Blu and Exile’s 2007 collaborative album, Below the Heavens, is an underground classic. Exile was initially introduced to Blu through his recording partner, Aloe Blacc, and Exile was so impressed by the rapper’s skills that they hit the studio and churned out what is now an indisputable gem of L.A.’s underground rap scene. The duo went on to release a less-heralded but still good Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them, in 2012, before their collaborative relationship was put on pause.
Now, Complex is happy to share the news that Blu and Exile have reunited for a new album called Miles: From An Interlude Called Life. The project will be released through Dirty Science Records on July 17, the same day that Below The Heavens arrived thirteen years ago. The double album features Blu’s childhood friend, Miguel, Exile’s former bandmate, Aloe Blacc, and L.A. legend Aceyalone. It’s a triumphant return for a duo ready to receive their flowers once again; a nostalgic trip that still finds a way to sound remarkably fresh. Almost a decade-and-a-half after their emergence, Blu and Exile once again sound like one of the sharpest hip-hop duos coming out of the West Coast.
Celebrating the announcement, we caught up with the duo for a conversation that touches on their come-up, their relationship, and the long journey it took to get Miles finished. The interview, as well as the lead single, “Miles Davis,” is below.
When did the desire to make a new album together come about?
Blu: We’ve always been working. We stay consistently working. I think we decided to do a new album. When was it, Exile? It was like 2015 or something.
Exile: We have a whole album that we decided not to put out, because we wanted to make a new album, just to give people our best work.
Blu: Yeah. We made a trap album at first, man. Then we were like, nah.
Exile: Basically, I make all kinds of different beats. I’ve definitely experimented with trap beats, but I don’t think we agreed on it being something that we wanted to release, so we just started over again.
You guys wrote a lot of songs for this record, right? How do you whittle 40 songs into a coherent album?
Blu: It’s a fight, man. We’ve been going back and forth on tracks.
Exile: We basically negotiate what we want the album to be with the songs that we make. It’s a negotiation process.
“We made a trap album at first, man. Then we were like, nah.” - Blu
Is it split pretty evenly, or does someone always come out on top?
Blu: I always come out on top. Nah, we just work it out. We try to come up with the best music we can come up with, and in the process we impress each other. So, it’s like the joints that stand out. Then, it’ll be our go-to joints. And then sometimes it will just be joints that we’ll bicker over, and we’ll be like, “Yo, we got to get a third party involved and what not.” But for the most part, it’s a very enjoyable process.
Exile: We’ve been through a lot in our lives and we made a bunch of projects on our own that weren’t with each other, but we always included each other in our projects, as well. I got scratches on all his albums and beats on other albums that I didn’t fully produce, and he’s got verses on mine.
We had to get back to enjoying working with each other, because we were getting used to working without each other for a little bit. So I think our first album back, we weren’t really working with each other. The songs that we ended up agreeing upon were the songs that we actually worked with each other on, which is the Miles project.
Blu, lyrically, when you start working with Exile, are you working with specific themes in mind, or are you reacting to what he’s giving you?
Blu: Lyrically, man, I just drive around the beats. I try to pull from experiences, try to pull from the daily news, what’s going on around me.
Exile: I offer concepts to Blu, as well.
Blu: Yeah, definitely. Exile will have concepts for me. This is a huge reflection record, so there was a lot of reflecting for me. Just to get myself in the proper mind state.
“We’re bringing it back to basics, and we decided to go and pull from some of the people who helped pioneer our sounds.” - Blu
Exile, where were you coming from for the beats?
Exile: I make some beats when Blu isn’t around, and some are made with him there. I will just imagine something that he could rap about and offer him an idea that I think could help him dig deep. I’m always trying to get Blu to dig deep, to tell his story, and explain what he’s going through in his life.
Blu: Yeah. Exile definitely wanted me to talk about more of what I was going through in my life on the record. “The Feeling” was one of the first joints that sparked off the new vibe for me to get more confessional, more reflective throughout the album.
People who know you two know that, Blu, you've been friends with Miguel forever, and Exile, you used to make music with Aloe Blacc. What was the idea behind bringing those guests along on this album?
Blu: It’s all about coming full circle. We’re bringing it back to some of our traditional sounds and the grassroots that we come with. We’re bringing it back to basics, and we decided to go and pull from some of the people who helped pioneer our sounds.
Exile: I bring Aloe Blacc into everything that I do. I like to keep it a family type unit with the music, and I just always bring in people that I’ve worked with, and I’m working with currently. I’ve been working with Aloe since he was 16. I’ve always liked albums from artists that have features that were part of their family unit, more so than reaching out and giving big features.
Yeah. But then you have Aceyalone on there as well, which being from L.A., Blu, must be pretty surreal to get a legend like him on there.
Blu: Definitely. Man, it was an honor to get AC on there.
Exile: He’s one of the pioneers of style, like in hip-hop, period. If there’s anything I can do to help him get his flowers, I’ll do it. Hopefully, the gesture of having him on the album can add to that.
Considering what an underground classic Below the Heavens is, do you guys feel any pressure to live up to that hype?
Exile: You know what? When I was trying to sell Blu on what type of album we should make, I felt like we had a responsibility to follow in the footsteps of the greats before us to make sure that we follow our tradition of sound and update it sonically, but also lyrically, with where we’re at now. I don’t know if pressure was the right word, rather than finding the comfortability of our chemistry again. Once we found that, and it felt right, it just naturally happened for us to be able to, basically, pick up from where we left off at our best chemistry.
Blu, what about for you?
Blu: There’s definite pressure. I mean, that record isn’t Gold or Platinum or anything, but it definitely impacted my life. The release of that album and the response to the album has impacted my life. When I make most of my records, I try to compete with my own records, as well as other people’s records, to make the best album that I could possibly make during the time.
Exile: From my experience and take on this, in order for us to find that chemistry, we really just had to find our chemistry again as friends. There was a period we weren’t as tight, and then we got tight again, that’s when it really started happening. With me and Blu, if our sound has that chemistry, it sounds tighter. It’s also because as homies, we’re tighter too.
For someone coming to this record who might be unfamiliar with your past work, what do you hope stands out?
Exile: I hope that they can just feel who Blu is as a person now. I hope that they still get a sense that there’s some progressiveness in the sounds, even though we like to include tradition, sonically, as well.
Blu: I hope they pick up on our skills. I hope they pick up on the vibes that we’re delivering, and the nostalgic throwback vibe. Pick up on us paying homage to everything we came up on and what molded us. If they could pick up on those vibes, man, I think they would be sold on the record.