Some say that true art is born out of pain; that it is the prodigious love child of those that have dealt with heartache and lived to tell about it. People who know how it feels to be alone, to be afraid, to be blue. If the music on her stunning debut album, So Blu, is any indication, soul singer/songwriter Blu Cantrell has clearly mastered the art of forging pain into pleasure, turning something that hurts so bad into something that feels (and sounds) so good.
On the head-nodding drive of Blus vengeful debut single Hit Em Up Style (Oops!), 25-year-old Blu delivers all the wrath and volatile emotion of a woman too-often scorned. "I think you can feel the pain Ive experienced in my music", she says. "Its something that a lot of people can relate to. You can hear the hurt in my voice and I think a lot of people have gone through that kind of pain".
A native of Providence, Rhode Island, Blu says her interest in music especially jazz emerged at an early age. "My mother was a jazz singer. She couldnt afford a babysitter, so whenever she would sing, she would take us [Blu and her siblings] with her and we would sit in the dressing room. I would usually make my way out to the stage to watch her sing. As a young adult, Blu would continue to find solace in music, using it to absorb her pain and heal a heart broken by love gone awry. Her lyrics, like the teardrops of a tormented lover, are fresh and salty, staining and cleansing in their wake. "My music comes from hurt, from being in relationships where I felt I was taken advantage of, she explains. I was in love, but the relationships didnt work out".
Blu took her affinity for music to another level when, during a visit to Atlanta, she met RedZone Entertainment executives Tab and C. Tricky Stewart. They listened to her demo and their creative relationship quickly took root. Her obvious talent led to opportunities to sing background vocals, both in the recording studio and onstage, for some of todays biggest R&B and hip-hop artists, including Faith Evans, Puff Daddy, Gerald Levert and Aaron Hall, among others.
Once word spread throughout the music industry about this exciting young songstress, the inevitable competition between record labels began. Within the first 30 seconds of hearing her sing, Arista Records president/CEO Antonio L.A. Reid recognised that Blu possessed a distinctive and heartfelt voice that was destined for success. Blus Till Im Gone brought out feelings that I hadnt felt for a very long time, Reid says. Her voice seemed to satisfy that yearning in my soul, not only for a great singer, but also for a sound that I felt was missing in todays music. Blu is that sound. Blu is that soul. Blu is that artist.
During the creative process, Blu recalls spending time in the recording studio with A&R exec and co-writer Tab and producer Tricky, sharing her life, her joys, and her sorrows. Through those conversations, they discovered her motivation and were able to tap into her dreams and fears. "They wouldnt just write a track and go right on to the next one", Blu remembers. "They would actually sit down and talk to me, getting to know where I was coming from as a person".
So Blu, the singers stellar Arista forthcoming debut, is the result: a musical diary revealing the innermost thoughts and experiences of a young woman trying, like many, to succeed at love. With wide-ranging musical influences like Billie Holiday, Sade, Kim Burrell, Karen Clark, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Sting, Prince, and Arista labelmates Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, its easy to see that Blus lyrics, music and emotion are real. With tracks produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Dallas Austin, Laney Stewart, Don Vito and Jason Rome, So Blu boasts a bevy of songs dripping with emotion, attitude and artistry. The album was executive-produced by Tab, Tricky and L.A. Reid.
Written and produced by Dallas Austin, the albums blazin first single, Hit Em Up Style (Oops!), allows Blu to drown her sorrows in revenge. The track garnered an early fan in Funkmaster Flex, a popular DJ at New Yorks top radio station, Hot 97-FM. "This song is about a woman who has found out that her man is cheating, Blu explains. She knows that the only way she can really hurt him is in his pocket, so she goes out and spends all his money with her friends. The songs thriving chorus urges: "Hey ladies, when your man wanna get buck wild/Just go back and hit em up style/ Put your hands on his cash and spend it to the last dime/ for all the hard times."
Till Im Gone, the albums most personal track, opens with Blus pain-drenched voice sailing over a quietly haunting piano and flows into a dramatic, soulful hook. Till Im Gone means a lot to me because it was the first song I recorded [with Tricky and Tab]", she offers. "I was at the peak of my pain. Everything I was feeling at that time went into that song". The introspective title track, she says, is the cornerstone of the album. Falling in step with the emotional direction of the album, RedZone songwriter/producer Laney Stewart penned the breezy, plaintive Ten Thousand Times, about a woman who is reluctant to give in to love. Ill Find A Way, a stunningly heartfelt ballad co-written and produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, was one of the last songs recorded for the album. Other standouts include the carefree, danceable Its Alright and the somber Killing Me, about the frustration of loving someone long distance.
Co-written almost entirely by Miss Cantrell, So Blu is a profoundly engaging display of lyrical and vocal talent by an artist capable of unleashing her feelings with such bravura it makes pain a lot less painful and music a lot more meaningful. Her artistry and emotion will no doubt make music fans the world over instantly familiar with the name Blu.