Occasionally I see or hear something that moves me to reminisce about past events in my life. This week induced a couple of memories as I worked to complete this weeks’ blog post. I was reading about this weeks’ featured artist Aloe Blacc and I saw some similarities to my childhood. Here is an excerpt from an Aloe Blacc interview with Hip Hop DX a couple of years ago: “So, my dad was in the military and during that time, I think third grade, he was gone for months at a time. My mom rented a trumpet so that I could play in school. Then, my dad came home from his deployment, I forget where he was, probably Korea or Japan. He said, ‘By the time you finish paying renting a trumpet for six months, you could pay for one. You could buy one.’ That was a very specific moment because it forced me to be serious about it. I couldn’t just do it to get out of the classroom”.
Reading what Aloe Blacc said immediately took my thoughts to the time when my father finally bought my first trumpet. As I have mentioned in previous posts my father was a jazz musician and of course, intrigued by the sound and sight of the horn, many times I spoke of wanting to learn to play. My father in his wisdom never pushed and never gave in to my whims and false starts. Instead, he waited until I finally had my own “serious” moment like Aloe Blacc. That is when he made the investment and bought my first trumpet. I learned a valuable lesson from how my father handled my musical start in life. It is the same lesson that Aloe Blacc learned. You must make your personal decision to choose a way of life. No one can do that for you.
Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins III, born in Orange County Southern California grew up to become one of the most respected musicians of our time, Aloe Blacc. In 1995, Blacc teamed with hip-hop producer Exile and formed Emanon that became a mainstay of the indie rap underground, and released their first mix tape in 1996, followed by the EP Acid 9 in 1999. The group went on to release three albums, Steps Through Time (2001), Imaginary Friends (2002), and The Waiting Room (2005). During this period, he additionally toured and recorded with the members of the collective Lootpack and worked with the French jazz group Jazz Liberatorz.
His early years as a hip-hop artist had a tremendous influence on the musician Aloe Blacc became today. He spoke further in the Hip Hop DX interview about what lead him to sing on his solo projects: “I was becoming uncomfortable with writing rhymes that ultimately didn’t say much. I was uncomfortable with the state of Hip Hop being largely about the expression of ego. I wondered, how could I be more crafty at writing songs in the form of a Rap, that actually express more than ego, style and finesse. I figured I would educate myself to learn more about songwriting and apply that later to Hip Hop”.
Upon reading Aloe Blacc’s statement, I thought about the ever-volatile discussion on the merits of rap music today. Many folks feel that most rappers choose only subjects relating to the glorification of personal exploits or street violence. However, socially conscious rap artists address a wide variety of subjects. It was not until I paused and gave thought to what Aloe Blacc was saying that I truly understood it all. Blacc found that traditional songwriting gave him a more comfortable format for expression than rap rhymes. There is nothing wrong with an artist making a personal choice for the sake of comfort within their craft. Aloe Blacc made a career decision that has paid dividends in increasingly popular albums of music.
In 2010, Blacc released Good Things on Stones Throw Records. A commercial success, Good Things was certified gold in the UK, France, Germany and Australia, among other countries, and ultimately hit double platinum sales. The single “I Need A Dollar”, which was used as the theme song to the HBO series How To Make It in America, reached 1 million in sales in 2013. Then, just last year, Blacc co-wrote the song “Wake Me Up” with Swedish DJ Avicii. With Blacc on vocals, the song reached number one in 103 countries and became the fastest selling single in the UK, selling 267,000 copies in its first week. Blacc’s Interscope/XIX debut, Lift Your Spirit, released in November 2013, and featured production by Pharrell, DJ Khalil, and songwriter Harold Lilly, among others. It also contains the chart-topping hit “The Man”. The song has become Blacc’s most successful single as a solo artist to date; it has sold over two million copies in the United States as of April 2014, and peaked at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100. Internationally, the song has topped the charts in the United Kingdom and peaked within the top ten of the charts in Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden.
Upon listening to Lift Your Spirit it seems that Aloe Blacc has landed exactly where he wanted to go musically. “I’m really proud of my development lyrically,” says Blacc, noting that one of his greatest aspirations is to make it into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Trust me he has a good head start toward that goal. Aloe Blacc takes ownership of his albums, therefore similar to other great songwriters; he is extremely passionate about his lyrics. “All the lyrics are me,” he says. “I really only ever want to sing lyrics that I’ve personally written.” As “The Man” and Lift Your Spirit continue their successful run, both exhibit the growth of Aloe Blacc. I feel Aloe Blacc has invited us all to an intimate look into the soul of the man and his music.