As the star of Spotify's "Secret Genius" series, James Blake talks about his experiences working with Drake and Beyonce.
UK singer and electronic music virtuoso James Blake has become a household name in the hip-hop world as he has made fans out of stars like Kanye West and Chance the Rapper. He's set to appear on Vince Staples' upcoming EP, Prima Donna, and last month, while in Blake's homeland for the Glastonbury festival, Staples performed a remix of "Timeless," a track off Blake's new album, The Colour in Anything. Blake was a recent guest on a newly launched Spotify program called "Secret Genius," and during his interview, he talked about his work with two of the biggest stars in both pop and hip-hop: Beyonce and Drake.
Blake collaborated with Beyonce on the Lemonade track "Forward," which is just 1:19 in runtime, appearing before "Freedom." While on the air for "Secret Genius," Blake explained how Beyonce's camp had invited him to a studio session and given him pre-written lyrics to experiment with. He wasn't comfortable in singing someone else's lyrics, so he scrapped them and came up with his own, which turned out to be good enough for the final version of "Forward."
"It ended up just being me and an engineer in a room. Him playing me something that just sounded—like the start of something—and I wrote something that was completely against the brief... I've never sung anybody else's lyrics. So I just assumed that's not I was going to be doing. So I got my phone out and sang some of my own lyrics that were about something else and about somebody else. But it fit somehow into the song and it fit into the album, and I'm just honored that they used it."
Blake went on to say that he's eager to work with Beyonce again, hopefully on a lengthier collaboration.
One of Blake's first huge looks in hip-hop and in the mainstream eye was when one of his tracks was sampled on an early version of Drake's ubiquitous 2014 hit "0 to 100 / The Catch Up." The sample isn't included on the version that was put out for commercial release because Blake apparently denied to clear it, as he explains in his new Spotify sit-down. Blake says that he had sent Drake some songs in order to spearhead a collaborative relationship but not to provide him with samples. He didn't hear back from Drake's team until a day before "0 to 100 / The Catch Up" was supposed to come out, when they asked him to sign off on the sample that they wanted on the recording. "I was like, 'no,'" says Blake of his response, "So I got them to take it off."
Later on, he would learn about how much money he gave up by refusing to clear the sample. "I spat out my drink," he said of his reaction upon seeing the paycheck he could've had. He admitted that he liked the version of "0 to 100 / The Catch Up" that used his sample, but explains that his decision to not sign off on it was "a matter of principle at the time." "And I think had they come to me beforehand," he continued, "And said, 'We really want to use this, what do you think?', I probably would have said yes."
Listen to the full "Secret Genius" interview below.