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Aloe Blacc: Soothe and Cool

Aloe Blacc, the MC/vocalist legally known as Nathaniel Dawkins, has had a musician's ear since childhood. Raised by Panamanian parents in Southern California, Aloe has always saturated himself with every bit of culture he comes across.

"As a kid, every weekend we were at another family member or another friend's house from Panama, just partying," recalls Aloe. "The kids would be in the room and we'd all just be having fun, and then just hearing our parents out in the front room drinking, laughing, salsa dancing (and) playing dominos was a great, great experience as a kid."

Spending his early years on a military base, Aloe was also exposed to hip-hop at a young age and formed a b-boy crew with some local kids. However, when his family relocated to a sleepy suburb in Orange County, hip-hop was close to non-existent. Yet Aloe kept his ear open to the static-filled airwaves of LA rap radio; by high school, he was making his own music with DJ Exile manning the boards.

Aloe and Exile eventually became Emanon, and in March 2005, ten years after their first meeting, they dropped the adventurous full-length debut, The Waiting Room. The release saw Aloe and Exile running the gamut of styles, incorporating elements of dancehall, jazz, soul and folk. But it's still a hip-hop record. Thus Emanon fans will probably be taken by surprise by Aloe's solo work–especially considering that he sings on all but one track of his forthcoming Stones Throw debut.

"I think [longtime fans] will be able to roll with it–the ones that are true music fans and not just die-hard hip-hop heads," predicts Aloe. "But everything that I do is from a hip-hop paradigm. So even though it strays away from hip-hop, I still have that in mind and in my soul when I'm making these tracks."

Early peeks into his new solo venture reveal two very distinct singles: the salsa-infused bilingual track "Bailar" and "Want Me," a soulful psychedelic experience. As for what's to come, Aloe says that his self-produced genre-defying numbers will be nothing short of inspirational. "When you think of the songs that helped you get through times...those are the kind of songs I want to put on my album."

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