If you listen to any pop music online or on the radio at all, you've probably heard Aloe Blacc—even if you can't say for sure you've ever actually heard of him.
That's because the man born Egbert Dawkins III co-wrote and sings on a song he often doesn't get much credit for: Swedish deejay Avicii's breakout hit "Wake Me Up." That track has enjoyed a strong radio run in the United States, peaking at No. 4 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart while topping the charts in a whopping 22 other countries around the world.
Blacc's solo work hasn't, as of this writing, climbed quite that high. But "The Man" is clearly on its way up the U.S. charts, as is Blacc's profile as a rising R&B star with voice and vibe that bring Motown and Marvin Gaye to mind.
"The Man" finds Blacc splitting the difference between proper poise and brazen bravado. Right out of the gate, we get Blacc's iteration of a line from Elton John's first big hit, 1970's "Your Song." We hear Blacc croon, "Well, you can tell everybody/Yeah, you can tell everybody/Go ahead and tell everybody." But instead of Elton John's next line, "This is your song," Blacc changes it up: "I'm the man, I'm the man, I'm the man."
Confidence? Cockiness? A bit of both, I think, and Blacc zigzags across the boundary line between them for the balance of the track.
On the confidence side of the equation, we hear lyrics like, "Somewhere I heard that life is a test/I been through the worst but still I give my best." Then he adds, "God made my mold different from the rest/Then He broke that mold, so I know I'm blessed." Elsewhere, doses of determination come courtesy of these lines: "Won't hide my tail or turn and run/It's time to do what must be done/ … I'm a soldier standing on my feet/No surrender, and I won't retreat."
It's terrific stuff.
But then a few other lyrics veer into braggadocio, such as when Blacc proclaims, "I believe every lie that I ever told/Paid for every heart that I ever stole/I played my cards and didn't fold/Well it ain't that hard when you got soul." Then he informs us, "I got all the answers to your questions/I'll be the teacher, you could be the lesson/I'll be the preacher, you be the confession/I'll be the quick relief to all your stressin'." His biggest brag appropriates scriptural allusions … and is in that context true if linked directly to spiritual salvation: "[I'll] be a king when kingdom comes."
Of course, by today's ego-inflated rap standards these are only minor mumbles. On Jay Z's latest album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, for example, we hear, "You in the presence of a king/Scratch that, you in the presence of a god/ … Arm, leg, leg, arm, head—this is god body/ … God is my chauffeur." So while Blacc does indeed boast a bit, he admirably avoids the brand of materialistic and carnal excesses—not to mention absolutely outsized arrogance—that too often accompany such bombast elsewhere in the rap and R&B world. And he even gives God credit for being so fearfully and wonderfully unique.