Q&A with Aloe Blacc

Q&A session was held with Aloe Blacc in preparation for Blankets and Wine this coming Sunday. Here is a snippet of the discussions.

What prompted the change of style from hip hop earlier in your career to singing?

I started in a hip hop group called Emanon back in 1995. As we progressed, the climate of hip hop changed. It went from jazzy, philosophical, poetic in lyrics and style, to a very street and violent misogynistic kind of hip hop. Which became popular in the mainstream. So wanted to make a transition to singing because I thought I could be more effective as a lyricist.

How challenging was the transition?

The transition was not easy; it took a long time to learn to sing and write differently. In hip hop, I used 10-20 words per line and as a vocalist 4-8 words per line. So finding the words that matter the most and learning how to encapsulate those words was really a struggle… It took maybe 7 years since the transition to get it to where I felt comfortable.


Aloe Blacc with his producer Exile                                   Aloe Blacc with his producer Exile

Which topics do you find difficult to tackle in your music?

It’s always been tough for me to do love songs that are about romantic love. I do love songs that are about familial love, friendship loyalty, love for humanity, love for nature, but I haven’t really approached the depth of romantic love. I think it’s probably something I’m going to start working at. I’ve been lucky enough to have success without that.

What causes are you involved in?

I use my music videos as often as possible to share important social causes that I believe my audience should be aware of and to create positive social transformation. The ‘Wake Me Up’ video was to discuss immigration. My parents are from Panama…and it took them roughly 7 years to become citizens of the US. I have a lot of family and friends who are still in the struggle of trying to become citizens.

In ‘Love is The Answer’ I discussed the issue of wilful defiance. I believe when you have a political, judicial incarcerations system that is built to make money from incarceration, there will be incentives to create laws that are excessively punitive to find ways to bring more people into jail. The privatized prison owners know that if a child doesn’t know how to read by third grade, he has a 60% higher chance of going to prison, if he’s in prison they get 60,000 dollars a year of taxpayers money…Doing this video was part of that conversation.

The music video for ‘The Man’ was about protest. About highlighting heroes of the past like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Muhhammad Ali, who stood up for what they believe in and against a system that was targeting the black demographic unjustifiably.

Hopefully the future videos that I do will continue to raise positive transformation issues. I have a song that I’ve written, and a concept of a video that I’d like to do with Malaria No More, potentially filmed here in Nairobi. I’ll be meeting with some filmmakers and speaking with the Malaria No More faction in Nairobi

Aloe Blacc will be performing at the Blankets and Wine this Sunday. Cop your tickets here

I'm a music & culture writer and photographer. Catch up with me on Instagram @muzikiyamtaa.