“I really ran out of every complete fuck that was at my disposal.”
Elijah Blake just dropped his sophomore studio album, Audiology. The fourteen track full-length is his first solo project away from Def Jam/Roc Nation, his former label. “I love it. I love this album. I love the songs. I don’t care if one of them goes top five or not. Maybe for the next project I’ll do more of that. But for this project I wanted y’all… I’ve had to give you guys everybody else’s interpretation of Elijah Blake for the last couple years. This is who Elijah Blake is now.”
Although this is only his second album, he’s released three solo projects within the last four years. The first, Bijoux 22, came out in 2013. By then he’d already been signed with Atlantic Records at the age of 16 back in 2009, and went to work with writing for Trey Songz right away. He hit the ground running, working on notable records, co-writing Usher’s number one hit from 2012, “Climax.” He was also credited for his work on Rihanna’s “No Love Allowed” from Unapologetic among others, but while in a session Rick Ross, he got an unexpected cosign. Not only would Ross have Blake sing the verse Blake wrote for the Pharrell-produced “Presidential,” but Ross also shouted Blake out by name on Twitter.
From there, Blake featured on “Freedom” with The Game and “Wonderland” with Keyshia Cole. The songwriter remembers the general public’s reaction to his emergence from seemingly out of nowhere: “Everyone’s like ‘Who the fuck is Elijah Blake? Like, where did this guy come from? How is he with No I.D., and we haven’t heard a single song? How does Usher follow him? And how does Justin Bieber follow him?’”
Blake was concerned for good reason, no one really knew what his personal sound was, and truthfully, neither did he. He decided he needed some time with Roc Nation co-founder and CEO, Jay Brown. “I ran through the Roc Nation building like, I don’t even know if I have a meeting now or what, but I was like, ‘We gotta put out something right now, because people are starting to think that I’m Nate Dogg,’” he recalls.
Brown had a solution. “Jay was like, ’Do a mixtape.’ So, I go with No I.D., they gave me a week to do Bijoux 22. You know that thing was done in a week? But it was brilliantly cut, I had no time to overthink anything. I just wanted to get it done before Jay could change his mind. So I’m doing this mixtape, tweaking it, No I.D. has James Poyser, and they’re like, creating this sound.” With the mixtape being completed so quickly, there was little time to over-think. Blake speaks about it like a first love, comparing everything that follows to it – “It’s like one album I hate to love, but I’m glad that I have that body of work to try to beat.”
Later in the fall of 2014, an 8-track EP Drift, materialized from a very dark place. Because it was a product of its environment, the result of label frictions he dealt with and the reliving of tough moments from his childhood, Blake wouldn’t say Drift is characteristic of who he is as a person and as a musician. “I was damn near suicidal, which was really weird, because I was just kind of like, ‘How did I get here, I’m not … I’m the most jubilant person I’ve ever met?’” In hindsight, he says, “I just hated everybody. I was in a dark place. I would say that I was in my lowest of lows.”
His debut studio album, Shadows & Diamonds arrived in 2015, marking a new beginning for the artist. With new management, he felt optimistic and finally submitted to making a turn-up record. Subsequently, it would see a radio budget and the title track stood as his highest charting song (for now). However, as the album’s release date approached, his product manager left the label and when Shadows & Diamonds dropped the iTunes link was broken. Blake recounted his frustration – “When they you would click to buy it on iTunes it would say ‘This album is not in the store.’ So I’m like, come on! It’s not even like I was gonna do a hundred thousand or a million my first week, but if I’m like 50 thousand, or 30 thousand or 20 thousand or 10 thousand …”
After the long road he’s been on, Blake stands by his latest project, Audiology, as being the most freeing, in every aspect. “This is the first project that I’m completely, 100% happy with. I’m fucking butt-ass naked on the cover.” The only thing that didn’t go exactly his was was the reverse side album artwork: “I wanted to put my bare ass on the back, and be like. ‘Well, kiss my ass. For $14.99 you can kiss my black ass.’”
It’s been quite a journey for Elijah Blake, with many bumps along the way. Despite getting into the industry so young, he does have a trusted collaborator he’s worked closely with that’s been exactly what he needed – a real friend. His friendship with Keyshia Cole came around a very significant time in his budding career. “It was at a time when I started working with her, everybody called me little bro. So I was everybody’s little bro, and then when I needed them, no one was around,” he explains. Finding someone who was creatively on the same page offered the young writer a gauge. It was with Cole he learned how to be much more selective in who he writes for, which in turn helped him to develop his own identity. “In the beginning I was writing for everybody, but it would give me writer’s block, because they wouldn’t know what kind of artist they were, and they wouldn’t know themselves. So then all that confusion kind of bled into my own music, and I was unsure.”
It’s now been eight years since Blake first signed to a major label. He’s found a home with Steel Wool Entertainment and his sophomore album is, finally, out. The industry doesn’t always make it easy for those known to be extremely skilled in one department to further their output in another lane, but Elijah Blake has been able to demonstrate both his behind-the-scenes songwriting prowess and his onstage presence in his solo career. With Audiology, he’s finally in a place where he’s content with who he is and who he will become. “You’re really getting Elijah, flesh and bones in the state of mind that I’m in now. Will that be who I am on the next project? I’m growing. But I’m finding with social media where everything has a beautiful filter on it, everything is Facetuned to death, everything like that, I’m just saying, it’s okay for me to say I don’t really got it all figured out yet. But I’m learning, and I like who I’m becoming.”
For more of our interviews, check out our recent Q&A with Tyler, The Creator collaborators Anna of the North right here.
- Text: Rae Witte
- Photography: Bryan Luna / Highsnobiety
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