Soul singer Aloe Blacc breaks down his greatest hits

theGRIO REPORT - While soul singer Aloe Blacc has been a musician for ten plus years, his journey to mainstream stardom was an unlikely path...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

While soul singer Aloe Blacc has been a musician for ten plus years, his journey to mainstream stardom was an unlikely path.

In 2010, you heard his voice on the theme song of the short-lived yet popular coming-of-age show, How To Make It In America with “I Need a Dollar,” which is arguably more famous than the New York-based dramedy. “I Need A Dollar,” along with its album, Good Things, went on to become critically acclaimed, and it’s considered to be his big break.

Taking a turn into the electric dance music arena, Blacc lent his voice to the  Swedish DJ Avicii track “Wake Me Up” in 2013, which went on to hit number 1 in over 10 different countries, making it his biggest work to date. 

His recent claim to fame has been  the song “I’m The Man,” made popular by audio giant BEATS by Dre and its campaign featuring football players Colin Kaepernick, Richard Sherman and the NBA legend Kevin Garnett.

“I’m The Man” couldn’t have come at a better time during the career of Sherman specifically, who was criticized as a poor sport for proclaiming he was the best after making the game-saving defensive play that won The Seattle Seahawks their first Superbowl. What better way to shut out the haters and naysayers than a pair of BEATS?

The 35-year-old Cali singer caught up with theGrio’s music and tech editor Kyle Harvey to detail his sudden rise at the Tribeca Film festival and broke down the lyrics behind his most inspirational songs.

TheGrio: Your song “I Need A Dollar” has a very unique tone to it. I wouldn’t say your voice sounds desperate but definitely like you’re singing to earn your keep.

Aloe Blacc:  The song was originally inspired by these field recordings, and I can’t remember the name of the person who made the field recordings, but it involved these chain gang workers and folk singers who were singing their own blues songs and work songs. I was listening to it, and it inspired me to write. At the time, I had been a couple of years without working, focusing on music full time to see if I could live that dream in case it worked out. Just until I got another job. But I didn’t have to. I held on to the idea. I would sing to myself without my roommates or I would sing with them. We’d all come up with different verses. But then, eventually, I went to work in my second album in Williamsburg to meet with the production team Truth&Soul.  They put together different beats for me to write to. One of the beats was to “I Need A Dollar.” I kept singing the hook over and over again. I liked it and they liked it. When it was time to release the album, we were lucky enough to have had the album finished when HBO was looking for a song for How To Make It In America.

TG: Were you surprised that people took an immediate liking “I Need  A Dollar”?

Blacc: Yes, because originally that wasn’t going to be the show’s theme song. The first track they had had the F bomb in it, so it was an 11th hour kind of thing. They found my song, put it in, and it became an iconic moment where the right song matched the right visual. It helped skyrocket my career in Europe and lead to the kind of success that got the attention of record labels in the US. I eventually signed with Interscope.

TG: That had to be surreal watching the show get cancelled. Were you shocked that it only lasted two seasons? It inspired a lot of dreamers and creatives to move to New York City.

Blacc: I think the story was so much about young folk being broke trying to make it that it didn’t appeal to the audience who could already afford HBO.I was definitely surprised and upset because I thought it was a really good show. I truly enjoyed the show, but the honest truth is that I didn’t have HBO either. 

TG: You can find a space for your voice in many different style of music.  How long did it take for you to find your “voice”?

Blacc: It’s about intention and integrity. Genuine and quality story telling. There are a lot of people with amazing voices that you just don’t believe what they sing. It’s because their intention is off.

To be honest, it took me a while to figure out what my voice does the best. I’ve tried  to be the R&B guy. I tried to be the rap guy. I tried the very thin R&B love voice that was filled with a bunch of runs, but it wasn’t me. Even the guys that do it, sometimes it doesn’t sound right for them either.

TG: Is that what you attribute to the success of “I’m The Man”?

Blacc: The song ‘The Man” made an impact on the sports industry because of the BEATS by Dre commercial. It was very strongly related to sports because the song has a theme of triumph over adversity. That’s what the challenge in sports is. You have an adversity that you need to triumph over, the opposing team. It was a great idea that Jimmy Ivan came up with. It was great execution of the idea by the advertising agency to depict a song in such a way that made sense.  When you come up with a song that makes sense in so many levels and everybody wants to use it, it helps them tell their story. That’s a beautiful thing. I’m going to do it every time if I can. I want to tell stories that relate to everybody. That will attract everybody. So we can have this shared experience.

You can check out Kyle’s musical coverage on theGrio music page, and follow Kyle on Twitter at@HarveyWins.