!

We're 98% positive you've never heard a hip-hop LP quite like NoYork! before.



Label: New World Color
US Release Date: 2011-12-13
UK Release Date: Import

As with every year, 2011 offered its share of challenging hip-hop artists, the champion of whom became Digable Planets alumni Butterfly's long-hyped project Shabazz Palaces. But the year's truly difficult release spent so long brewing under the surface in a milieu of misdirection and broken promises that it seems addressing it a month after its release is still yet too soon. NoYork! challenges anyone who's only cursorily familiar with California MC Blu's past work, and if you happened to take an interest in him, you may as well strap on a helmet before you queue up NoYork! because you're in for a very bumpy ride. While Blu fans might have settled into the games of cat and mouse he chooses to play with his fans through the varying battlegrounds of fidelity, price points, or simply not rapping over beats by Exile, nothing could have prepared them for NoYork!, let alone curious passersby.

You see, the sound of NoYork! is fueled by the Low End Theory Club, an LA fixture buoyed by producers Gaslamp Killer, Daddy Kev, and NoCanDo (also boasting such luminous regulars as Flying Lotus, Sa-Ra Creative Partners, Madlib, Dibia$e, and more). It's essentially the hip-hop-centric night spot where all the cool kids can hang out and -- at times rather aggressively -- blur the lines between hip-hop, IDM, Purple Sound, dubstep, R&B, wonky, and jazz. The artists associated with the club have quickly become known for producing some of the most forward thinking instrumental hip-hop and glitch music of the past two or three years; somehow, Blu managed to get tangled up in their web, and Warner Bros. Records managed to green-light the mangled result that is NoYork!.

It's a hell of a gamble by Blu because he's backed himself with a sound that can't currently be compared to any other vocal hip-hop album of measurable consequence. There's been a lot of talk about how NoYork! proves Blu may have totally lost what made him such a compellingly fresh voice on the scene with Below the Heavens. But that thinking seems strange considering this album is full of equally candid verses delivered atop seemingly unrappable backgrounds. There are a few moments that don't feel too far removed from regular west coast tropes ("A Bove Crenshaw", the opening/closing duo "Doin' Nothin' / Doin' Somethin'", and "Ronal Morgan"), but most of your time spent with NoYork! will be a decidedly original experience.

"SLNGBNGers" follows "A Bove Crenshaw" with a continuous rattle of 1980s arcade sound effects that make up the entire beat. "Hours" is a very abstract pop song (with a verse that's clearly an homage to Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder") built on a very repetitive yet alluring melody that continuously builds until the song finally slides away four minutes later -- and an uncredited female guest giggles that she's still trying to figure out what she was supposed to be doing with the song. You can feel that sort of creative energy straining against the speaker wire throughout this LP, and if it gets enough spins for some semblance of familiarity to settle in, it becomes a little baffling how confidently Blu hurdles a cut like that or "Never Be the Same".

Obviously, NoYork! can't be an album for everyone. Unless you're a huge fan of the production lineup here (Madlib, Flying Lotus, Dibia$e, Knxwledge, Samiyam and Daedelus) there's no possible way it could satisfy what's expected of it, and it'd be really unfair to expect your average hip-hop fan to embrace NoYork! with an open mind anytime soon. But for those listeners who've found a place for Shabazz Palaces in their hearts or just really wonder what kind of new ideas hip-hop could still be capable of nearly 40 years into its existence, you're not going to find a better surprise than this one. This is an album that teeters so dangerously between repulsively unapproachable and emphatically lovable that Warner Bros. sat on it for damn near the entire year. The details of its release are still a little cloudy, although we do know Blu's essentially released it himself, first through throwing out his own pirated copies at the CMJ festival in New York and later providing Tumblr links and a physical release through website with a self-funded indie label.

Its presence seems to demand attention, and it will be interesting to see how much it garners over the next few years -- and to see how many other Los Angeles artists attempt to follow in its footsteps. Like Shabazz Palaces, Blu makes rapping about everyday street experiences seem absurdly complex and adventurous, perhaps in a way that's detrimental in the immediate future but will reveal itself to be a worthwhile risk in time. The combination of 2010 and 2011 in general has left me more excited for the future of hip-hop than I've been in a long, long time, but NoYork!'s December release stamps a gargantuan, extra-boldfaced exclamation point or four at the end of that statement.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.