Board + Pen: Elijah Blake

R&B

At age 17, Elijah Blake experienced his first taste of success as a songwriter, co-penning Trey Songz’s “Jupiter Love” from his 2009 album, Ready. He secured the writing credit under his development deal with Atlantic Records through his link to Troy Taylor’s imprint Songbook Entertainment. Initially, his desire was never to work behind the scenes as a writer. He hoped to find his footing as a solo artist.

“I just wanted to sing,” Blake tells Rated R&B. “When everybody would go to sleep, I would write my own songs and sing them.”

Blake reveals Songz was one of the first industry players to notice his intact songwriting prowess, leaving him with lifelong advice. “[He said], ‘We all know you could sing, but don’t sleep on your gift for telling stories,’” Blake recalls. “I always go back and remember that because, at the time, I was just writing to get by.”

As a kid, Blake was drawn to vocal powerhouses like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, who he cites as one of his biggest inspirations. He resonated with the power of The Voice through his mother.

She constantly played Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You,” following a breakup from Blake’s father and moving to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic.

His admiration for Aaliyah, a childhood crush of his, caused him to “naturally gravitate towards Ginuwine, Missy [Elliott] and Timbaland,” an era of music that contributed to him first loving R&B. 

In 2012, Blake started to gain popularity in the industry as the co-writer of Usher’s “Climax,” a chart-topper across the R&B boards and a Grammy-winning song in the category of Best R&B Performance early the next year. He received additional Recording Academy recognition for his involvement in Rihanna’s Unapologetic album after its Best Urban Contemporary Album win in 2014. 

Though Blake is a paragon of writing songs that earn him RIAA certifications, there’s a special one he intends to hang on his wall next to his certification with Rihanna: one with once-in-a-generation talent Beyoncé.

He’s had opportunities to work with the most awarded woman in Grammy history, but it never went as planned due to unforeseen reasons. He recalls one time being “deathly ill” ahead of a scheduled session and had to back out at the last minute. Still, he’s optimistic and believes they will collaborate in the near future.

He assures, “I think me and Beyoncé are supposed to do something super special. She had her foot on our neck when I was elementary and still got her foot on our necks — even heavier in my adult life. She’s not going nowhere. Her voice is aging like wine. God has something in the works, and I’m excited about it.”

For Rated R&B’s Board + Pen series, Blake runs through candid memories of writing and creating six R&B songs from his loaded catalog.

Trey Songz — “Jupiter Love” from Ready  

It’s the song that started it all for me—going back to Trey telling me, “Yo. You need to pay attention to your songwriting. You’re going to be glad you did later on.” That was him also giving me a kick in the ass. He was like, “Write me something right now.” And I was like, “Huh?” He was like, “Yeah, right now.” Then, the producer SK was downstairs. We had like this little basement at the Atlanta house, and he put on his beat. He’s like, “What? You need food or something like that? You’re not leaving this area [until] you write this song.”

The first thing I heard (Elijah starts singing), “I think it’s time we take a trip to the bed / Girl, your body’s talking and I’m loving what she said / Don’t you be afraid to let me elevate you / Welcome you to super, duper, Jupiter love.” That’s how we had that record. Then I just left it like, “Okay, nothing’s going to come from it.” That man went in on that record. I can’t take the full credit for that record.

Trey is an artist in every sense of the word. He’s going to tweak it and make it Mr. Steal Your Girl and have the “You’re looking to (mimics Trey’s signature vocals)” and all of the Trey-isms. I always admired that about him. How he can get on a record, and he’s going to always sound like himself. His tone is undeniable—the approach. No one sounds like him. That’s something that I always wanted to carry into my own artistry. When I get on a record, I want no confusion that this is Elijah.

That record, when it came out, I was a starving artist. I went from being broke to moving to a penthouse in Buckhead, Atlanta, and getting like $12,000 checks in the mail. Even though that wasn’t as big of a single as “Neighbors Know My Name” [and] other huge singles on that album, that was the college favorite ’cause they was f*****g. Little nasty asses (laughs) up in Howard [University] and Clark [Atlanta University].

So that record had its own life and did very well for me publishing-wise. That record is what kind of put the PSA [out to the industry]. That’s when the calls started coming in for me to start writing for other people. 

Keyshia Cole — “I Choose You” from Woman 2 Woman

That song is the song that changed my life. At first, the interest started with Beyoncé. I’ve never heard her version, if she did do a version. I don’t want to lie, but I think she ended up getting pregnant with Blue [Ivy] and the studio sessions, and everything came to a pause from it.

Then, it ended up [with] Jennifer Hudson. Then I was getting the call in New York [and] they were like, “Hey. Can you come [and] make changes? Mariah [Carey] wants to do the record.” I ended up getting in the studio with Mary [J. Blige] with that record, and I recorded her on there. It became the song that could. It’s the song that everybody wanted, and it became so political.

I made enemies with people I never even met, managers of people who wanted that song and artists of people who wanted that song. The producer [Jack Splash] was very particular as to the home of that record. I was so young at the time. I’m coming out of high school, so these are people I didn’t even think I would meet in my life. The producer had already done stuff with Alicia Keys and other people, so I think he cared more about where the song ended. 

I got a call one day to go in with Hit-Boy and Keyshia [Cole], and that session didn’t happen. But then the label was like, “We really want Keyshia to do this ‘I Choose You’ record.” I was like, “Certain people couldn’t hit the high notes.” The song was super, super high. At the time, there was a girl who I really did the song for. Her name is Loren Allred. She sang the song so well that she got a record deal just off the demo.

Even Mary, after she and I talked, she was like, “Who’s the girl singing the version I heard?” I was like, “This little white girl named Loren Allred.” She looked at me at the end of that session and was like, “That’s her song. Why are they taking the song away from this girl?” I was like, “That’s how I felt.” But when Keyshia got on the record, I don’t know if this is what Keyshia’s been through, but there’s like this bell quality with Keyshia’s tone.

When she gets it right or when she has that magic moment, it rings like a bell and you gotta feel it. I guess whatever she was going through in her marriage or whatever when she sung that record, I knew she was going to be the one that ended up with it. I just knew. She bodied it. I think that’s when people realized, “She can sing.” 

Ciara — “DUI” from Ciara 

I just remember being in high school, and when Ciara came out, you know, now they have the term called “shake the table.” She shook the planet. To see this chick come out the hood that could outdance the dudes and was sexy and soft [was an] “ah, man” [moment].

When I went in the studio with Ciara, we did so many songs with Tricky [Stewart] and Soundz, but “DUI” was always special. I remember when Soundz first started making the track and telling me the idea for the song, and when she came by the studio, it was a surreal time in the music industry. Things were more fun. It was right before streaming.

A lot of the fears artists have weren’t as present then as they are now. It’s overwhelming. I talked to some of the biggest superstars, and everybody [was] scared. Now people are less scared because now it’s understood how streaming works more than before.

But, when we did “DUI,” it was prior to that, and I remember Ciara being in such a great space. She was just open to anything, me, Soundz — it was really Tricky and Soundz doing the majority of that project and The Dream, but she would just show up like a goddess. I was like, “Damn, she’s fine.” People don’t realize how fine Ciara is. I don’t think people understand. They would have to see her in person. It’s intimidating.

So I feel like that record was meant for her. The delicacy in her voice and how sexy she felt about herself. She was sexy during that album. It was so dope to see her in that element. 

Usher — “Climax” from Looking 4 Myself  

Of course, that was a pivotal moment in my career. At that time everything was so dancey. We were in this disco-inferno era, which was driving me crazy. Music lacked soul. It lacked substance. When Usher told me he was going to go with “Climax” as the first single, I kind of thought he was a little crazy.

I don’t know if people remember how overwhelming EDM was at the time. It had historically soulful artists even having to do EDM. It was like, “You ain’t got no goddamn business singing [over an] EDM [beat] with a heavy vibrato.”

I remember being in that era like, “What the hell is going on?” I think [Usher put out “Climax”] because he had established this trust between the R&B world and the Black audience, of course, with what he’s done on 8701, My Way and Confessions.

When they heard that R&B crooning [and] that melody, it just cut through all the noise like a knife. I’m not saying this because I had a part in it. [But], once that door was kicked open with “Climax,” then you saw an influx of this progressive R&B movement.

We weren’t getting like [those] SZA, H.E.R. [and] Summer Walker type of records prior to that song cutting through the noise. We weren’t. Not to say artists like myself weren’t making it, but the record labels weren’t putting it out. Radio was not playing those records. But when “Climax” came out and slowed the tempo down, it allowed room for R&B again. 

Chris Brown — “Bite My Tongue” from Heartbreak On A Full Moon

There’s this producer that I would like to say I had a hand in discovering: Daecolm [Holland], who’s incredible.

We actually did that record for him, and I sent it to [Floyd] “A1” [Bentley] while he was working on Chris Brown’s project, and Chris jumped on it real quick.

I couldn’t be more proud of how he delivered that record. That’s one of the beauties of Chris Brown. He can get on [a song], and you can feel the energy.

When I first heard it, I saw the choreography. It didn’t get a video, but I was like, “Ooh, I’d be in this m*********** like this (laughs).” 

Kehlani — “Nunya” featuring Dom Kennedy from While We Wait 

That was the first session I did with Kehlani. She played it for me when I got to the studio. I was like, “What you need me to help you with (laughs)?”

We had so much fun because she had an appreciation for the way I would arrange my records, the way I would approach my melodies, my runs and riffs because of my church background.

She was at a place in her career where she wanted to play with and expand on that because she and Brandy have a lot of similarities in their tone. So I was having a ball. I was like, “We’re going to try this run and this harmony.” I was having her do all kinds of swells.

She has what I call photographic memory. You can tell her something once or twice, and she has this amazing ability to mimic anything you give her, which is rare and super fun for anybody I’m vocal producing or working with. I don’t know if she went to school for that, but her ear training is amazing. Me and K was on one with that project.

Stream our Board + Pen: Elijah Blake playlist below. 

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