During the heyday of indie hip-hop some five or six years ago, back when everyone had a bedroom based label, Emanon debuted on Ill Boogie records, as a part of the “Earplug Series”. The duo of emcee Aloe Blacc and producer Exile showed promise, but unfortunately were overshadowed by the stars of the series, The Demigodz, among a flood of several other indie releases dropping at the same time. Shaman Work picked up Emanon next, delivering their Waiting Room LP in 2005, to a lukewarm critical response, and the usually low indie sales figures. But despite hopping around from label to label, Peanut Butter Wolf recognized the talent in this crew (as did Mobb Deep), snatching up Aloe Blacc for a solo record. Shine Through is the first of two solo projects that will hopefully catapult Emanon into the elite of indie artists (the other being Exile’s Dirty Science LP, coming soon on Sound In Color).
What’s surprising about Shine Through is the fact that it’s pretty much impossible to pigeonhole Blacc as a “rapper”, or a “singer”, or even a “producer”, as he is all of these things, and more. The most accurate description for Blacc is simply “artist” – a term which is loosely thrown around in the music industry these days – here being a case where the branding is actually merited. The album begins with “Whole World”, a hypnotic introduction that introduces Aloe Blacc, as he runs through a list of his musical influences, over unapologetically dirty drums, juxtaposed with spacey keys. He pays tribute to another influence on the Sam Cooke inspired “Long Time Coming”, lending a totally different feel to “A Change Is Gonna Come” then the original version. But the real Aloe Blacc comes through on “Are You Ready”, with banging tribal drums doing the “indie R. Kelly” thing, then completely flipping the script with dancehall flavored verse, one that most listeners will assume is sung by a different artist. But no, it’s just him. The sketch “Bus King” further helps drive the point of his dexterity home, a humble ode where he sounds like a fifty-year old drunk standing on the corner stuck waiting for the bus, but it works. The two part “Bailar” is a sexy, Latin-tinged track, that first finds Aloe trying on several different styles on for size – singing in english, rhyming in ebonics, then crooning in Spanish. All of this, while anxiously eyeing a female in the club on part one, then finding himself next to her the morning after – creating the illusion that several different people were involved in the creation of this song, when it’s just him (with a light assist from co-producer J. Rawls). Styles upon styles upon styles is what he’s got – going all-out-Panamanian on “Patira Mia”, then following up with the straight-forward conscious hip-hop song “Caged Birdsong” (with a beat that would make Dilla proud), leaving the listener in awe at his multi-layered talent.
He closes the album with a quartet of fuck-songs that begins with the so seductive “Arrive”, then follows with the more aggressive “Want Me”, where he lays out his desires on the table in rhyme form, and then closes it out with the thoughtful “One Inna” and “I’m Beautiful”. Just when you think it’s over, he follows up with a danceable, Spanish cover of John Legend’s “Ordinary People” – the proverbial cherry on top – and then you are completely sold on the guy.
Above everything, Blacc takes production credits for the entire record as well (with minor help from J. Rawls, Oh No, and Madlib). When the dust settles, and everything is said and done, it’s artists like Aloe Blacc who will be still standing. If hip-hop died tomorrow, Aloe Blacc would still be able to carry on as a musician of some kind, he’s one of the few “artists” out there that is truly deserving of that title. If Exile’s debut follows suit with positive reviews, expect Emanon to be the next big thing in indie rap.
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