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LAist Intervew: Aloe Blacc

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LA’s Stones Throw Records are quickly becoming the most important purveyors of independent hip-hop in the new millennium, much like East Coast indie stalwarts Rawkus were in the late 1990s. There is, however, one particularly notable difference between the two. While both labels are known for their independent spirit and bohemian rosters of hip-hop artists (Stones Throw with Madlib and his many aliases, MF Doom, J Dilla, et al and Rawkus was with Mos Def & Talib Kweli, Common, Pharaohe Monch, et al), Stones Throw has also become ground zero for the “Indie Soul” movement. "Indie Soul" is a throwback to Chicago soul and jazz mixed with modern beats and arrangements, and best represented by artists like Georgia Anne Muldrow and the versatile Aloe Blacc.

Born Nathanial Dawkins on El Toro Marine Base in Orange County, Aloe, 27, is the child of Panamanian parents. Raised in a black/Latino/Anglo cultural mashup that’s the epitome of modern LA, the singer and multi-instrumentalist (he plays trumpet, piano and guitar) gained recognition with his 2006 release, Shine Through. The album liberally leapt across genres (and languages), and its highlights included a catchy Spanish-language cover of John Legend’s Ordinary People, Busking, an a capella ode to public transit he recorded while actually waiting for a bus at 30th and Hoover, One Inna, a Madlib-backed love song rumored to contain his actual telephone number (Aloe says the prefix is missing, so don’t bother trying it), and a haunting dance cover of soul legend Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem, A Change is Gonna Come. Think of his music as the antidote to Pretty Ricky.

During a recent break in his hectic schedule, Aloe sat down with LAist at Lost Souls Café in downtown Los Angeles to talk about his music and being an Afro-Latino soul singer in modern Los Angeles.

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How did you end up singing R&B?
My first real strong musical influence was the music that I heard from my parents. The salsa. The merengue. Soca. Dancehall. Reggae. Calypso. I grew up listening to all of that in the home and at parties. When I was in elementary school, I started playing trumpet, and that introduced to me symphonic music and classical music. Orchestral sounds. In high school, I got heavily into jazz. And throughout all this, I was into hip-hop as well. In terms of what I’ve been doing over the past 10 or 11 years, it goes without saying that hip-hop was one of my major influences. I identified myself as a b-boy early on. At age four.

R&B was actually a late development for me. I had always listened to R&B because aside from the Latin and Caribbean music my parents listened to in the home, in the car they’d listen to the urban radio stations. So, the Pointer Sisters, Peabo Bryson, Marvin Gaye, whoever was on the radio, that was who I was listening to in the car. Actually, my sister was the singer of the family. I wasn’t really known as a singer in my family. For me, singing is a late development.