Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's the opening title theme from How to Make It in America, HBO's recession-era New York dramedy (or is it more of a comma?). To promote his new Stones Throw album Good Things, Blacc recently performed "I Need a Dollar" on both Conan and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, where it sounded impressive live and won him some new fans at Studio 6A.
My reaction upon hearing "I Need a Dollar" for the first time on How to Make It in America was exactly like my initial reaction to American Gangster's original song "Do You Feel Me," a Hank Shocklee-produced throwback to the sounds of the period setting of the Denzel Washington film that was performed by Anthony Hamilton (and written by, of all people, Diane "My Heart Will Go On" Warren). I wondered, "Whose recording studio archives did they dig up this gem from?" Blacc's vintage soul sound was so convincing in "I Need a Dollar" that I was surprised to learn the track was new.
"I Need a Dollar" is the perfect song for both a show that's like Entourage's cash-strapped, bedbug bite-covered East Coast cousin and these shitty times. Blacc actually wrote it before the recession hit:
Complex: What inspired the concept for "I Need A Dollar"?That spiritual quality in Blacc's voice helps lend "I Need a Dollar" a certain timelessness that will outlast whatever fashion or beverage trend the hustlers in How to Make It in America will attempt to take advantage of all season long.
Aloe Blacc: No money problems. That was boom time. The housing industry was up. Everybody was happy. I lived in this house that we called the Monmouth Temple on a street called Monmouth in Los Angeles from 2003 to 2008. A lot of musicians tend to live in this house. One of the guys has a really nice record collection, and he gave me some chain gang field recordings of convicts, largely black, from the South, working on chain gangs. This was in my head at that time. It seemed to me a little bit like a spiritual. That's the way I originally made the song. I actually recorded it with my friends in 2007 at the Monmouth Temple when we were just sitting in the front room stomping on the wooden floor and clapping our hands. Kind of like a spiritual you could do it in church. So that's how I always heard it. At least the melody in my voice, that's always remained and it worked perfectly with the music that these guys made in New York.
Blacc is one of many former rappers who have shifted towards more melodic material with tunes like "I Need a Dollar." In his pretty good remix of "I Need a Dollar," L.A. battle rapper Dumbfoundead dabbles with ease in this shift towards sung vocals that Blacc has fully embraced: