Los Angeles rapper Blu is most celebrated for his 2007 debut Below The Heavens with producer Exile. The label Sound In Color—approaching bankruptcy—only pressed seven thousand CDs of Below The Heavens, but it received massive praise for an independent hip-hop record and facilitated Blu signing his own imprint New World Color to a music and film deal with Warner Bros. In the same era that Blu was working with Exile, he juggled two other producer-marriage projects: one, a group with the producer Mainframe called Johnson & Johnson and the other with Los Angeles-by-way-of Detroit producer Ta’Raach called C.R.A.C. (pronounced crass and stood for Collect Respect Anna Check). Below The Heavens received all the glory (Johnson & Johnson did too, much later), but it was his work with Ta’Raach that truly illustrated just how inventive and artistically adventurous Blu could be.
Released in 2008 on Tres Records (founded by Thes One of People Under the Stairs and Chikara Kurahashi of Giant Panda), C.R.A.C.’s The Piece Talks expanded a heavily bootlegged tour CD, hence the intro song being “What Up - Part 2.” Where Exile and Mainframe were masters of loop techniques, Ta’Raach seemed to treat production like a river he could never step in twice. Ta’Raach graduated from Dilla camp before moving to LA and linking with Blu, which can be heard in the swing of “Love Don’t” and the gritty bop of “Respect.” The teacher’s influence and that Detroit embracement of avant garde electronics (see “CRACHAUSE”) is strong in Ta’Raach. He and Blu channel a Slum Village-esque energy of endless inside jokes and subliminals informing their every inclination. Someone had the unfortunate circumstances of encountering Blu on “2.16.05” and those events are now preserved over a twisted up, juke joint blues beat. The counterpart is “Mr. Big Fizz” issuing industry wide haymakers at rappers destined to fall flat quick like day old soda.
Antagonistic rebellion was truly the intention though with C.R.A.C., down to the ad-libs of “it ain’t crack, it’s crass, bitch.” The name just invites confusion and they revel in it. The duo declared themselves “lo-fi pop rock” in interviews in a disingenuous way that’s both a declaration that justifies “Buy Me Lunch” and the Wings (yes, Paul McCartney) interpolation “Bullet Through Me,” but pure mischief when taking the rest of the album into account.
The Piece Talks could be heard as scatterbrained to a fault, but with time it feels like the record was unfairly valued against its predecessors in Below The Heavens and Johnson & Johnson. In 2008, C.R.A.C. was received as too wierd and lo-fi. Place this group in the 2020s and they fit comfortably within the terrain. Fifteen years later, Blu’s career has seen peaks and valleys, but never fizzed out. Ta’Raach has said they recorded the album in 2005, long before any of Blu’s music found a wide audience, long before Warner Bros., long before being declared a XXL Freshman Class member alongside Wale, Curren$y, and Kid Cudi in 2009, and with that knowledge, the C.R.A.C. record feels like the type of music made regardless of who’s listening. It is a time capsule of their combined artistic freedom, feeling the powers of experimentation (and only overstepping in a few juvenile homophobic lyrics—a transgression never repeated since in either’s catalogs). In the same spirit of those first Native Tongue records and Slum Village’s Fantastic Vol.I, Blu and Ta’Raach are fearlessly and foolishly putting it all to tape, and the lasting result feels genuine, personal—even in their smack talk—, unorthodox, and innovative in ways that are seldom celebrated in hip-hop.