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The underground Los Angeles-based duo of MC Blu (b. Johnson Barnes) and DJ/producer Exile (b. Aleksander Manfredi) earned widespread acclaim right out of the gate with their debut album, Below the Heavens (2007), which critics crowned as the seemingly perfect marriage of Blu's everyday-struggle raps and Exile's Pete Rock- and J Dilla-inspired production. Blu, struggling to make ends meet at the time, first crossed paths with Exile in the early to mid-2000s, while the rapper earned gigs as a hype man for various soul/hip-hop outfits like Slum Village, Platinum Pied Pipers, and Exile's own duo, Emanon. In fact, Blu knew the other half of Emanon, MC/singer Aloe Blacc, who then introduced the two to each other. Deciding to sign to L.A. independent label Sound in Color, Exile's label home, in 2004, Blu began cutting a few records with the DJ/producer and assisted him with his solo LP, Dirty Science (2006). Blu was still trying to break into the industry, but Exile was enjoying production credits for the likes of Jurassic 5, Kardinal Offishall, and Mobb Deep. The release of the soul-entrenched collaborative effort, Below the Heavens in August 2007, put them both in the limelight and had fans of the alternative rap scene buzzing; however, it specifically garnered Blu many "Artist to Watch" features in various magazine and online publications throughout the year and into 2008. During subsequent years, they worked apart more than together; nevertheless, 2012 brought another co-billed LP, Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them. ~ Cyril Cordor