Aloe Blacc’s affecting voice, perceptive lyrics, and dapper sartorial flair are already familiar to music lovers around the world. The soulful singer-songwriter co-wrote and provided vocals for Swedish DJ Avicii’s international hit single “Wake Me Up,” which hit No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs and Dance/Electronic Songs charts, as well as in over 100 countries around the world, including the U.K., where it became the fastest-selling single of 2013. It is the latest global hit that Blacc has been involved with. In 2010, his international Top 10, platinum-selling single “I Need A Dollar” surged across the continent, ringing out from the streets of Paris to the soul clubs of London, combining social consciousness with irresistible pop. Throughout 2011, Blacc and his touring band, The Grand Scheme, hit the road in support of Blacc’s second solo album and international breakthrough Good Things; turning in memorable sets at iconic festivals like Montreux Jazz in Switzerland and Glastonbury in the UK.
Blacc performed “I Need A Dollar” on the French TV programs Taratata and Le Grand Journal, as well as the influential British music show Later…with Jools Holland; spurring the track to become the de facto anthem to the post-Great Recession recovery. “Everyone has a relationship with money and can understand the experience of needing a dollar,” Blacc says of the song’s appeal. “I'm really interested in creating music that can influence positive social change,” he adds.
Years ago, there were those who made this look easy: Marvin Gaye, Gil Scott-Heron, Sly Stone, Bob Marley, and Stevie Wonder, to name a few, and their influence is readily apparent on the retro soul stylings of Good Things. So is the hip hop that Blacc took to almost as soon as he could walk. “I was a B-boy at age four,” he says. “The neighborhood crew nicknamed me ‘Little Rock.’ Eventually I started experimenting with rhyme, and by age nine I was writing my own rap lyrics on a small pocket note pad.” Licensed around the world, Good Things was certified gold in the UK, France, Germany, and Australia, among other countries. Two additional singles, “Loving You Is Killing Me” and “Green Lights,” became European hits as well, leading to interest from Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment, with whom Blacc signed a management deal. Last year, he landed a recording contract with Interscope Records, which will release his major label album, Lift Your Spirit, early next year.
In light of “Wake Me Up,” Blacc has cast an eye toward expanding his phenomenal European success to America. It’s where the California native was born and raised, and where he has been a voice on the indie hip-hop scene since high school. It’s also where most people know “I Need A Dollar” as the theme to the HBO series How To Make it In America. It’s Blacc’s longevity and persistence, however, that helps him put the challenge and pressures of his remarkable career upswing in perspective. “This feels normal to me so far,” he says. “It will likely be a new experience to be known in the U.S. I am looking forward to introducing new music with a label that can help promote it in ways that were impossible before.” Over the years, Blacc has seen time and again that it’s always the fresh and innovative sounds that get attention. “I released my first hip-hop mixtape [with his then-partner DJ Exile] back in 1996,” he says. “That was the ‘golden era’ for hip hop, when artists like Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, Tha Pharcyde, and Wu Tang were all unique but engaging. Back then, being original was the most important characteristic for an artist or group.” Blacc and Exile’s jazz samples and break-beat loops made them cult favorites in Los Angeles.
As he grew as an artist, Blacc transformed from rapper to singer, without discarding his hip-hop spirit and aforementioned social awareness.
In the late ’90s, Blacc formed the rap duo Emanon and also toured and recorded with members of the collective Lootpack before going solo in 2003. In 2006, indie label Stones Throw issued Blacc’s debut Shine Through. Three years later, Blacc began work on the album that would change his life and career, Good Things; concocting a vintage yet immediate sound with the NYC-based production team Truth & Soul. Even this, however, is only a part of Blacc’s vision. “Like most artists, I can't stick to one thing too long,” he says. “I enjoy experimentation and playing with emotion and sound.” Blacc draws inspiration from a wide variety of styles both old and new, from funk to folk and psychedelic rock to reggae and dancehall. Then there’s the Latin music that marks his family’s Panamanian heritage, which his close-knit and musical family kept strong while raising Blacc in the suburbs of Orange County in Southern California. “On the weekends, my parents would take us to parties with their friends from Panama,” he recalls. “The energy was electric with loud salsa music, dancing, dominoes, lots of food, and lots of laughs.”
This year Blacc made his first major-label debut via XIX Recordings/Interscope Records in September with the release of his EP, entitled “Wake Me Up”. Blacc has also been in the studio working on his upcoming album, Lift Your Spirit, with such songwriters and producers as Pharrell, DJ Khalil and Harold Lilly, among others. “I think the tie that binds is having good producers who can keep me in check and tailor a focused sound,” he says. Blacc’s goal for the album is to weave nearly two decades worth of style, vision, and soul into his strongest offering yet; one designed to firmly connect his undeniable talent with the American market as well as the rest of the world. The constant amidst Blacc’s sonic amalgam is his lyrical perceptiveness. “The one thing that might connect it all is my storytelling,” he says. With this latest chapter in an unpredictable career, the story of Aloe Blacc continues to unfold.