With so much music available these days, it’s hard to digest a full course in one sitting. We like to know where an artist fits into the big picture, so we pick and parse and categorize — it’s the brain’s favorite trick for processing loads of information. Of course, most rappers scoff at this tendency. They don’t like to be boxed in. They mean to pave their own paths, hoping the fans will buy in. Consider TDE: Oh, Kendrick is a vestigial “conscious” rapper? Here’s a duet with Gunplay. “Nothing matters to TDE except for TDE, to them,” is how one of their affiliates puts it.
That affiliate happens to be producer King Blue, 26, known in his hometown of Dallas as Brain Gang Blue, ex-half of the band Sore Losers. Blue, still relatively unknown, has not yet been categorized. Despite an impressive list of productions to date — Kendrick Lamar’s “P&P”, ScHoolboy Q’s “To Tha Beat (F’d Up), Mac Miller’s “Down the Rabbit Hole”, and most recently, Ab Soul’s “Mixed Emotions” — as well as releasing his own solo EP, Numb, on which he produced and performed, Blue has not yet settled into a lane. He opts for a wide variety of sounds, from chill daytime television samples to drug-fueled electronic dirges.
For Blue, restlessness — or its close cousin, indecision — runs through his veins. Blue’s father, Mr. Blue, enjoyed a brief stint for the Seattle Seahawks, before moving around the Canadian and minor football leagues, finally settling in Dallas. It was in Texas that Mr. Blue ran a couple popular nightclubs, quitting to become a personal trainer. So perhaps it is from his father’s mobility that Blue draws his inspiration. In 2007 Blue dropped out of Prairie View A&M University outside of Houston to move to L.A. That’s where he hooked up with cousin, Dave Free — A&R, producer, and top dog at TDE. On that first trip Dave introduced Blue to rapper Jay Rock, and they immediately started to bang out tracks: Jay Rock in the studio, Blue in his grandma’s crib out in Canoga Park.
Although the TDE gig was a promising start, another opportunity soon presented itself that Blue could not ignore. “When I was young I always made stuff that was progressive,” admits Blue. “So when Vincent Brown arrived and was like, ‘I want to do something different,’ that was the first time I really felt like I was a part of something new and special.” In 2009, Blue left his grandmother’s house in L.A., flat broke, to form a hip-hop band alongside Brown, called Sore Losers. The Dallas-based band enjoyed considerable success on the blog circuit, and even booked a set at the Sundance Festival, but ultimately fell to an untimely demise in late 2010.
“When we went through that breakup, it killed me,” recalls Blue. “I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I thought I was done making music.” Fortunately, Blue still had his friends out West. In early 2011, after TDE had begun to explode, in the wake of Kendrick’s Section.80, Kendrick and crew invited Blue along for the Texas leg of their nationwide tour. It was at those shows that Blue was able to perform songs off his new Numb EP, and present to the state of Texas his new crew in Brain Gang. “I want to do with Brain Gang what they did with TDE,” says Blue. “JT, Bobby, Cash, and Killa MC [all members of Brain Gang] made me believe I could be a solo artist, so I want to give back to them.” And that’s where Blue is at now, managing his crew and making music as a solo act.
Though he still submits beats to TDE on the side, Blue readily admits that “Mixed Emotions,” a standout track off Control System, was in fact a beat he had made three years ago. He claims it has “nothing to do with [his] current direction”. “I tried to keep the sample simple so any rapper could voice what they had to say, but it’s old, almost three years,” he says. What’s more, “MixedByAli gave my production a fuller feel. He gave it a wide, full sound that was different from the original beat that I had sent him. Ali is a monster. He’s very outside the box with his techniques. He did something on a certain song, and I can’t remember the name of the song right now, with Kendrick, he had Kendrick record two versions of the verse, one with a high pitch, one with a low pitch. At the beginning of the verse he was rapping low and throughout the verse he [Ali] blended in the highs and the lows. I sat behind his shoulder once and watched him do it, and I still couldn’t explain it to you… I think TDE just has… it’s like they’re all in a little laboratory and they just stay there until everything is perfected. They shut themselves down from the rest of the world and make what they want to make, so it doesn’t sound like everybody else. It’s not the new West. It’s them. It’s their thing.” In other words, the TDE cats make music in a self-contained bubble, parallel to their medium — the Internet — where you can define yourself however you want.
From his family ties to Dave Free to his friendships with the artists, even submitting “jazzy dubstep” records to Kendrick for his upcoming album, Blue is confident enough in his association with TDE to consider himself a “part of the family.” But his sights are set higher. “I want to go solo,” says Blue. “I want to go the Kanye West route.” Not eager to repeat past mistakes, Blue seems to have chosen the one man band lane to make his living. Yet what he really wants to do is become a star.