Welcome to our new series, Run That Back. This month, we’re publishing one throwback album review per day for releases ranging from one month to a decade old. Each author is writing from their experience based off a fresh listen — whether they missed the record in the first place or haven’t touched the record in a while. Whatever the reason, quality music is still quality music and it’s always worth checking out — even if it means veering from your usual tastes. Read more about the series right here.

Run That Back: A Tiger Loses Its Stripes On Blu & Union Analogtronics’ ‘Cheetah In The City’

Blu & Union Analogtronic’s joint effort is good, but lacks je ne sais quoi

Blu is sadly, severely, criminally, underrated.

Sure, it’s easy to praise his underground classic debut with Exile, Below the Heavens. When this dropped nearly 20 years ago, Los Angeles felt it had its own version of Common, or even Nas, in the San Pedro storyteller. The album evidenced Blu had the introspect of the Chicagoan, the gullyness of the New Yorker, with a brand of swaggering cockiness innate only to an Angeleno.

In the two decades since, Blu hasn’t let off the gas, constantly reinventing his sound with each release. He’s successfully accomplished something that eludes most: bestowing nearly every album in his staggering catalog a unique identity.

Below was a classic hip-hop bildungsroman. Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them proved sequels can be a maturation, not a repetition. Her Favorite Colo(u)r, a Sunday afternoon matinee. The psychedellic and daring NoYork! is his Sergeant Pepper’s. In Good To Be Home, Blu penned a lo-fi love letter to his city. Bad Neighbor (though technically ucla), his Madlib album. The Piece Talks, je s u s ▲, Johnson&Jonson, Open, Gods in the Spirit, Titans in the Flesh, et cetera; Blu’s always pushing his own envelope.

In November of 2016, we got Cheetah in the City, his collaborative album with the relatively unknown Parisian production duo, Union Analogtronics. Honestly, I’m unsure where this one sits in Blu’s legacy.

His musings here lack the depth of previous achievements like “Amnesia” and “Hold On John.” His flows lack the breezy confidence he’s exuded on “Juicen’ Dranks.” The romance like that found on “He Man” has faded. His abstract tendencies on “S L N G B N G R S!” are all but absent. No bold creative leaps, like his McCartney-covering “Bullet Through Me.” And while the pair’s production is an enjoyable contradiction of organic and futuristic, it could have been more intrepid, considering the caliber of their emcee’s cerebral dexterity.

There remains a lot to be celebrated on Cheetah. The Dâm-Funk-assisted “Don’t Trip” is likely Azulito’s funkiest cut to date. “LA Counting” is nothing short of a boisterous opener. “One Two,” with its synthy, hypnotic chorus, and the horn-laden, keys-doused “Weekends” has some of Blu’s best all-around rapping on the album. Still, much of it is just okay and portrays the veteran as a bit long in the tooth.

In the second verse of “The Frustrated N***a,” Jeru the Damaja raps, “You can take a nigga out the jungle/but you can’t take the jungle out the cat.” I can’t help but feel that Blu is lacking a killer instinct on Cheetah in the City. Though I wouldn’t say it’s gone, just dormant.

Songs to Rewind: “LA Counting,” “Weekends,” “One Two,” “Don’t Trip”

Songs to Skip: “Cheetah,” “Sunny”

Ced is a writer, podcaster, and the store-brand Anthony Bourdain. He’s sometimes on Twitter, @maadceddy.

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