In 2006 I was running HipHopSite.com, which made its money by acting as a mail order record store for DJs and fans of underground hip-hop. We built our audience by delivering daily free content, eventually turning readers into paying customers. They didn’t mind waiting 2-to-4 weeks for package deliveries, as this was during an era when digital music was still a bit awkward and piracy was not yet mainstream.
One downside of being a retailer for physical goods was having to do product returns at the end of each month. This required long hours after the shop was closed, digging through physical manifestations of my mistakes that came in the form of piles of unsold records and CDs that I over-ordered.
At that time, we were moving through loads of Stones Throw Records’ product. Albums were selling in the thousands off of HipHopSite alone; it was as if Chris “Peanut Butter Wolf” Manak’s label could do no wrong. One such product from the label that landed in my lap early was Aloe Blacc’s debut solo album, Shine Through. This was Aloe Blacc’s first solo project, which happened after he broke off from a hip-hop duo called Emanon, alongside producer DJ Exile, who would later go on to produce the critically acclaimed debut album from rapper Blu, Below The Heavens.
Shine Through presented Aloe as this incredibly dexterous auteur, who changed styles as easy as pairs of sunglasses, bouncing from hip-hop to R&B to salsa to reggae with ease. Impressively, he closed the Shine Through album with a bonus track cover of John Legend’s “Ordinary People” in Spanish. In my July 20th, 2006 scribbly review of the album on HipHopSite, I wrote: “If hip-hop died tomorrow, Aloe Blacc would still be able to carry on as a musician of some kind. He’s one of the few artists out there that is truly deserving of that title.”
“I released Shine Through as multi-genre album, almost like a table of contents for my career,” Aloe told me when I interviewed him in 2011. “[I was] saying, ‘In Aloe Blacc’s career you’re going to hear hip-hop, soul, dancehall, salsa, R&B, electronic, folk.’”
While Stones Throw releases from MF Doom, Madlib, and J. Dilla were flying off of the shelves, I figured the same would happen for Aloe Blacc, given that his debut album was so incredible. Instead what I was faced with at the end of the month was the depressing returns process, boxing up unsold copies of Shine Through and shipping them back to the distributor.