Producer Deep Focus: James Blake
James Blake, a British producer, singer and songwriter from London has transformed the contemporary music scene since gaining popularity in the early 2010s. Collaborating with some of the biggest artists in the industry, Blake has made a name for himself. From Kendrick Lamar to Beyoncé, Travis Scott and Logic, Blake has numerous writing, vocal, and production credits.
Blake had come from humble beginnings. He released his debut single "Air & Lack Thereof" online in 2009, which blended different genres of electronic music together. He also was a DJ in small clubs across London. After a few more singles and EPs, Blake was signed to Polydor, a division of UMG. In 2011, he released his debut studio self-titled album to critical acclaim.
In total, he has released six studio albums, with mostly positive scores across the board. He has also found moderate success when it comes to his accolades. He has been nominated for six Grammy awards and has won one. He has two albums that went silver in Britain, and one RCAA 3x Platinum Single, “Kings Dead.”
It is apparent that his sound has evolved massively throughout his career. While initially creating dubstep and experimental music, he has now transitioned into R&B and pop while still maintaining some of his roots. It is unclear what direction Blake might take next, but there is no doubt that he has made his mark with his excellent vocals, and production so far.
Here are five essential James Blake produced songs:
“The Wilhelm Scream” – James Blake (2011)
The second single released from James Blake’s debut is named after the “Wilhelm scream” sound effect used in various television shows and movies. Why? Well, no one knows. Each verse of the song is slightly varied but essentially says the same thing. It is the instrumental that intensifies throughout the track's runtime that makes it an emotional masterpiece. The final minute fills up with noise suffocating the listener but makes them feel desolate after it's over. It’s depressing. The song charted on both the UK and Belgium charts.
“Retrograde” – James Blake (2013)
The first single from Blake’s 2013 album, “Overgrown,” is arguably what propelled him into the mainstream. The production is magnificent, especially as the verse transforms into the chorus. The song structure is unlike anything else in contemporary music. It was a bold move choosing this track as a single, but it definitely paid off in the long run.
“Solo” – Frank Ocean (2016)
A fan-favorite off of Frank Ocean’s “Blonde,” features some of the most simple, yet effective production on the whole record. There are not too many other elements to the track aside from the organ that Blake plays and Ocean’s vocals. Still, the track has one of Frank Ocean’s most catchy choruses and concludes beautifully. The track peaked at No. 96 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
“Godspeed” – Frank Ocean (2016)
Another cut from “Blonde,” “Godspeed” is a terribly heartbreaking song, but one of the best in his discography. Featuring similar tones from the tracklist, this cut can’t help but feel a little more cinematic than the others. Blake would later release a cover of the track on his 2020 album.
“ELEMENT.” – Kendrick Lamar (2017)
“ELEMENT” arguably has top-tier production on a Kendrick Lamar song. There are clear and interesting choices implemented to the instrumentation when switching from ther verses to choruses. The chorus itself is incredibly catchy and the verses impactful. “ELEMENT.” also received a music video and solf over 1 million copies in the U.S.
Of course, Blake made his own albums, with his debut being a can't-miss.
“James Blake” – James Blake (2011)
James Blake’s self-titled debut is one of the most experimental pop records of the decade. Combining elements of pop, dubstep, and even soul music, each song is an enigma in its own. Blake has a talent of building up each of his tracks, making each part more intense and emotional than the prior.
His first two singles show audiences that he has a knack for singing, with his wide vocal range, and meaningful lyrics. Not only that, but also his niche style of production. With his debut, he sounded like a bolder Thom Yorke or Bon Iver.
Blake also shows how good he is at sampling, and completely transforming the audio piece from the source material. One won’t even recognize where it came from after he has distorted, chopped and pitched up the tempo of the audio. It is incredible to watch how he creates everything, but even more so in a live setting when unique versions of songs are made.
Overall, James Blake’s debut proved that he was one of the most creative and talented musicians coming out of the U.K. in the 2010s. Although his debut is not as easily accessible for mainstream listeners like his later works, it went to show that he was a risk taker, and that he could break down major boundaries.
Caelan Chevrier is a third-year majoring in marketing. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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Third Year / Marketing & Journalism