With his cool-headed SoCal demeanor and everyman charisma, Blu was championed at the onset of his recording career when he collaborated with Emanon DJ/producer Exile for the highly acclaimed LP Below the Heavens (2007). Born Johnson Barnes in Inglewood, California, Blu, whose stepfather was a pastor, was very influenced by gospel and Christian rap when he was developing his MC skills in middle and high school. His musical turning point came when he first heard the Common classic "I Used to Love H.E.R." (1994), as well as the Chicago MC's third album, One Day It'll All Make Sense (1997). From then onward, Blu abandoned his schoolyard freestyle frame of mind and dedicated his abilities to crafting well-written songs. As he started doing live performances, he paid his dues working as a hype man for several underground rap and soul artists, including Slum Village, Steve Spacek, Platinum Pied Pipers, and, of course, Emanon. His relationship with Exile and newfound mindset in making music pointed him toward signing with L.A. independent Sound in Color in 2004, which for the young MC meant brushing off interest from Interscope and Death Row.