The most daunting moments of Eric Mercer Jr.’s career have arrived in relative quiet, far from any spotlights or screaming fans. The audiences have been small but discerning, and each instance provided what Mercer’s mentor and manager, Thomas Jones, describes as “one of those things where you have to be prepared without knowing what you’re prepared for.”

Mercer ’10 goes by the stage name Blakk Soul, although here “stage” is deceptive, as it’s behind the scenes—in recording studios and collaborations with better-known artists—that he has quietly established himself as a rising creative force in the music industry. It was in the studio that Mercer first met legendary rapper and producer Dr. Dre: Invited by a shared industry connection to a creative session at a Los Angeles studio in 2017, Mercer was told that Dre “may or may not even come in tonight.” Mercer wasn’t sure what exactly he was showing up for until he got to the studio. “And then as soon I’m walking in the front door,” he says, “Dre’s coming in the back.”