7 Songs You Didn’t Know James Blake Wrote for Other Artists

Musically and lyrically, James Blake has crossed multiple genres over the past decade working with Beyoncé, Kanye West, Mount Kimble, Bon Iver, and Vince Staples, among many others.

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Born James Blake Litherland in London on September 26, 1988, the singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist was still recording songs in his bedroom by the late 2000s and eventually released his eponymous debut in 2011 along with the brooding single “Limit to Your Love.” Blake followed it up with Overgrown in 2013, featuring contributions from Brian Eno, Wu-Tang Clan, and RZA. Overgrown also debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic chart, picked up the Mercury Prize in 2013, and earned Blake a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.

James Blake (Photo: Christopher Parsons / Courtesy of Chuff Media)

In 2016, Blake’s third album, The Colour in Anything, which featured Bon Iver and Frank Ocean and topped the aforementioned Billboard chart. By 2019, Blake released the more electro-pop, hip-hop-slanted Assume Form and won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance for “King’s Dead,” a collaboration with Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, and Future that was featured on the Black Panther soundtrack.

Blake released his fifth album Friends That Break Your Heart in 2021. The project featured SZA (“Coming Back”) and a video (“Say What You Will“) starring Finneas, followed by his more ambient 2022 release, Wind Down, created using AI technology with the intention of aiding and supporting healthy sleep.

Among his many collaborations and expanding catalog, Blake has continued contributing to several songbooks outside of his own.

Here’s a look at five songs Blake wrote for other artists.

1. “Pray You Catch Me,” Beyoncé (2016)
Written by James Blake, Beyoncé, and Kevin Garrett

Beyoncé’s epic 2016 album Lemonade featured a collection of collaborators, including Kendrick Lamar, Jack White, The Weeknd, and Diplo, among dozens of others. Blake co-wrote the track “Forward” with Beyoncé, along with the album opener “Pray You Catch Me.”

You can taste the dishonesty
It’s all over your breath
As you pass it off so cavalier
But even that’s a test
Constantly aware of it all
My lonely ear
Pressed against the walls of your world

Pray to catch you whispering
I pray you catch me listening
I’m praying to catch you whispering
I pray you catch me

2. “Element,” Kendrick Lamar (2017)
Written by James Blake, Kendrick Lamar, Mark Spears, and Ricci Riera

For Kendrick Lamar‘s fourth album Damn, Blake co-wrote and co-produced the single “Element.” The track hit the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 and features an intro by ’90s mixtape master DJ Kid Capri: Y’all know, what happens on Earth stays on Earth.

“I did send him a bunch of music and I was just hoping that he’d listen to it,” said Blake of his collaboration with Lamar. “I’d met him a few times before and they came to our show in LA. We’d been in touch various times and he’d come to the studio and listen to stuff and we got on and I sent him some music while I was on the road when I was in Mexico. I got an email and he said, ‘Can you turn something in tonight?’ I sent him a thing that I’d done and he took the chords and that became a part of ‘Element.'”

I’m willin’ to die for this shit
I done cried for this shit, might take a life for this shit
Put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this shit
D.O.T. my enemy, won’t catch a vibe for this shit
I been stomped out in front of my momma
My daddy commissary made it to commas
Bitch, all my grandmas dead
So ain’t nobody prayin’ for me, I’m on your head 

3. “iMi,” Bon Iver (2019)
Written by James Blake, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Rob Moose, Brad Cook, Mike Lewis, Mike Noyce, BJ Burton, Jeremy Nutzman, Channy Leaneagh, Wheezy, Josh Berg

Following the release of his 2011 debut album, Blake also released the EP Enough Thunder, which included the track “Fall Creek Boys Choir,” co-written with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). Vernon also co-wrote two tracks on Blake’s 2016 release The Colour in Anything.

Several years later, the two continued their collaborations on Vernon’s fourth album I, I on the track “iMi.” The track is intro-d by the opening “Yi,” a 31-second recording Vernon made in 2014 of a radio turned on and off while sliding cardboard over it at the time. The slightly longer (three-plus minute) “iMi” took nearly 30 collaborators and five years for Vernon to complete.

Livin’ in a lonesome way
Had me lookin’ other ways
(‘Cause I am, I am, I am lost here, again)
But on a bright fall morning, I’m with it
I stood a little while within it
Man, you have to know
Know the way it goes

4. “Solo (Reprise), Frank Ocean (2016)
Written by James Blake, Frank Ocean, and André Benjamin (André 3000)

Blake co-produced the track “Solo,” on Frank Ocean‘s second album Blonde. Further down the track list, Blake co-wrote the “Reprise” version of “Solo” with Ocean and André 3000.

“He’s such an idiosyncratic,” said Blake of working with Ocean. “He’s so instantly recognizable. It’s not just his voice — it’s [his] turn of phrase. We’re quite different in a lot of ways, but the songs that I’ve had input to on his record, I don’t really know in what part of the middle we met. He’s an anomaly, it’s quite hard to describe that relationship, so I’m not gonna try.”

With astonishment while I’m on punishment
Watching the summer come close to an end
After 20 years in, I’m so naïve I was under the impression
That everyone wrote their own verses
It’s coming back different and, yeah, that shit hurts me
I’m humming and whistling to those not deserving
I’ve stumbled and lived every word
Was I working just way too hard?

5. “Stop Trying to Be God,” Travis Scott, featuring Stevie Wonder, James Blake, Kid Cudi, and Philip Bailey (2018)
Written by James Blake, Travis Scott, Mike Dean, Kevin Gomringer, Tim Gomringer, Joshua Adams

On Travis Scott‘s third album Astroworld, Blake co-wrote and is featured on the track “Stop Trying to Be God.” The indie trap song also features vocals by Earth, Wind & Fire‘s Philip Bailey and rapper Kid Cudi, along with Stevie Wonder, who also plays harmonica on the track. Verses seesaw between remembering where one came from and having a God-like complex.

Fuck the money, never leave your people behind
It’s never love, no matter what you try
Still can see it comin’ down your eyes

‘Cause they did not create commandments
When you hustle, always make it fancy
The signal’s far from what you can be
‘Cause air traffic controls the landing

6. “Lucky Me,” Moses Sumney (2020)
Written by James Blake and Moses Sumney

Blake’s fourth album Assume Form, featured guest vocals by Travis Scott, Rosalía, André 3000, and singer Moses Sumney. A few years later, the two regrouped for Sumney’s double album, Græ, and the track “Lucky Me,” which he co-wrote and co-produced by Blake.

Just because you
Didn’t love me
The way I thought I should be loved
Doesn’t mean I
Wasn’t wanted
Or I wasn’t something
To be proud of

7. “Diablo,” Rosalía (2022)
Written by James Blake and Rosalia Vila Tobella (Rosalía)

When Spanish singer and songwriter Rosalía released Motomami in 2022, which featured Pharrell Williams as a co-producer, Blake co-wrote one track: “Diablo.” Blake also contributed keyboards, synth, piano and backing vocals on several other tracks, in addition to co-producing the Motomami song “Como un G.”

Motomami won four Latin Grammys, including Album of the Year a Billboard Award for Latin Pop Album of the Year.

If what happened
Will no longer happen
If what happened
Will no longer happen

If God gives it to you
God will take it away
If God gives it to you
God will take it away

Main Photo: Amanda Charchian / Courtesy of Chuff Media

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