"It's definitely a memoir, for sure."
Choosey, an LA-by-way-of-San-Diego emcee who's destined to be a household name before long, is telling me about his new full-length studio album "Black Beans."
"I wanted to show the listener where I’ve been as much as where I’m heading, based on exposing my values in life as well as my heritage and all the codes that raised me," he explains.
The record comes a full five years after "Left Field," a 16-track mixtape effort -- and his first for hip-hop label Dirty Science. Even though it's not his debut, in many ways, "Black Beans" loudly signals Choosey's arrival.
The album is a nostalgic, sepia-toned masterpiece wired around the rapper's masterful wordplay and the warm, oldies-worshipping production courtesy of beat-maestro Exile (a legendary talent who's worked on records by Wiz Khalifa & Snoop Doog, Flying Lotus, Big Sean and Pharoahe Monche, among many others). That sound -- where a treasure trove of dusty soul and R&B samples are chopped up and reworked with expertise -- brings new songs to life from long-gone spirits.
The result? A strong contender for album of the year. Of course, the beats here require a voice to complete the aural magic and thanks to Choosey's effortless and imaginative flow, both elements become one inseparable force -- the two transform into a formidable Stockton/Malone combo of compelling, throwback hip-hop.
"Both Exile and I crafted the concepts and sound direction together," Choosey says about the "Black Beans" recording process. With a collaborative partnership now spanning more than half a decade, the rapper traces it all back to an initial meeting at Barragan's, his family's now-defunct restaurant in Echo Park (there's still two other locations), where Exile also lives.
"I’d been a fan of his for years and we just hit it off from the beginning 'cause we had a ton of things in common like hip-hop, skateboarding, graffiti, etc.," Choosey says. "I’ve always loved that raw production. It’s just gotta speak to my soul and Exile does that naturally. He definitely knows how to pull certain things out of an artist. He’ll for real have a whole batch of beats ready to f--- your whole head up and almost have you in tears based on knowing your preference over time."
Indeed, the chemistry on "Black Beans" is undeniable. Whether it's showcased on the catchy "Doo-Wop (That Thing)"-esque soul of "Teen Angel"; the lush, chilled-out vibe of "Sangria"; or the hand-clap propulsion of "You Got It," the entire album is misstep-free.
Its pièce de résistance? That'd be "Low Low," the much-talked-about leadoff single featuring none other than Aloe Blacc (who's been working with Exile for years) -- with its blaring mariachi horns and golden hook that nearly comes across as a laidback victory lap even though it lands early in the album's sequencing. According to Choosey, the track came together rather serendipitously.
"I had the three verses to the song originally recorded and we always felt it needed a powerful chorus. One day, Aloe was at the pad when I was living with Exile and he just started singing and humming to it. He came up with the hook so fast and I remember lookin' at Ex -- he had the same exact expression I did like, 'Yo, we got one,'" he says laughing. "The first time we listened back to it after arranging it a few different ways, we knew it was even more special than the recording session. We then agreed it would be the single, no matter what."
United by Choosey's knack for storytelling, "Black Beans" is largely an ode to his Afro-Chicano heritage (the title acting as "a metaphor for my mixed ethnicity," he says) and his journey through life straddling and embracing both cultures. The title track's lyrics, for example, are pure poetry.
"My momma was a gospel music connoisseur
Pops played the oldies, so it's only right I do this
Simply I'm a product of uncommon reproducin’
Blacks and Mexicanos wasn't really on no cool s---
It's probably why I see your obstacles and don't get moved a bit
Seen it all at eighteen with a bullet
'80s baby out the womb with full clip
Pity the fool talkin’ guns for the cool of it
It's cops on the loose killin’ teens, who do you defend?
The system’s been overdue for a crucial fix
Rebuke Lucifer, kneel and kiss a crucifix
Start a movement that'll spark a revolution
Before you do, you better love the skin you maneuver in"
Grandiose and steeped in romanticism, the album also serves as a love letter to the "Coca Cola bottle-resemblin’ women cookin’ caldo in the kitchen," the sunbaked streets of National City -- and the very real strife and splendor that wrestles within them. As Choosey explains it, art requires authenticity.
"It’s the information age and artists are pretty much irrelevant if they ain’t adding to or explaining the human story," he says. "I have a ton of passions that extend far beyond music but instead of focusing on simply having a deeper message, I choose to write and create within my own truth. If it resonates with me and my soul, and I get chills writing and spittin' it, I keep it. Everything else is up to the universe and the listener."
Blu & Exile "True & Livin'" tour dates ft. Choosey, Dag Savage, Cashus King, Pistol McFly and Sirplus
- May 2: The Crocodile in Seattle
- May 10: Ninja Karaoke in Las Vegas
- May 11: Cornerstone in Berkeley
- May 14: Mississippi Studios in Portland
- May 15: The Wayfarer in Costa Mesa
- May 18: Sub T in Chicago
- May 19: Deluxx Fluxx in Detroit
- May 28: 529 in Atlanta
- May 29: The Den in New Orleans
- May 31: Shipping & Receiving in Fort Worth
- TBA: Los Angeles
- TBA: San Diego
- TBA: New York
Dustin Lothspeich is a San Diego Music Award-winning musician, Senior Associate Editor at NBC SoundDiego since 2013, talent buyer at The Merrow, and founder of the music equipment-worshipping blog Gear and Loathing in San Diego. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.