Aloe Blacc recently hit it big here with 'Wake Me Up' and 'The Man.' (Reid Rolls)
Before he was “The Man,” Aloe Blacc was a consultant, working in the health sector.
Music was a nighttime and weekend thing for the Orange County, California, native and nothing he ever planned on making his career. But when he was laid off from his job in 2002, music took on a bigger role in his life.
“I just thought, ‘Well, I’ll do music until I find something else,’ ” says Blacc, on the phone last week while traveling from San Diego to Los Angeles. “But I never had to go back to get a job.”
Blacc had been a member of hip-hop duo Emanon since the mid-1990s, and he launched his solo career in 2003. He always planned on going back to school and returning to a 9-to-5 job, but he hooked up with independent hip-hop label Stones Throw Records and began the long climb that peaked with him scoring two gigantic worldwide smash hits, “Wake Me Up” and “The Man,” in the last year. Blacc is now on the road opening up for Bruno Mars on a tour that swings through The Palace of Auburn Hills on Wednesday.
Blacc, who was born Egbert Dawkins III, released his solo debut, “Shine Through,” in 2006 and spent several years toiling on the indie circuit. It wasn’t until his single “I Need a Dollar” was used as the theme song for the HBO series “How to Make It in America” that audiences — and the industry — began to take notice of the smooth-voiced singer.
“ ‘I Need a Dollar’ was definitely the breakthrough,” says Blacc, 35. The song, a hustler’s anthem about trudging through difficult times, caught fire in Europe and made Blacc a superstar there. U.S. audiences were slower to catch on, but Blacc didn’t mind. “It was nice to be able to go to Europe and have all of the experiences of being recognized — having television (presence), major radio, major print, lots of fans, big shows — and then come home and still go to the grocery store and walk around the street like a normal guy.”
While his profile in the U.S. was starting to build, other industry opportunities were opening up for him. In 2013, he hooked up with Swedish dance music producer Avicii for the single “Wake Me Up,” which he wrote and sings on. The song, which laid Blacc’s almost country-sounding vocals over Avicii’s dancefloor beats, became one of 2013’s biggest hits, selling more than 4.2 million downloads in the U.S.. The only problem? The song was commercially credited to Avicii with no mention of Blacc or his contributions.
“It wasn’t such a massive thing for me, because a lot of publishers and A&Rs reached out to me because of the songwriting,” he says. “The right people were taking notice, and ultimately that was the biggest calling card I could have made.”
By this point, Blacc had already signed a record deal with Interscope Records, and his relationship with Interscope founder Jimmy Iovine laid the foundation for his next takeover. Blacc’s “The Man,” which borrows from the chorus of Elton John’s “Your Song,” was the centerpiece of an extensive Beats by Dre campaign that had huge athletes — including Kevin Garnett and Colin Kaepernick — listening to Blacc’s song on their headphones while drowning out the taunts of haters. The song’s chorus — “go ahead and tell everybody, I’m the man” — became a rallying cry and an inspirational anthem during this year’s NFL playoffs.
“The commercials made the song what it is,” says Blacc. “Jimmy (Iovine) called me, and basically he wrote the commercial over the phone. He was inspired by the song. He told me exactly what he was going to do, and it happened a few months later.”
“The Man,” which has sold more than 2.24 million downloads, has put a huge spotlight on Blacc’s career, and the one-time office worker now considers the world his audience.
“I spent a lot of time as an indie artist doing a lot of very personal songs that never became universal,” he says. “That was fun, but I’m not there anymore. I’m in a position where I can speak to the entire world, and every chance that I get I want to make something that is going to touch a lot of people.”
with Aloe Blacc
8 p.m. Wednesday
Palace of Auburn Hills,
6 Championship Drive,