There aren’t many names left in the industry that Elijah Blake hasn’t worked with! Being featured as a songwriter or collaborating artist with the likes of Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Usher, The Game, Common, and countless others, Elijah Blake is next up on the screen, having just released his new EP, titled “Drift”! Suprisingly, the project has only one feature, nabbed by J. Cole, on the “Venture” single. The 5-track EP contains fan favorites like “Wicked” and my personal favorite, “Strange Fruit.” After streaming the album, and talking with Elijah, this is one of the most creative projects I’ve heard this year, because of its out of the box concepts! “Strange Fruit” is a popular song, not only for its usage of the famous poem of the same name, but for the incredibly dope Outkast “Elevators” sample!
Hailing from Florida, Elijah Blake is an artist is every sense of the word, bringing his vision of love, pain, and music to the world through carefully planned and articulated projects. In an exclusive phone interview this week, he talked to me about his ultra-meticulous process when songwriting for himself and others, his painful childhood growing up with an abusive father as told in the single “6” featured on the album, why he’s not into industry chicks and just wants a regular girl, and the right way to act around a celebrity. Get into it below!
Harley Quinn(HQ): I personally liked your “Strange Fruit” video. That’s my favorite new project that you’ve done so far, mainly because of the Outkast sample.
Elijah Blake (EB): Oh, word? (laughs) And the crazy thing I just heard when I was at Def Jam, a couple weeks ago, I was talking to the staff, and they were like Andre  and Big [Boi] had to approve[the sample] personally. I was like ‘wow’ you know, just to know that those icons got to hear it and put their stamp on it.
HQ: That’s really dope to have the people that you sampled from say that it’s cool to use their song!
EB: Yeah! …If they didn’t approve it, then we wouldn’t have put it on the EP, or we just would have waited until they did approve it, and we had to meet a deadline, so Andre was the first one to approve it.
HQ: So where did the inspiration for the song come from? You used the title of the “Strange Fruit” poem, but then you used the Outkast sample, so where did the whole inspiration come from?
EB: I was in a situation where I was talking to this chick, and she would say everything but the fact that she had a man. Even though I knew that, we were doing it under the guise of ‘oh, we’re just under the influence, [and]let’s just get high’, you know, and let it lead to other things. I was thinking ‘how often does this happen?’ whether your choice of substance is weed or alcohol or all that, we use those to cheat in some ways, and I feel like we do that with God. If you look at the story of Adam & Eve, God was like ‘You can have anything in the world, no suffering, just don’t bite the apple’, but that small little apple was enough to make you risk it all. It’s like we’re still kind of living in that world.
HQ: That’s awesome, that’s a great concept!
EB: Thank you. That’s why I painted that picture in the “Strange Fruit” video, of the snake/the serpent, and the girl in the Garden of Eden.
HQ: Now this is just me, sometimes I draw little theories, but was there any significance with the step scene in the video?
EB: Yeah! That was, um, I used to step while I was growing up (laughs). So, I feel like dance is a form of showing resilience, it was my choice and I used to teach hip-hop choreography. The first couple songs I introduced to the world were kind of like mid [tempo], and people didn’t get to see that side of me. So I was like ‘I’m going to put a bit of Elijah into this’ and stepping was really big for me growing up, being from Florida. I fought for that scene. I remember my team was like ‘Why don’t you do a separate thing?’ but no. I was like ‘I want that scene in the middle of the video, so people will be like ‘what the f**k just happened?’
HQ: You don’t really hear too many dudes being into stepping. Maybe it’s just because I’m from the east coast…
EB: Yeah, it’s huge in Florida! Maybe it’s just because it’s big in colleges mostly, but it’s a thing in Florida. I was always one of the really good ones, even back when I was 10 years old. Sometimes the Que-Dogs (Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.) or Greek people would take me and incorporate me into their steps and competitions.
HQ: That’s dope! Are you part of any Greek organizations?
EB: I wish! I didn’t really have time to. Right after high school, I left and went into music. So that was kind of my way of re-living that, if I had joined. But the crazy thing is, Chuck Maldonado, who choreographed “Stomp The Yard” and all the “Step Up” films, and JaQuel Knight, who choreographed “Single Ladies” with Beyonce, choreographed it. The steppers in the video are known as The Strikers.
HQ: What’s the process been like on putting together the Drift EP? What is your process for a project like that?
EB: This project was solely based on honesty. I just felt alone, and I took all those emotions, and instead of being defeated by it, I was like I’m going to use it as a form of victory. I just felt like I was “drifting” and I had everything that I wanted and was striving for, give or take a couple things, and I felt like my dreams I had as a kid were almost done. I had my record deal, I had the car I wanted, a beautiful girlfriend (although she was depressed), and so I just felt like I was drifting. I wrote “Drift” down on a piece of paper, and all my emotions that were coming out, I just put it in a song. I was like ‘Somebody out there is going through this’ or ‘someone can relate to these emotions,’ maybe not the exact story, but they can relate to this mindset I’m in, so that’s what the Drift EP was all about.
HQ: What’s your favorite song on the project, or even one that you hate?
EB: I think my favorite would have to be…it’s a new favorite actually. I didn’t appreciate it as much, when I did it. My three favorites are “Quick Sand,” first, just for personal reasons. I wrote that about my girl, and we just recently broke up, so that song just has a whole new meaning for me. I’m not going to say it’s the best…but I can relate to that one more now. And, um, “Imagination” a lot. Sometimes I play “Falling” a lot. That’s one I can put on and just zone out. Before my relationship issues, “Falling” was definitely the one. People always ask why isn’t it longer, but I think that’s the beauty in it; it leaves you wanting more, and it gives you just enough to where you’re like ‘Oh, shoot, where’s the payoff?’ so, yeah “Falling”.
HQ: Have you had personal writing sessions that when you’re finished, you’re like hmm maybe this song would be better for so-and-so? Or vice versa?
EB: Honestly, that’s a good question, but I’ve never ever had that problem, because when I go in to write for someone else, it’s specifically for them. I’m in their mindset, I don’t really consider myself. My process for writing for myself on my projects is so precious; it’s almost like a ritual. There’s no lights in the studio, it’s gotta be like pitch black, and maybe one or two candles, and just me, the engineer, and maybe whoever else I’m collaborating with. It’s really a process. I just want everything to flow, I want to be in my most peaceful and vulnerable state to where I can just really let it out. But when I write for other people, I just show up, listen to whatever they’re going through and to whatever I have to tap in to to help them on their quest to be great as well. It’s two different things, so I’ve ever had that problem because my process is so tedious for myself.
HQ: Do you have any special way to commemorate the occasion for each big name you’ve worked with? A picture with each one, etc? I know Cipha Sounds has a guestbook people put heir sticker in when they sign it.
EB: Nah (laughs).
HQ: Really, no voodoo or little superstitions?
EB: No, even though I am half Haitian, so I know people would expect some voodoo, haha. I think the closest thing I do is when the album comes out, I go buy it. I get all my music from iTunes, but if it’s something I’ve worked on or contributed to, I’ll go out and buy the physical copy. I’ll add it to my [collection] or put it on my wall, and walk past it while I’m cleaning; it’s like good motivation, you know.
HQ: So who do you have on your wall now?
EB: I got my Trey Songz plaque when I got my first writing placement with “Jupiter Love” on his “Ready” album. I have Usher’s plaque from when he did that long run on Billboard with “Climax”. Who else? I ordered my Rihanna plaque for “Unapologetic” but it hasn’t gotten here yet. I wanted to wait until the album went platinum, because the Trey plaque is Gold, the Usher one is the #1 Billboard plaque, so I wanted a platinum plaque for Rihanna. I ordered a Justin Bieber plaque as well, for my contributions for that. I have to catch up on ordering these plaques, I really do.
HQ: So, nobody just sends them to you, you have to order them?
EB: Nah, you have to order those things! My first one, I think Troy Taylor, who discovered Trey Songz, got me that Trey Songz plaque because he knew how big that was for me. Sony, my publishing company, got me the Usher one because that was a big one as well. But after that, everyone was like ‘Alright, these things are kind of expensive; you’re on your own now, bruh!’ (laughs)
HQ: That’s really cool, though. So, aside from Usher, are you still undefeated in Connect 4?
EB: Oh, yeah definitely. It’s actually crazy because it makes me a lot of enemies. People really get upset! They’re like ‘you cheated!’ but how do you cheat in Connect 4; you just connect four damn dots! But yeah, it gets intense. Usher was like ‘you know who’s really good at this? Beyonce’. I was like ‘Man, if I ever played Beyonce in Connect 4, I don’t care if she was good or not, I’d let her win’. (laughs) But you know, Jay’s the boss, so in the name of Roc Nation I would just let her win.
HQ: I know you said you keep a lot of song concepts in your phone. Do you have any super off-the-wall ones you’ll probably never do anything with?
EB: You know how people are afraid if they lose their phone, because of naked pictures or whatever will leak? I’m terrified if I lose my phone that my voice memos of unfinished song concepts come out, it’ll be the most embarrassing thing! It doesn’t even make sense, I’m just singing gibberish. But I think any singer/songwriter can relate, if you go through [their] phone. Sometimes you just hear a melody, but it’ll be so loud in the studio, and you’ll listen back like ‘what the hell was I singing?’
HQ: Could we maybe get two song concepts that you would never release?
EB: I think one time I wrote this random, random song about an alien and a scientist falling in love. That will never come out (laughs). I have no idea what I was going through.
HQ: After hearing a song like “6” and knowing the kind of things you dealt with as a child, what was your reaction to what’s going on with Adrian Petersen?
EB: That’s a really sensitive subject, because I actually said something personal to my experience with it, and a majority of people on my social media agreed with it. There was one person who was just so angry and like ‘It’s not right, no matter how you look at it!’ But like, the line is so thin; I can’t judge or condemn the next person, because my father and my parents did that for me. I love how I grew up. With my father, he was a little strenuous and left some mental damage. With my mother, I think when she did it, I always knew it was out of love; it was never abuse from my mother. I mean, I would act up, and she would check me. Whether it was a slap on the hand, slap on my butt, or even a slap upside my head with her choice of whatever she had in her hand, I never felt abuse from my mom….if you don’t discipline your children, then you’re a bad parent. When you do discipline them, then you face that possibility. When I did the song “6”, it was my realization of my situation and why I have certain trust issues. I never thought my father tried to be abusive. He was being abusive, but I think that’s just a guy from the islands; that’s how he was taught. He was raised that way, that’s how his parents disciplined him, and that’s how he knew to discipline his child. My heart goes out to Adrian Petersen’s child, and him as well; it’s a tough situation to be in. It’s just a matter of where you draw the line.
HQ: So do you think those experiences, at least with your mother, have had a positive influence on you as an adult?
EB: For sure, because I look at friends who used to laugh when my mother would go upside my head, and 9/10 of them, not even exaggerating, are in jail or dead. So to me, it can’t get no crazier than that. I love her for it.
HQ: Let’s get back to lighter stuff – aside from yourself, who’s your favorite upcoming singers at the moment?
EB: I’m really in love with FKA Twigs right now. I think she’s amazing. I was obsessed with Aaliyah growing up, so when I saw the “Two Weeks” video, and she played off the Queen of the Damned concept, I said yeah, she’s definitely channeling something here.
HQ: Well we know that’s Robert Pattinson’s girl, but do you have any celebrity crushes?
HQ: You don’t have to tell me.
EB: (laughs) Well, no, we can talk about it because the crazy thing is, I’m really not attracted to my peers like that. I feel like I have this button in the back of my mind that when it’s business or somebody related to the industry, I know how crazy as artists that we all are, I’m like ‘hell no, abort, abort, jump ship!’ When I do date, it’s like regular girls that, in my mind, are beautiful. Industry life is so consuming. It’s nice to get away from it all.
HQ: So that means you’re single?
EB: I’m single now, yeah. I’m newly single.
HQ: What did you blow your first big check on, because everyone says ‘Oh, I’m going to buy a Ferrari’ and all that, so what about you?
EB: Well you kinda just—yeah. Haha, I bought a Porsche.
HQ: Aw man, what kind of Porsche and what color?
EB: It was the Panamera first came out, I was 19. My lawyer and business manager and everybody was like ‘Are you crazy?!’ My lawyer was like ‘I represent Keri Hilson, and I don’t even drive a Porsche!’ Haha, I was just like ‘You don’t know my life!’ I was sleeping on the floor trying to get a place! This car was what I was excited about, and what kept me going when I wanted to give up, so [I was like] I’m gonna get this Porsche. And my lawyer was like ‘But you have enough money right here to live well for the next 5 or 6 years, you should put it aside.’ And I was like ‘If you think this is the only lucrative funds that I’m going to get over the next 5 years, then you don’t believe in me and you should look for another client to represent.’
HQ: Wow, and you said this at 19?
HQ: That’s – that’s pretty big talking at 19!
EB: Yeah, but you know, it came true. Six months into it, I moved to L.A., and I had “Climax’ with Usher.
HQ: Wow, I’m sorry, that’s really inspirational.
EB: I think when you do a “Plan B”, you’re subconsciously shooting for the plan b, and you’re setting boundaries and perimeters for yourself, and you kind of hinder yourself. If I were to be like “Let me just take this check, and stay out here and live cool for the next 5 years” no! That’s playing it safe, that’s not what I signed up for. I might as well have stayed working at Blockbuster. I’m gonna get this Porsche and work my ass off to upgrade and get the next thing. I did get my next check after I signed to Def Jam, and then I got the next Panamera, so I just upgraded to a newer one! (laughs) But honestly, it could have been a Honda. Don’t let people set your level of success for you, you set it yourself. It’s up to you to maintain and live up to that.
HQ: You’ve worked around huge names since a teen. I’m sure you’ve had a couple awkward experiences or have seen people have awkward experiences with the artists. Give us 7 tips on how NOT to act around a celebrity.
1. Never over hype yourself! I think a lot of times, people get around artists and feel they’re not worthy of being in the same room as them, so they big themselves up. But the thing is, if all that was going on, you wouldn’t have to tell me. Then the name dropping, but it’s like if you have to name-drop, then you’re really not doing it like that.
2. Don’t be so impulsive. That scares 90% of us artists. It’s okay to be excited. I had to learn that myself when I first started working with Mary J. Blige. There were a couple times I wanted to scream and be like “You’re Mary J. Blige!” but I’m pretty sure that would’ve creeped her out, so I just kept it really professional. It sets a level a respect, because I’m respecting her.
3. Always keep business business and keep personal, personal. I was 15 when I first started, and a lot of times you think people are your friend, because you get so close to these artists and icons you grew up listening to. You don’t follow certain precautions that you’re supposed to because you get excited. There are things managers are supposed to do, and certain discussions and conversations lawyers are supposed to have, and it only comes back to bite you. It causes tension and friction between you and that person you looked up to. Whatever pertains to business, keep it that way.
4. Never participate in the gossip! I’ve seen it go down so horribly. There’s industry beef and industry things going on. Kind of like as a child, when your parents would talk about their friends…they don’t know that kids are like a sponge. Me being a youngin’ in the game, I just would hear certain things. If you thought you were getting gossip from MediaTakeOut, if you could only hear the things I would be a fly on the wall for at 16/17!
5. Don’t be so desperate that you’ll do something you can’t take back. I remember at Big Sean’s [“Hall of Fame”] listening party, we went into this room and there were so many people after he did the concert for the party. I was going to congratulate him, because while I was working on my album, he was working on his next door at No I.D.’s spot. There was this guy who managed to get past security and get into the room. He did it so casual; we just assumed he knew Sean. He got in there, and he was like ‘Sean, I just came from North Carolina to freestyle for you, and blah blah blah’ and it was so awkward! I would have given him a jump drive with my music, and said ‘Holla at me later’ ya know. He was in the middle of the room, just this loud outburst, and even if he was the best rapper in the world, you’ve already set the tone that it’s not going down by making it awkward for everybody!
6. Mean what you say, say what you mean, and stand your ground. People always say ‘hit me up, let’s work’ as the common thing…but it’s better to be like ‘hey, this is what I do, this is my sound. If I can get your email, I’ll shoot you some tracks,’ instead of saying let’s work without building that foundation for us to even work.
7. Value relationships over money. A lot of people burn really important bridges [over money]. If there’s a deal for $60,000 and you’re like ‘I need that extra $10,000,’ just for the sake of it and you burn the bridge with someone who could have brought you $300,000…I just call that bad business. Since[the money] is so inconsistent, people feel that have to beat each other over the head when it’s check time. Always get what you’re worth, but don’t do bad business, because those people won’t come back and do business with you whether it’s an endorsement, advertisements, a promotional show, or whatever.
HQ: What’s next for you?
EB: This is the first time I’m saying this, but we’re actually shooting the video for “Come Away,” so that’s the next visual coming out. We’re also working out the visual of another special video that should have been done a long time ago, so keep your eyes open for that. [My team] is committed. I think when we dropped “Bijoux 22” it was like this is how I sound when I’m not on a hook with a rapper. With the “Drift” EP, I want to drive this home for the rest of the year until the album comes out which is really soon as well. I want the fans to have fun with it, so tours, and all that good stuff is happening. Just keep rockin’ with me.