Artists Among Us: Blakk Soul, songwriter for Dr. Dre and others, says Tacoma is in his DNA
Eric “Blakk Soul” Mercer, Jr. is a singer-songwriter from Tacoma. Known as a soul man of the highest order, “Blakk” is respected across the music industry for a haunting, muscular voice and evocative, romantic lyricism. His songs are best described as dispatches from the heart of the modern man through all of its variations and situations.
Having written songs for industry heavyweights such as Dr. Dre, Anderson .Paak, Macklemore and Playboi Carti, Blakk Soul returned to solo artistry in a major way this spring, releasing his buzzworthy EP Take Your Time, which he discusses below.
What about Tacoma makes its way into your art?
Quite naturally, the city is ingrained in my DNA. I was raised in Tacoma and I’m very proud of where I’m from: the good, the bad and the ugly of Tacoma. I always felt like being in a small town like Tacoma, we were always underrepresented. With all of the talent that we have here, I always told myself that if I got a platform, I would try to shine a light on the city. Everyone who knows me, knows where I’m from and I represent everywhere I go.
If you had to use a picture or a sculpture to represent your music to someone who couldn’t hear it, what would that symbol be?
It would be an abstract painting of some kind and within that painting would be things that I feel embody me. So you could see a do-rag; you could see some brown liquor of some sort; some medicinal cannabis, broken hearts and full hearts; symbols of togetherness and symbols of being alone. I think a picture like that would give someone a vibe for my music.
What gave you the confidence to pursue music as a career?
It was really the confidence of my friends. My close friends had confidence in my abilities early and saw me having a career in music before I did. But it’s like sports, there’s a certain kind of mentality that you have to have when you’re preparing to do battle and I take that same approach to music. Just like when conditioning starts in the beginning of the season and you’re out of shape and you have to run hills and do drills...I look at my trajectory in music the same way.
What was it like to meet and work with Dr. Dre for the first time?
He’s full of wisdom, knowledge and know-how; so many great musical stories. Dre created a genre and you don’t often meet people like that. He is so in tune with every part of the music-making process. My very first time meeting him was nerve-racking because he was applying pressure because he hadn’t met me before and he was assessing how I work under pressure. But after that first experience, it was a very different energy and he’s become more like a coach.
How has being a professional songwriter altered the way you approach your work as an artist?
In writing for others, oftentimes the content has to be more general and open-ended so that it can be tailored to fit the narrative of the artist you’re writing for. I don’t have to worry about that as an artist. I can tell my story and be as detailed or as ambiguous as I like.
What is your favorite song that you've written for another artist?
It was actually on my own album. A song called, “Rewind.” It was one of the few times I was able to work with an incredibly talented artist (Amaal) that completely trusted my vision and direction for the record. One of my personal favorites for sure.
How has the reception of Take Your Time elevated your career?
It’s been an amazing reception so far, grander than I could imagine. I try not to lean in with high expectations because you never know. We didn’t get a lot of the major platforms to cover the release upon its debut but organically people gravitated toward it. The streams are going well and people are surprisingly buying the vinyl. Makes me excited to release more music in the future.
With so much great music on the project, what made “Help” featuring Brooklyn MC Joell Ortiz the choice for the first single?
It literally was the timing. We just happened to be entering into the pandemic. “Help” wasn’t originally going to be the single. We were going to roll out with another song. But it just seemed so fitting for the time. It was reflective of the fact that we all need help from time to time and can’t allow pride or ego to get in the way, especially during a pandemic.
Is love alive in 2020?
Love is definitely alive. It’s just harder to find in this era. Hard to find, harder to hold onto.
How do you define love?
I define love as caring for someone or something with no conditions. We have to allow it to exist in its natural essence. We as people get in the way of love so often. Love isn’t designed to be that difficult. Our social construct of love gets in the way.
What’s your favorite song to sing at karaoke?
“Ordinary People” by John Legend.
What excites you about this current moment in Northwest music?
I feel like there’s a lot more collaboration going on now than when I was coming up. I see a lot more artists between Tacoma and Seattle, in R&B and hip-hop too, doing more collaborations. When I was coming up, there was a lot more beef, a lot more animosity between Seattle and Tacoma that wouldn’t allow much productive work to happen. It’s cool to see people building together and crossing bridges.
What’s next for Blakk Soul?
Getting out more visual content. I’m working on a “Sangria With Soul” series, where I pair songs from my album with my favorite sangria recipes and explain why. The first episode is coming soon. I also have music videos for songs from the album coming soon. I have some large collaborations coming and eventually another project. Just stay tuned.
This story is part of the Artists Among Us series of profiles highlighting creatives around the region who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Darryl Crews is a Tacoma writer, director and producer and the creative behind "Being.Doing.Knowing," an exploration of Blackness in Tacoma.