Johnson Barnes (born April 15, 1983), better known by his stage name Blu, is an American West Coast rapper and producer from Los Angeles, California.[1] Following the major success of his 2007 debut album, Below the Heavens, Blu was named HipHopDX's "Rookie of the Year".[2] Since then, Blu has become one of the most prolific underground artists in the Los Angeles area, releasing "six full-length albums, and countless other projects and mixtapes" since his emergence on the rap scene.[3] Blu has also become as proficient a producer as he has a rapper. In September 2011, Blu released his commercial album Open, his 4th solo project.[4] His seventh solo studio album Good To Be Home was released on May 20, 2014 by Nature Sounds.

Early lifeEdit

Johnson Barnes was born on April 15, 1983 in San Pedro, California. Raised by his mother and stepfather who was a pastor, Barnes was highly influenced by gospel and Christian rap when he was growing up.[1] However, Barnes' was also influenced by gangsta rap that he received from his father, contributing to his delivery of conscious yet raw lyrics. In his early days in the music business, Johnson worked as a hype man for underground rap and soul artists such as Slum Village, Steve Spacek, Platinum Pied Pipers, and Emanon.[1] However, taking influence from Common, Barnes began turning from freestyle rhyming to crafting songs.[1] In an interview with HipHopDx, Barnes talks about what it was like to listen to Common's 1994 song "I Used to Love H.E.R.":

"When I heard it, it really changed my life. I felt like I had heard Hip Hop for the first time. It made me change my content and my whole approach. It made me serious about writing and wanting to say something."[5]

Music careerEdit

2003: Career beginningsEdit

Some of the earliest tracks by Blu can be found on the 2003 EP Brüse Brothers, done with fellow L.A. emcee Jac Spade also known as Blacc/ Donel Smokes.[6] Spade is also a producer and has worked with the likes of Chali 2na and Akil the MC, both of Jurassic 5 fame, and Planet Asia amongst others.


Blu signed to L.A. independent label Sound in Color in 2004, choosing the label ahead of other big name companies such as Interscope Records and Death Row Records.[1] After Blu was introduced to Los Angeles based producer Exile by Aloe Blacc,[5] Blu released his debut album Below the Heavens in August 2007. New York weekly newspaper The Village Voice called the album "one of the most thoughtful indie-rap releases in some time".[7] Following the album's success and Blu being named as Rookie of the Year by HipHopDX,[8] the rapper began working with Detroit rapper-producer Ta'Raach, releasing the collaborative album The Piece Talks under Tres Records in April 2008. In September of that same year, the company released Blu's collaborative album Johnson&Jonson with producer Mainframe.[9] In an interview with HipHopDX, Blu talked about his work in the underground scene and what motivated him to continue writing:

"The game in 2008 is not perfect and people complain and complain about how wack music is, but there's so much dope shit out there if you just turn the radio and TV off. I find ill shit all the fucking time and I'm like there's way too much music out there".[2]

Following the reception of Johnson&Jonson, Blu and Mainframe formed their joint company New World Color. In celebration of the move, the two released their EP E.Q.E.P.; featuring rappers such as Gonjasufi and Dirty Paper.[10] Aside from these commercial projects, Blu also released his second solo project (So)ul Amazing.


In 2009, Blu released his third solo album entitled Her Favorite Colo(u)r. Although the album was originally released as a free mixtape, the tape was re-released as in album in conjunction with Nature Sounds in 2011.[11] The album is known for its jazz, neo soul feel as well its samples of artists such as Billie Holiday and Jimi Hendrix and Curtis Mayfield. During this year, Blu also released his mixtape (So)ul Amazing II with DJ Heat. The tape features a wide variety of artists including Talib Kweli,, Kid Cudi, Evidence, The Alchemist, and Co$$.

In 2009, hip hop magazine XXL named Blu as one of their Top 10 Freshmen of 09'.[12] That same year, Blu also began experimenting with production, releasing his 8 track instrumental NoSleepForADay. The year also found Blu signed to major label Warner Bros..[13]

The following year, Blu released his lyrical/instrumental full length LP theGodleeBarnes.[3]


In January, 2011, Blu released And If You See The E Drop Em, a title taken from a line on his first track on Below the Heavens:[3]

Blu released three albums through 2011, titled Jesus, NoYork!, and Open with Nature Sounds; the latter of which features a variety of artists with tracks all produced by the emcee. While the album Jesus was released independently under New World Color in July, NoYork!, a project that was supposed to be Blu's major label debut, was not. Initially planned for release under Warner, Blu later dropped from the label in October,[14] deciding to release it for free over the internet instead. On his decision to leave Warner Brothers, Blu said: "Warner sucked! Kweli left, Tick who signed the Beastie Boys left, my A&R Naim Ali (who A&R’d the Roots and Common) left. The president was fired or left. His son, the VP of Sire left. Them niggas got bought out by Russians who didn’t give a fuck about nothing but Rick Ross so..[sic]" [15]

In an interview with Above Ground Magazine, Blu expressed his future intentions with music, specifically on his notion of retiring from rap: “I’ve never seen myself rapping after 30,... I’ve always seen myself doing film. I have like three films I would love to shoot. But I would need a budget for it.”[14]

On February 22, 2012 Blu released Ucla exclusively on his Bandcamp page and claimed that the album was produced by critically acclaimed LA producer Madlib. According to Stones Throw, Madlib's label, Madlib had nothing to do with this album and the album was later removed from Blu's Bandcamp page.[16] In March 17, 2012, Blu released no york e mo work (rmx z 1.3), which is a remix album of NoYork!. In July 2012, plans were announced to officially release a mastered version of Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them, as well as a prelude EP titled "Maybe One Day" on July 24.[17]

2013–present Edit

Blu's solo studio album Good to Be Home was released in 2014 by Nature Sounds.[18]


Studio albumsEdit

Compilation albumsEdit

  • Open (The Instrumental LP) (2009)
  • No Sleep for a Day (2009)
  • The Norman Rockwell Beat Tape (2011)

Guest appearancesEdit

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