Blu and Nottz are a wild combination. The Los Angeles rapper and the Norfolk, Virginia beatmaker both sit on the curve of where traditionalist-leaning hip-hop (meaning, fervid spitting and knotty, sample-based beats) is headed right now: away from in-the-pocket ’90s worship toward something more insular and bizarre. For Blu, it means carving out a singular, circuitous career that since 2007’s Below the Heavens with Exile, has zigged when it should have zagged, resulting in unpredictable, often lo-fi projects like 2011’s j e s u s that reward lots of listens and exude a kind of hard-headed integrity. Nottz is an attentive sample-chopper in the style of production peers Just Blaze and Dipset soul-screamers The Heatmakerz. Old R&B samples and, occasionally, something a bit more out of the box (Love, the Cold War Kids, the Tina Turner joint from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome) are warped into up-up-up wails. Nottz’s hits like Busta Rhymes’ stop-start party anthem “Pass the Courvoisier” and Snoop Dogg and R. Kelly’s Coming to America soundtrack-sampling “That’s That Shit,” prove the producer knows what the radio wants. He just isn’t always interested in giving listeners what they expect.
On Gods in the Spirit, Nottz’s beats are busied and treble-heavy, often as nimble and aggro as the raps from Blu and a dependable group of guest emcees (Aloe Blacc, Homeboy Sandman, Nitty Scott, and others). And hey, all the God talk on this EP, coupled with these noisy, epic-sounding beats, can’t help but invoke the recent go-for-baroque ambition of Kanye West (not to mention, Blu’s own controversy-courting use of religious language). In particular, the song “God Shit” here, all swirling strings and drunken, trash-can snare drums, is on the art-rap level of G.O.O.D. And that makes sense, because Nottz is a producer on Pusha T’s “Nosetalgia,” off My Name Is My Name. “God Shit” also features a verse from Aloe Blacc, which is particularly interesting, if only for the fact that it means Blacc is currently crooning on an Avicii hit (“Wake Me Up”) and spitting over some of the most raw and uncooked hip-hop right now.
Blu & Nottz’s Gods in the Spirit EP is out tomorrow on Coalmine Records, but you can hear it now, exclusively at SPIN.
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