James Blake is pop music’s most-requested collaborator and maybe a future star
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Some people get lots of invitations. James Blake gets the right ones.
Blake’s had a role on two of the greatest albums of the past decade: Beyonce’s delicious “Lemonade” and Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize winner “Damn.”
He worked on another impactful and culturally relevant album, Jay-Z’s “4:44.”
He’s part of Travis Scott’s pop star breakthrough “Astroworld.”
James Blake, Khushi
When: 7:30 p.m. March 3
Where: Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine
Tickets: sold out
And he was called on to contribute to the soundtrack to the uber-successful and powerful “Black Panther,” earning him two Grammy nominations. He won one earlier this month for the song “King’s Dead,” shared with Lamar, Jay Rock and Future.
“I didn’t take it lightly, especially to be working with Kendrick himself,” says Blake, who also appears on “Bloody Waters” from the soundtrack.
Those key projects helped Blake, a British singer-songwriter-producer with a distinct, downbeat electronic sound, develop and expand his talents — growth heard throughout his latest album, “Assume Form.”
“I have more people involved possibly in this process than before,” Blake says. “It feels like there’s a team rather than a solo effort.”
Blake produced, wrote and co-mixed the album. His helpers included co-producer Dominic Maker of the duo Mount Kimbie and Nathan Boddy, who co-mixed and mastered the album. Andre 3000, Metro Boomin and Scott also provide vocals.
“I think I was probably sick of being the mad scientist at home,” Blake says. “It’s so much more socially rewarding to be around other people. It creates a whole different universe in your mind.”
Blake, 30, isn’t popping up on every radio hit, as Lil Wayne once did or the way Quavo has assumed that role the last two years. But the invites he’s gotten have been epic.
The same year he released his self-titled debut, Beyonce listed “The Wilhelm Scream” from his album as one of her favorites of 2011. They later collaborated on her groundbreaking “Lemonade” album, released in 2016.
Then, Blake worked with Frank Ocean, Scott, Lamar, Jay-Z, Lamar again and Scott again.
“What I liked about what we did together was that they chose things that really felt like me,” Blake says. “I felt that they were so sensitive to the contribution with the way they handled it and the way they incorporated it into their records. It’s really nice to just be expected to come in and be myself. I think that was very sweet in all those cases. It wasn’t a case of crowbarring me into something. It was very tailored.
“When I first worked with Beyonce, there was kind of a moment where my perspective changed a little bit on where I could be in music. I think I’ve always felt, or at least for a long time, that my position in music was to bubble under mainstream … be kind of like a musician’s musician. She really put me in a new context, and I think, in that way, she did me an absolutely massive favor.”
Listening to “Assume Form” provides plenty of evidence that Blake is more than a musician’s musician — and that he could be on his way to pop-star status.
Underneath the heavy and jagged beats, there’s a sense of hopefulness and love in the honest and raw lyrics delivered by Blake. “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow” and “Into the Red” feel like love songs but not typical ones. “Barefoot In the Park,” featuring Latin singer Rosalia, is a sensual number that’s addictive. “Mile High,” with Scott and Metro Boomin, could fit on multiple Spotify playlists.
“There are some moments of doubt on the record, but I would definitely say it’s a love-song album,” Blake says.
“ ‘Assume Form’ — it’s not a statement to say, ‘Here I am. I’m great now. I’ve made it.’
“Rather, it’s realizing you’re wrong about things and swallowing your ego, or listening and opening up, trying to evolve that way or trying to collaborate more. Getting out of some of the aspects of the skin that you’re in, that you are frustrated with. It is a process, and it’s OK to still be assuming form. The song itself, ‘Assume Form,’ really just says, ‘Here are my uncomfortable traits.’ ”
His past albums have some feeling he’s always down and out. He says that’s not the case.
“I guess I write autobiographically and if I feel reflective at the time, then I’ll write something reflective.
“So, in those moments, maybe I felt that way. But it doesn’t mean that’s how I always feel.