Aloe Blacc: The Man of the Moment


Dorian Lynskey (The Guardian) writes about a rising star Aloe Blacc. Blacc, whose real name is Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins III, is a Panamanian-American singer, songwriter, and musician. (Find the link to the full article below.)

[. . .] The 35-year-old has every reason to feel confident. His hard-times soul jam I Need a Dollar caught the recessionary mood in 2010 and made him a gold-selling star in Europe. Then Wake Me Up, recorded with EDM producer Avicii, became one of last year’s most unavoidable singles, reaching No 1 in 22 countries. Even though he was denied a featured artist credit (“that’s just business,” he says with a flicker of irritation) and it sounded more like Mumford & Sons with glowsticks than his usual material, Wake Me Up introduced his voice to millions. Now there’s The Man, a swaggering can-do anthem that has become his first US hit, and is set to take the UK No 1 spot on Sunday. Lift Your Spirit, his third solo album and his first for Interscope, is emphatic, optimistic folk-soul reminiscent of Bill Withers and Stevie Wonder. He is yet to put a foot wrong.

On the surface, it seems like a classic case of ambition paying off after years of struggle. Blacc, whose real name is the splendid Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins III, formed the underground hip-hop duo Emanon in his teens (he chose Aloe because his style was “smooth like lotion”), switched to singing a decade ago, and only broke through in his 30s. Except, as Blacc admits, there wasn’t much struggle or ambition involved. [. . .]

In fact, I Need a Dollar was more a genre exercise, inspired by hearing field recordings of chain-gang songs, than a howl of penury. He wrote it in 2005 while living in a squat after losing his job, but that job happened to be at multinational accounting firm Ernst & Young, where he helped children’s hospitals improve services. (“It took too long for there to be a president to finally make a healthcare system that made sense for citizens,” says this Obamacare fan.) So he wasn’t exactly on skid row. “It wasn’t a place of despair. I could go back to school and get a PhD. I could get another job in corporate America. There was no fear of starving.”

It’s rare to hear a musician puncture his own mystique with boasts about his real-world CV, but perhaps Blacc is so frank because his parents really did follow a rags-to-riches path. Their childhoods in Panama were grindingly poor but by the time Blacc was born in suburban Orange County, California, in 1979, his father was a rising star in the US Army. “He was a strategy guy,” Blacc says proudly. “I think he was too smart for them to risk in combat. I lucked out because the cycle of struggle usually continues.”

Blacc was a straight-A student who won a scholarship to the University of Southern California to study communications and linguistic psychology. “It’s kind of a nerdy interest,” he says. “It helps me to continue whetting my blade as a thinker. I don’t play the new app of the week on my phone, I play with words. I put them together in little puzzles and see how they make me feel and then do this projection puzzle to the rest of the world and ask how they will make other people feel.”

Again, his candour is unusual. Most songwriters prefer to cite raw instinct, divine inspiration or dumb luck, but Blacc has an almost academic curiosity about how music works. [. . .]

For full article, see

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