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Emanuel Finds Therapy In Music

The Idris Elba-approved soul singer works through his emotions on wax.

by Daniel Hartmann

In a year defined by tumultuous emotions, emerging R&B star Emanuel has found solace in music. Taking cues from introspective artists like Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean, the rising soul singer is pleasantly surprised where his career has taken him since his days working in a hospital and who has taken notice along the way.

Over the last three years, Emanuel has been picking up significant momentum, releasing two EPs while his single, “Need You,” caught the attention of actor and part-time DJ Idris Elba. Elba liked what he heard so much that he ended up stepping forward as creative director for the track’s accompanying music video and even has a producer credit on Emanuel’s new album, Alt Therapy

When Emanuel first started working on the album, the goal was clear: make deeply personal songs that would resonate with his listeners. Alt Therapy is a meditative experience with airy instrumentals and thoughtful lyricism. The sensitive singer unwraps his thoughts on love and injustices over hand picked guitars, woodwinds, and string quartets. You can hear the passion in his emotion-filled delivery throughout, and the album’s laidback production gives him the space to shine.

Emanuel talked with RANGE about his journey as an artist, getting discovered by Canadian rap legend Kardinal Ofishall, and what it was like to work with Idris Elba.

Congratulations on your new album. Can you tell us a bit about how it came to be?

Conceptually me and Ryan Bakalarczyk came up with the idea to make a project called Alt Therapy in early 2018. We started piecing together what we wanted it to sound like and a year in we met John Fellner who was the other producer on the album. Then we started to perform some of those songs at shows in the Toronto area to work out the material. 

What has it been like receiving guidance from and working with household names like Kardinal Offishall and Idris Elba?

It’s super surreal. Just taking in that you’re on the phone with these people and that they’re offering you their time, you have to fight off that initial imposter syndrome. It’s also very humbling. I’m usually in awe during a lot of those moments. They’re Black men who had to go through a lot of struggles that I’m going to have to go through. The advice is invaluable. Being able to hear about ways that they failed and being honest and vulnerable about that is amazing. It really sets a good example for me of how I want to move in this industry and how I want to give back to young Black men with dreams that I could help.

Can you talk about the message behind “Black Woman” and how you wrote that track?

I think “Black Woman” was that song. Being able to make a record where we really wanted to tell the truth about a subject that is not my experience. And it’s a subject where I really didn’t want to damage; I wanted it to be a love letter. I wanted it to uplift, not just be part of the noise.  Within that level of scrutiny that I was putting on myself while creating it, I think I experienced a level of difficulty that made it probably the hardest record to create. 

When did you start using songwriting as a form of therapy?

I think it really started to be a form of therapy when the bulk of the music I created and the writing was just live off the floor. I was able to be more honest. I was able to be taken away by the music and have multiple transcendent moments. The music is the key and the door and it provides you the ability to see through your feelings.

How did you know it was time to start doing music full-time? 

Eventually I was able to leave my job that I was working at the hospitals here in London, Ontario and take on music full time. We got a little house in Kleinburg; the label helped us create a studio within that house and we were able to record all the music that you hear on the new album. We lived in that house from mid-2019 to mid-2020 and that’s when we created the bulk of the project. 

What are some tracks by other artists that have had a profound effect on you?

“Mortal Man” by Kendrick Lamar. “U” by Kendrick Lamar, that record, when I listen to it, I feel like that song is your ego picking you apart. I really resonate with that because I have a real internal battle when it comes to battling my ego. I think hearing that people go through the same level of self-scrutiny and self-doubt at an almost insidious level and that they’re still able to manifest (it into their art). It’s like a manifestation of your experience of the roadblocks, barriers, and glass ceiling in your life.