James Blake

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About James Blake

The UK’s underground bass-music scene has produced few superstars bigger or more unexpected than James Blake: In just a few short years, the London-born producer snuck out of the city's dankest basement clubs and refashioned himself as one of pop music’s most radiant singer-songwriters. Blake started in the late 2000s digging through dubstep’s dusty corners, crafting stuttering beats and sizzling synth lines out of what felt like pure shadow. His music could be strikingly minimalist: The title of his debut single, “Air & Lack Thereof,” could have doubled as the list of ingredients used to concoct it. But something shifted as he traded sampled a cappellas for his own voice. Held aloft by his airy, agile falsetto, his eponymous 2011 debut album soared. The Feist cover “Limit to Your Love” revealed the opposition at the heart of his music, his trembling high notes mirrored by an almost inaudibly deep bass throb. With subsequent albums Overgrown (2013) and The Colour in Anything (2016), Blake not only developed into one of pop's most introspective souls; he also became one of its most in-demand collaborators, writing and singing for an endless scroll of the rap and R&B elite, including Beyoncé, JAY-Z, Frank Ocean, and Kendrick Lamar. It’s easy to see why so many would turn to him: Between his wide-open baritone register, nuanced vocal textures, and probing lyrics of ecstasy and doubt, he can make even the smallest song feel like a world unto itself. His universe grew again when he moved to Los Angeles and released 2019’s Assume Form, where Travis Scott, ROSALÍA, André 3000, and others joined him in making the most unexpectedly joyous album of his career—a tribute to his girlfriend, the actress Jameela Jamil, and, more importantly, a declaration of peace with his demons. But Blake has also proved that artistic evolution need not be linear or one-way, that there’s value in looping back and revisiting one’s origins. So on 2023’s Playing Robots Into Heaven he returned to the dance sounds at the root of his music—house, dubstep, trap, techno, and blends of all the above—while imbuing them with his now-characteristic vocal melodies and tantalizingly bittersweet air. It’s the seemingly effortless sound of an artist flexing hard-won wisdom about his unique style—and taking a well-earned victory lap back through the club culture where he got his start. What he learned from the process, he told Apple Music, “was that the feeling of ‘Is this too easy?’ is actually a good feeling. It means you’re onto something, it means you are doing something right.”

Enfield, London, England
September 26, 1988
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