So here’s the thing: I’ve always been a writer at heart, and have been working on bringing back editorials to the site. Fortunately, having a duo at the dopehouse that also love to write makes things much easier. So, as part of 2DBz’ 2012 campaign to run the ‘Nets we are now introducing weekly editorials on the site. Expect a new drop every Friday afternoon from either myself, Justice or Miss Peas, who drops our second entry… – M
If music has taught me anything, it is to BELIEVE. Believe in your art. Trust it can go beyond the limits of your imagination. Our feet are on the ground and we are Below The Heavens.
Blu’s Below the Heavens is the last classic of our generation. I remember the first time I met the phenomenally exhilarating composer better known by the name Exile. It was May 2nd, 2009 and I was interviewing him for Oh Dang! Magazine. I shared with him my sentiment about how I strongly felt that Below the Heavens reminded me of another life changing record you may have heard of by the title Illmatic. He responded with a face smirk, laughed, and asked me if I was high. Ha! I don’t even smoke anymore. Illmatic is a one of a kind masterpiece, a musical landscape of blissful treachery if you will. Be aware, I understand that there is no comparison, BUT the undeniable impact that these two albums have channeled from the inner cities of their genesis prove to be substantial evidence that sonically hip hop has gone to further lengths in search of balancing the scales of time. Below the Heavens and Illmatic are both for lack of a better term “classic” debut albums from the aforementioned masters of ceremonies. Nasty Nas relinquished his rage in his first breath with Main Source’s redefinitive ode to summer cookouts worldwide “Live at the BBQ” with his mind altering war on words declaring with prominence and conviction, “When I was 12, I went to hell for snuffin’ Jesus.” Blu at the rare age of 22, broke and taking the bus, possessed the tools for the trade, but had yet to make a name for himself. So with Exile behind the boards, both put their imaginations in motion and set their sights on crafting a melodic visual work of art unseen to the masses. There was no extra push for Below the Heavens. A few years later, you can’t bring up top albums of this generation and not mention Below the Heavens.
Hip Hop and Illmatic are synonymous with each other. Illmatic offered a valiant contribution to the 90’s essence of grimey Hip Hop that broke the standard, and mirrored the prowess of his golden era influences so vividly that he even began to garner comparisons to a chosen few innovators. Illmatic details the story of a child unsure if he will be able to escape an environment full of criminals, death, punishment, pain and struggle. In a way, for Nas, Illmatic was a home. A place where he must learn to accept the ways to defeat them. He was the Villain, and the Hero, fighting his conflicts with each blink of the eyelids that never close. The story goes on to describe NY lifting the veil of someone experiencing it not only first hand, through himself but alongside others around him. Illmatic carved visible bruises into a street reporter in the middle of everything all while having to live in the place he’s reporting. Nas illustrates as if you are simply a shadow in the room, painting visuals with graphic storytelling reeking a stench of punishable sorrow, I wouldn’t expect you to believe that I was inside of the womb with him, in the graffiti plastered buildings of Queensbridge, on that dead end, unpleasant shackle most refer to simply as “a block”, running from the those corrupt racist, unjust, savage blue walls you refer to as “police” shooting dice so we could see the light after we flipped the switch in our shitty roach filled apartment of love. He built a hatred for it, and turned it into the highest resolution of hip-hop appreciation, artistically, respectfully.
The intro to Illmatic contains interpolations of the popular 1983 Hip Hop film Wild Style and it perfectly portrays what young Nas has volunteered to take on. Zorro’s brother yells at his graffiti artist kid brother Zorro with fury; “There ain’t nothing out here for you.” Zorro responds in a calm tone: “Yes, there is, THIS.” “This” is Nas’s gateway out. The Getaway. He’s affirming that “this” moment is his, with his state weighing in heavily on his back, and the memory of his fallen soldier, Ill Will on his mind, he’s set forth to verbally go where no men have travelled before. This is rap documentation at it’s most vulnerable. An album packed with a forest of quotable’s on only the third song of the adventure, AZ’s verse lights the match properly: “I’m destined to live the dream for all my people’s who never made it.” Almost two decades later, no published recording has ever come close to summing up to Illmatic and with such uncanny production, and a penetrating penchant for identity via superior vocabulary it was. Nas was here to rule.
The samples Exile brought together on his collaborative effort with fellow California native Blu are anything short of soulful. Full of gut stabbing emotion, Blu is straight to the point and he keeps it so real. It’s him at his most personal. He opens up on various grime inducing tasks that magnify the turmoil of being the eldest of 9 siblings, his parents unfortunate marital problems, issues with the opposite sex, the moment when he has to come to term with stepping into manhood feet first, peering into the submissive phrase “You might be a father” and how one would prepare to cultivate a newborn life while not being able to acquire a working phone and resorting to public transportation all at the same time. He discusses the pressure of following the recording artist dream on the standout composition: “Dancing In The Rain.” The intro to this track begins with a seductive instrumental executed by Exile. He showcases an ambitious oasis, allowing listeners inside the life, with a glimmer of promise noting its going to be okay, just “smoove ya ass…” He confesses the uncomforting frustration on the second verse falling victim to his self-doubt of becoming a hip hop artist and attempting to take control of the pressure. I know where he’s coming from (even though I don’t rap). On “Dancing In The Rain” he finds solace in a comrade, confiding in him and asking him for a reminder of why he distributes so much faith into this musical journey that may betray him. Before his partner can even form his lips to offer a suggestion, it all returns to him, the struggle that is hypnotic, that magical effervescence that these beats supply him, the color of promise, this character remembers why he initiated the mission to get into hip hop in the first place, his passion, and how it gave him a new lane when he was literally coming to a fork in the road. His comrade tells Blu not to ask him again but responds with a phrase “remember the rain, it’ll diminish the pain”. “World Is… The”, another standout confessional, inviting listeners on his quest for heaven and why the album is called Below The Heavens. My favorite verse from the LP states: “As long as you holding hands with a God, that alone can turn the dark into a walk in the park.” That line alone elaborates why Below the Heavens is a timeless stream of perfection.
Below the Heavens and Illmatic are clear reflections of each generation. Both albums classify flawless significance. Every brutally honest chapter transcends current flow of thought in it’s own unique way, as they are sequenced perfectly to transition so smoothly onto the next movement, liquefying your salivary glands while forcing you to stay alert, not skipping a track. Below the Heavens was a soundtrack for my 8 months stay in New York in 2009. It’s funny, as an avid listener of music I can make a connection with a true poet’s aura. Below The Heavens shined fluorescently through ever so lovely Brooklyn trees. It was that one album that allowed me to inhale deeply through my everyday struggles. Blu’s dream like lyricism for each mosaic displayed the perfect picture of a “blue collar kid” finding his call in the new millennium, guiding passengers spiritually and economically through the voyage of the 21st century. If I had to choose one album to vocalize my generation’s feelings, without question, Below The Heavens carries the tongue. Below the Heavens, the west coast Illmatic. I don’t even think Nas knew what kind of impression he would leave on hip-hop at 17, and I don’t think Blu fully understood either. As of today, both are messiahs of hip-hop. Below The Heavens and Illmatic are the history books that future fans will utilize as research of an unidentifiable breed. A license permitting a ride into the sky leaving the brainstem challenged. Below The Heavens is my generations beating heart that will outlast the heaviest winds for eternity.