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James Blake Litherland (born 26 September 1988), known as James Blake, is an English singer, songwriter, musician and producer from London. He first received recognition in 2010 for a trio of dubstep-influenced EPs, and the following year his self-titled debut album was released in the United Kingdom to critical praise. His second studio album Overgrown was released in 2013 and was awarded the Mercury Prize. His third studio album The Colour in Anything was released in 2016. Blake has also released remix work under the moniker Harmonimix.
Blake received his first Grammy nomination at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards for Best New Artist. At the 2014 Brit Awards, Blake was nominated for the Brit Award for British Male Solo Artist.
James Blake is the son of musician James Litherland, and showed a strong interest and aptitude in music from a young age. He received classical training in piano as a child, and completed primary education at Grange Park Primary School, Winchmore Hill and secondary education at The Latymer School, Edmonton. Later on, he attended Goldsmiths, University of London, where he received a degree in Popular Music. While at school, Blake and friends hosted a series of "Bass Society" music nights that featured UK artists such as Distance, Skream and Benga.
2009–10: Early releases
Blake began his music career by releasing his debut 12" record, entitled "Air & Lack Thereof" in the United Kingdom during July 2009, while being persistent in recording songs in his bedroom. Having been released on the imprint record label, Hemlock, the extended-play became a favourite of BBC Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson. Soon after the release of the record Blake was invited by Peterson to do a special mix on his international show, including an exclusive Mount Kimbie track. As a second-year composition assignment for his studies at Goldsmiths, he submitted the soon-to-be-released Klavierwerke EP, which was awarded high marks.
A third EP, entitled CMYK, was released through R&S Records during 2010. The title track, "CMYK" was selected by BBC Radio 1 DJ Nick Grimshaw as his Record of the Week and also received airplay from other DJs. On 29 September 2010, Zane Lowe selected Blake's cover version of "Limit to Your Love" as his "Hottest Record in the World". The song was written and originally recorded by Feist and appeared on her studio album, The Reminder. The single was released in the United Kingdom on 28 November 2010, where it debuted on the UK Singles Chart at number 47.
2011: Self-titled album
Blake was nominated for the BBC's Sound of 2011, an annual poll that highlights the forthcoming year's likely successful musicians; he was eventually placed second, ahead of fellow shortlisted acts; The Vaccines, Jamie Woon and Clare Maguire. It was also revealed on 15 December 2010 that Blake had been made the runner-up behind singer-songwriter Jessie J at the BRIT Awards' "Critic's Choice". In January 2011, Blake was awarded Single of the Year (2010) for "CMYK" at Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards. Blake's work found itself on numerous 2010 year-end best-of lists, with "CMYK" ranking 24th on Frontier Psychiatrist's top 40 songs of the year, the Bells Sketch/CMYK/Klavierwerke EPs ranking 8th on Pitchfork Media's top 50 albums of 2010, and "I Only Know (What I Know Now)" ranking 8th on Pitchfork's top 100 tracks of 2010.
Blake revealed in late December 2010 that his album would be self-titled, and the 11-track James Blake was released on 7 February 2011. Only days after the original announcement was made, the album was leaked onto the internet. On 9 January 2011, "The Wilhelm Scream" was trailed as the album's second single ("Limit To Your Love" was also included on the album). In February 2011, James Blake first appeared on the cover of the publication The Fader, in its 72nd issue. Blake debuted a collaboration with Bon Iver called "Fall Creek Boys Choir" in August 2011 and during the next month, the BBC released an exclusive mix by Blake, which included 10 of his unreleased songs. These included "Deeds", "Olivia Kept", and "Evening Fell Hard for Us". During the final weeks of 2012, James Blake performed three "intimate" shows where he debuted new songs.
Later that year, Blake released both the Enough Thunder and Love What Happened Here EPs in 2011. These EPs, noticeably more structured than his previous releases, featured R&B-tinged work as opposed to the experimental electronic style found on CMYK. Some reviewers expressed doubt about Blake's stylistic movement, with Pitchfork's Larry Fitzmaurice saying that "[his] reliance on piano-based singer/songwriter electro-soul perhaps played it a bit too safe, prompting comparisons to the once-outré, now-gear spinning career of fellow avant-crooner Jamie Lidell".
Early in 2012, Blake spent time with American rapper Kanye West (who named Blake as his favorite artist) and singer Justin Vernon. Later that year, Blake announced a new collaborative non-single release under the moniker Harmonimix with British rapper Trim; the single "Confidence Boost/Saying" was released on 24 September 2012. Also in 2012, Blake and friends (including Foat, Nick Sigsworth, and touring musicians Rob McAndrews and Ben Assiter) secured a residency at the club Plastic People as the collective 1-800 Dinosaur, hosting a series of impromptu dance nights. In the summer of 2013, the collective launched a label of the same name, on which Blake and other artists released material.
Blake announced via Facebook on 7 February 2013 that his second album, Overgrown, would be released on 8 April. The first single from the album, "Retrograde", was debuted the same day on BBC Radio 1, and was released on 11 February. On 25 February, the track listing and album art were revealed. It was selected as Variance Magazine's Album of the Year as of December 2013. The album features guest appearances from noted electronic music producer Brian Eno and Wu-Tang Clan producer and rapper RZA, and further developed the song-based R&B work of his previous releases. The release received critical acclaim and was awarded the 2013 Mercury Prize. Blake noted to Hot Press that his relationship had been an influence on the album.
2014–present: The Colour in Anything
In December 2014, during his BBC Radio 1 Residency, Blake announced that his third studio album would be titled Radio Silence and would be released in the first half of 2015. He later confirmed that the album would feature Bon Iver and Kanye West, as well as feature guitar work from Connan Mockasin.
On February 11, 2016, Blake premiered a new song entitled "Modern Soul" during his BBC Radio 1 residency. On April 14, 2016, Blake revealed during a surprise hosting spot on BBC Radio 1 that he'd finished the album, and that it was 18 tracks in length. He stated that it includes one track that stretches to 20 minutes in length. Later in the broadcast he premiered a new song titled 'Timeless', though did not say whether it would be included on the album. In a May 2016 interview with BBC Radio 1, Blake stated that he began work on the album in England, and after "running out of steam" went to the United States to complete the recording at Shangri La Studios with producer Rick Rubin.
Blake produced and was featured on the song "Forward" from Beyonce's 2016 album Lemonade. He also co-wrote the album's opening track, "Pray You Catch Me". On April 28, social media posts by Blake and his label, 1-800 Dinosaur, reposted photos of a mural by children's novel illustrator Sir Quentin Blake (best known for his work with writer Roald Dahl) that hinted at the new album title The Colour in Anything; this was confirmed as the title of his new album several days later. The album was released on May 6, 2016.
On September 1, 2016, James Blake released a remix of Timeless featuring Vince Staples.
Blake's early releases are fragmented electronic works influenced by UK dance and bass styles, (such as 2-step and the stark dubstep of artists like Burial and Digital Mystikz), '90s trip hop, and contemporary R&B. On his acclaimed trio of 2010 EPs (The Bells Sketch, CMYK, and Klavierwerke), Blake's own voice is obscured or processed in favor of vocal samples from '90s R&B, prominent sub-bass frequencies, and minimal, jittery rhythms. During this period, Blake's work was tagged by journalists as "post-dubstep", alluding to his movement beyond the style's characteristics. By the time of his 2011 debut album, Blake's vocals and piano had become more foregrounded while traditional song structures became increasingly apparent, reflecting the influence of gospel, soul, and ambient music. His second album Overgrown (2013) continued this trend, integrating an electronic approach with balladry and Blake's soul-inflected vocals, and featuring contributions from hip hop artist RZA and electronic musician Brian Eno. Discussing his stylistic development, critic Mark Fisher wrote that "listening back to Blake's records in chronological sequence is like hearing a ghost gradually assume material form [...] out of digital ether." Author Madison Moore noted the prominent use of minimalism, sparseness, and silence in Blake's work, a quality also noted by Eno in 2013: "he takes a lot of stuff out and ends up with very skeletal pieces."