The critically-acclaimed R&B singer, songwriter, and innovator Elijah Blake returns with a new project entitled Bijoux 23. In conjunction with the release, Blake has penned a guest editorial for DJBooth, breaking down his creative process and the pressures he's faced behind-the-scenes.
My songwriting process these days is far more simplified than when I first started. I went through phases, actually, because at first, all I had was a Pro Tools setup in an Atlanta basement and a few hours to get my ideas out before Trey Songz needed to use the studio and finish his Ready album. Even now, I’m still somewhat enamored with the fact that I never felt rushed or less important while Atlantic Records was coming down on their artists to hit certain deadlines. Those were my early days. Eventually, word got out that there was a 15-year-old kid in Atlanta who had a good pen and that’s when publishers and artists came knocking.
This world was new for me and, to be honest, was a complete mindfuck. I went from being piss broke and teaching hip-hop choreography at a local dance studio for food money to moving into a penthouse in Buckhead Atlanta. My first car was a Porsche Panamera. The concept that you could write a song and a company like BMI could track the number of plays it earned and send you money through the mail was strange to me, but a blessing at a time where I needed it most. I went from writing songs in hopes that someone could possibly get them to Justin Bieber, to being “flewd out” to Toronto and creating in the studio with him and Pooh Bear. Gone were the days of engineering my own sessions. Suddenly, I was in the big room with a food budget and there’s a guy behind the boards that can fly my vocals over to the next hook before my lips can make the request. It was fun, sure, but it got overwhelming pretty quickly.
I’ve always tried to be a conduit that helps bring the vision or sound of whoever it is I’m working with into its most honest state. Along with that comes whatever stress they’re working through to find a single and blend in with what’s happening at radio. Along with that comes the confusion of the ever-so constant revolving door of A&R at whatever label controls the budget. Along with that comes the pressure to always have to prove yourself and your worth in these sessions, 'cause God forbid you happen to be having a bad day or the producer slacks on the beat, or for some reason, the songwriter always gets the short end of the stick. After working with Usher, everybody labeled me as the "ballad guy," then when Rihanna's "No Love Allowed," I became a favorite for anyone in search of a reggae song.
At that time I didn’t have the luxury to sit back and internalize it all; I just wanted to please everyone. I wanted the label to understand that alternative R&B was a real thing, and not just this weird phase in music that “doesn’t sell.” Oddly enough, the one thing I was ridiculed for—experimenting during 2012's Bijoux22—is a sonic commonly heard at the forefront today.
No one at the time knew what to make of a black kid that was heavily influenced by Prince. It wasn’t normal to have electric guitars over trap drums and have gospel notes while trying to keep integrity in my lyrics as well. Those days, man, I was so torn trying to please my team, Roc Nation, Def Jam, Artium and my peers who needed me to get these records out. Most of all I wanted No I.D., who signed me to his ARTium imprint, to be proud and see that the kid he fought for wasn’t gonna let him down.
I was extremely hard on myself at the time, but life has an incredible sense of humor. I now see that so much of my journey was never in my control. All I had to do was be true to myself. Artists can’t control who comes and goes from a record label or which exec doesn’t get "the vision." Streaming really helped put that all into perspective for me. Now, I go right to the consumer. The ones that wanna hear the story of Elijah Blake.
Today, my process is more in tune with how can I be brutally honest in my message? How can I almost embarrassingly be transparent? The answers to these questions are why Bijoux23 is so important. I wholeheartedly feel this is the progression that should’ve followed 22 but didn’t because of industry politics. In a sense, I’m basically picking up where I left off from the project that started it all for me. It's about time.