From Underground MC to Superstar Singer: The Winding Path & Secret Songs of Aloe Blacc
For more than a decade, Aloe Blacc has proven himself as an elite singer-songwriter with a passionate voice and compelling lyrics. Blacc’s stunning range as a musician goes from an enriching soulful sound, to a Folk and Pop fusion. He appeared on the big screen as Bobby Byrd in the 2014 James Brown movie, Get On Up. Much of Blacc’s catalog contains joyful and eye-opening messages with huge hooks and relentless feel-good grooves. A recent Medium Cuepoint article explores the breadth and artistry of Aloe that even the deepest fans may not realize.
DJ Pizzo authored “The Search For Aloe Blacc’s Secret Children’s Album.” The piece explores Blacc’s beginnings from his Hip-Hop roots, to Dancehall influences, which appear in some of his music. It also uncovers some projects that no one ever knew about the singer-songwriter/producer.
Blacc started his career with Hip-Hop producer Exile to form Emanon in 1995. With dusty loops and Jazz samples, Emanon caught recognition in the Indie Rap underground, and released their first mixtape in 1996. Aloe started his solo career in 2003, releasing two EPs and signing to the heralded Stones Throw Records in 2006. On July 11, 2006 Aloe released his studio debut album Shine Through. As Aloe was focusing on his own career, Exile would play a major hand in cultivating the careers of Blu and Fashawn. Shine Through demonstrated Blacc’s diverse range of genre and tone. Notably, the California native closed the LP with a fresh cover of the then newly-released John Legend anthem “Ordinary People,” only in Spanish.
At the time, Stones Throw albums like Madvilliany and Donuts were garnering commercial and critical acclaim. At the helm of online/retail giant HipHopSite, Pizzo recalled the return process of Shine Through, following poor sales. To the DJ’s surprise, the album—which he liked—did not sell. Inflated expectations and a label’s meteoric rise were not in step with the Emanon MC’s transition.
In the article, Stones Throw’s then-manager Eothen “Egon” Alapatt was having a hard time convincing founder Peanut Butter Wolf to release Blacc’s second album, Good Things. After two years of negotiations, Good Things was released in 2010. The LP’s contents would prove to be a major masterpiece for Stones Throw, who then was finding success out of Hip-Hop, in Soul acts like Mayer Hawthorne.
Good Things‘ single, “I Need A Dollar,” finally brought Aloe into the commercial eye—despite his underground beginnings. HBO’s emerging “How to Make It In America” needed a theme song that captured the show’s premise, tone, and soul. “I Need A Dollar” said it in chorus alone, and Blacc attached his work to the cable boxes and DVDs of millions, letting that booming voice resonate.
Three years later, the artist born Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins, III would find himself collaborating with Avicii on the 2013 smash hit crossover single, “Wake Me Up.” The single has sold more than 5 million copies worldwide, certifying Aloe Blacc as a superstar. However, the Country-tinged “Wake Me Up” and Shine Through only scratch the surface of Aloe’s true range.
The Medium article explores some of Blacc’s unreleased music, and other monikers and aliases that showed his ability to experiment with different sounds. Perhaps most surprising of all, this unreleased Aloe Blacc catalog includes a mysterious Children’s album.
Blacc recorded it in 2005 during his tenure at Stones Throw. Physical copies were dispersed hand-to-hand to his close friends. Egon describes the album like that of “Mr. Squiggles,” a character on Australia’s longest running children’s show. “It was goofy. If I remember it had pitched up voices, kind of like a Quasimoto-type thing for one character,” says the DJ, who now manages the ever-active Madlib Invasion imprint. Blacc talked to Pizzo in a 2011 interview about the children’s album. He said, “I recorded a children’s album as a Christmas present for my niece. Then I had this bird brain idea to actually make a CD and press it up and actually give it away to friends.” Now as a multi-platinum star quite obviously capable of crossing-over, should this be heard on a wide scale?
Another unreleased work of Aloe’s was an entire cover of Luis Bonfa’s soundtrack for the Black Orpheus film. Egon described it as “as a meeting of American and Brazilian Folkloric music.”
Producer Exile chimed in and talked about Blacc’s other alias, under the name of Nathan Yell. He told Pizzo, “it’s a mix of dark, Wild West-meets-Gothic, grim reaper meets old Gospel hymns. A lot of it was recorded Bobby McFerrin style, by patting his body, beat-boxing, humming. It’s real experimental, but I think it’s a really cool album.”
There are still plans for an Emanon reunion album called Bird’s Eye View, which would return Aloe to his MC roots. However, the LP’s title may now be called Dystopia, so says Exile. Along with a mixtape tentatively titled Bullet, one of these projects is expected to drop sometime this year.
Read “The Search For Aloe Blacc’s Secret Children’s Album” by DJ Pizzo At Medium’s Cuepoint.
With a patient rise to stardom, and an unlikely track, do you think these shelved works can translate into commercial and critical successes?