Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins III is a California based soul singer who performs under the name of Aloe Blacc. He began his career in his teens as an MC in an indie rap duo called Emanon. Blacc went solo in 2003 signing with independent hip-hop label Stones Throw Records, and released his debut EP in the same year. He released his debut album, Shine Though in 2006 and his second album, Good Things in 2010. After this retro soul track hit the charts throughout continental Europe, Blacc signed with major label Epic Records for the UK and Ireland release of the record.
Blacc got the idea for this song after listening to field recordings from the Smithsonian. Hearing these recordings of people singing their tales of woe, Blacc decided to write one of his own, and came up with the title "I Need A Dollar." To develop the lyrics, he asked friends to trade verses with him and then join him on the chorus.
As he was finishing the album with his production team, Truth & Soul, they worked up an instrumental jam with a soul groove that needed lyrics. Blacc couldn't come up with anything, so he tried using what he had written for "Dollar," and it worked.
The tune first came to many people's attention when it was used as the intro song for the HBO show How to Make It in America, and was featured as the iTunes Single of the Week. The HBO show lasted just one season, but it gave the song lot of exposure and credibility, especially in Europe where some radio stations started playing the song.
Blacc was still on an indie label at the time, but the radio plays got the attention of Simon Fuller's XIX Entertainment company, which signed him to a deal and negotiated a contract with Interscope Records.
Some journalists have called this song "The anthem of the recession." In an interview with Faux, Blacc agreed. He said: "You know what, I kind of feel it is an anthem for the recession. A lot of people have been struggling, and it's a song that actually discusses their situation."
The Californian singer told Faux that this old-school soul number goes further than being about needing a dollar. He explained: "The sentiment of the song is more about looking for a helping hand, not necessarily a financial hand but a social hand. I think that capitalism really created this huge disparity psychologically between the haves and the havenots. Even the people that have a lot are in dire straits. They need support as well. They say in America about 50% of marriages end in divorce, and a lot of it is because of money issues."
Blacc explained his songwriting process to CMU
: "A lot of songs start as just the chorus and the melody; the idea will come to me when I'm driving or cooking, or some other everyday activity. Over a series of weeks I'll continue to write lyrics and add parts of the song in my mind, and build the orchestration. Eventually I'll get to the studio with my musicians, and have a demo already created for them to record their parts. Or, like James Brown, I'll hum each musician their part, and we'll go from there."
The catalyst for this song was unemployment. After being made redundant from his job as a consultant for Ernst & Young, Blacc was forced to scratch a living on the hip-hop circuit. "I was listening to field recordings of chain gangs," he explained to UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph of the tune, and in my head I was working on my own chain gang song. It's someone down on their luck, a bare voice making a plea for help."
Blacc got his dollar when this song led to additional collaborations, including a vocal spot on the Avicii song "Wake Me Up
" and a marketing partnership with Dr. Dre to use Aloe's song "The Man
" in commercials for Beats by Dre headphones. When he recorded "Dollar," music was just a hobby for Blacc, but the songs success showed him that it could be his life's work.