“The Evolution of Aloe Blacc” aired on NPR’s All Things Considered October 30, 2010. Visit NPR.com to hear the story, or listen below.
October 30, 2010 – Rapper turned retro-soul crooner Aloe Blacc never planned to make a career out of music. A graduate of the University of Southern California, he’s made a living in corporate America as a business consultant. But when he was laid off, Blacc saw it as an opportunity to capitalize on his musical inclinations, and he launched a new career as half of the rap duo Emanon. Around the same time, though, he began to draw inspiration from singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone and James Taylor.
“Hip-hop educated me about other forms of music, because it sampled from all different styles,” Blacc says. “Salsa, classic rock, soul music, jazz … all of that was a part of my education in making hip-hop music.”
Today, Blacc has strayed far from those roots. Heavily influenced by the gospel call-and-response in chain-gang recordings, his hit “I Need a Dollar” established him as a credible soul singer. The track taps into the social consciousness reflected on his latest album Good Things, which juxtaposes an old soul sound with contemporary sentiments and social commentary.
“In hip-hop, I wasn’t very focused on delivering a message. It was just a string of lines that didn’t connect,” Blacc says. “What I wanted to do is write stories … and affect someone’s emotions with that song. I think as a soul singer, I’m able to accomplish that. Soul music fits really well [for me].
“Sonically, it doesn’t sound like it sits in the same kitchen,” Blacc says of the difference between his hip-hop and soul sides. “But I think the ingredients may be the same, just making a different stew.”
Over the span of a decade, Aloe Blacc’s music has undergone many transformations. As a fan of singer Mel Torme, Blacc says he’s taken an interest in working as a jazz vocalist. In the meantime, though, Blacc has come full circle, as he’s currently finishing a hip-hop album with DJ/producer Exile, the other half of Emanon.