Blu & Damu The Fudgemunk
Ground & Water
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Some artists use their full potential when partnering with others. It’s not as if John “Blu” Barnes and producer Earl “Damu the Fudgemunk” Davis can’t function while working on their own, but when they build with another creator it frequently takes their music to the next level. And that’s the case with their recent team-up, Ground & Water, released on Damu’s Redefinition Records.
Considering that Blu has only been recording material for slightly over a decade, it’s staggering that his discography is already so vast and exceptional. Along with the Southern California native’s many self-produced endeavors, he’s shown a penchant for recording one-emcee/one producer projects. Below The Heavens (2007), his first collaboration with producer Exile, is a modern classic, and Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them (2012) was a worthy follow-up. He’s also recorded solid to excellent projects with beatsmiths like Mainframe, Bombay, Nottz, Ray West, Madlib (as part of Bad Neighbor), Shafiq Husayn, and, most recently, Ohno.
Damu is a throwback producer, influenced by the likes of Pete Rock and Q-Tip. For much of his career, the Washington, DC-based producer has created instrumental albums, made up of songs known for their sonic complexity and length. Whereas most producers seem to be in a hurry these days, Damu takes a much more patient approach, creating nine to twelve-minute epics. The two-hour Vignettes (2016) spotlighted his ability to create layered, lush beats and let them slowly unfold and evolve, conveying the “story” through vocal samples and scratches. Damu is also adept at partnering with emcees, working with Insight (as Y Society) to record Travel At Your Own Pace (2007) and later with Flex Matthews on Dreams And Vibrations (2018).
Ground & Water brings out the best in both Blu and Damu. Working with an experienced producer helps focus Blu’s energies, and Damu is up to the task. For his part, Damu forgoes putting together sprawling instrumental pieces, reining things in to make this project a manageable undertaking. The eight-track album comes in at a relatively brisk thirty-three minutes, but it never feels rushed. Blu and Damu stretch their artistic legs and still create a more “conventional” release where neither is forced to compromise what makes them distinct.
Self-reflection remains Blu’s greatest forte as an emcee, and he tailors his content on Ground & Water towards this strength. He comes across as the relative “kid” from Below The Heavens all grown up, but still struggling to find his place in the world. On “Feet On The Ground,” Blu flexes his verbal muscles, but also details his efforts to remain motivated while making music. He reminds himself to “keep perfecting your role, keep lessons and scrolls / Spit blessings and flows to touch the rest of the globe / Manifest to be whole, a man professing his soul / The better place to the moment, but the same old song, y'all.”
“Share The Love” overtly displays Damu’s Pete Rock influences. With its shimmering vibraphones and horns, it could have easily fit in on an album like The Main Ingredient (1994) or Soul Survivor (1998). During his two verses, Blu appeals to the rich to use their money to help those in need, both from the perspective of poverty and the emotionless “machine” of the United States system.
“Beast Mode” is the album’s lengthiest entry, running six-and-a-half minutes. It’s a knockdown, drag-out brawl of a posse cut, where fellow Southern California lyricists Cashus King, Shawn Jackson, Yamin Semali, and Local Blacc all share mic time with Blu. “Rhymes And Gemstones” is decidedly more somber both in tone and subject matter, as Blu ponders his role as an emcee, trying to balance speaking the truth with his pursuit of financial success.
The title track is the project’s best. The production is immaculate, as the beat grows and builds from the initial foreboding keyboard intro. Damu evokes Dr. Dre’s The Chronic (1992) by incorporating sections of the original samples from “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” and “Let Me Ride,” transforming the track into a laid-back summer anthem. Both Blu and Damu contribute verses, but Blu shines as he extols the virtues of his native California and basks in his own magnificence.
Though Blu and Damu keep themselves very busy recording all sorts of material, here’s hoping that at some point soon they revisit their obvious chemistry that they exhibit here and record another project together. Ground & Water is a superb starting point, and I’d love to see where they could go in the future.
Notable Tracks: "Feet On The Ground" | “Ground & Water” | "Share The Love"