The title of ‘super-producer’ is thrown around so often now that it might as well be a synonym for ‘one who possesses a Soundcloud account’. At this point the amount of actual super producers is negligible. These being artists who, beyond the intricacies of their drum programming or sound design, are gifted with the unlearned ability to craft a capital-S song. A song which will draw an emotional response from others and leave them not thinking about process, but rather ‘can I hear that again?’.
Ross Birchard has made the leap from beatmaker to genuine super-producer far more spectacularly than most. Long before Kanye West pulled him into his inner circle in 2012, Hud Mo was crafting MDMA-drenched, strobe light rap anthems from a bedroom in Glasgow. Many of these would eventually make up his legendary 2005 mixtape Hudson’s Heeters, his first release Hudson Mohawke Says Oops! (a cover of the timbaland producer ‘Oops’ by Tweet) and eventually his debut album for Warp, Butter (2009). These were kaleidoscopic stepping stones to future glory, equally informed by a certain golden age of electronic R&B and rap innovation as by the bracing freeform antics of prog rock and fusion jazz.
These early releases were instantly recognized for their crazed energy and ambition by a generation of electronic musicians who had grown up without the boundaries of genre, linked by the Internet and sharing free and easy access to an abundant trove of hacked music software. No sooner was he crowned the ‘wunderkind’ of these misfits than the calls began trickling in from artists seeking his singular productions. Then that trickle turned into a flood.
Drake, Lil Wayne, Bjork, Antony & The Johnsons, R. Kelly, Big Sean, Pusha T, Pharrell, Mark Ronson, Miguel, John Legend, Future, Rick Ross – the list of credits spirals into the upper echelons of adventurous hip pop titans. Hudson Mohawke had been knighted a fully paid-up producer to the stars and then he did what other pop producers fail to do – he went and had a few hits of his own. The fault lines started rumbling in the summer of 2012 when he and Lunice teamed up for an unassuming drop under the name TNGHT (Warp x LuckyMe). Within a couple weeks of it’s release a full-scale earthquake was in effect, brought on by the tear-out big room rap instrumentals imagined for their favourite party rappers Meek Mill, M.O.P, French Montana and Busta Rhymes – but even as instrumentals it became clear the pair had conjured up something special.
Charting at 180 in the US album chart with an ep of beats, and in a matter of months the pair were headlining festivals around the world, accidentally spinning off an emergent ‘trap’ glut – but wrapping their global tour in fine form when they were joined onstage in New York by Kanye West. West promptly spirited Hud Mo to Hawaii, New York, LA & Paris over a fourteen month period of sessions around Cruel Summer, Yeezus, John Legend, Pusha T and the forthcoming ‘So Help Me God’ album. From studios on the water in Hawaii, to the studio where Billy Jean by Michael Jackson was written, to Bob Dylan’s converted tour bus with Rick Rubin – the last two years have put Hudson in some of the best studios in the world.
But with a fire in his belly, Hudson stepped out of shows and co-writing for 6 months to focus on his own recording – creating the Chimes EP. The lead track a TNGHT-era that had become an accidental anthem at shows, Hudson built the other tracks as a bridge for the huge US TNGHT fans into his own music defined on Satin Panthers & Butter – with a hybrid sound of massive contemporary rap drums and high melody. People went nuts on announcement, and a certain fruit emblazoned technology company chose the track for their new global campaign literally wearing a Hudson Mohawke sticker proudly on their product. It didn’t take long for rappers to jump on the track, consolidating his stateside rap credentials with a version of Chimes featuring Future, Pusha T, French Montana and Travi$ Scott launched via an interactive music video and a web of global radio premieres with some of the most reputable stations in the world, from US Urban (Power 105, Power 106, Hot 97) to Zane Lowe & BBC Radio One to Triple J & J Wave.
That’s the story so far.
Now Hudson Mohawke is back with his first solo album in over five years and it’s everything you’ve wanted and very little of what you’ve expected. ‘Lantern’ is a fusion album – the crystallization of everything he’s been working towards. On this record he was the final author – the final editor. No one stood to filter or sample him here. With ‘Lantern’ he could fully realize the blueprint he’d been helping lay out for others. A contemporary fusion of avant-garde intention and urban pop intuition. A fusion of soaring orchestration and widescreen club dynamics. It looks unwaveringly towards the future while embracing an evolving, timeless canon of pop and soul music.
Hudson’s not alone here in this world he’s created; joined by a crew of allies, each one called upon for the ways in which they alone could uniquely contribute to this amalgam. Materializing from the overdriven paean of the album opener ‘Lantern’, rises the soulful French tone of ‘Irfane’ – tapping directly into pop’s lifeblood on the propulsive ‘Very First Breath’ and, just like that, the party is in full swing. Refusing any dip in energy ‘Ryderz is an electric, hands-in-the-air nod to the classic productions of Dipset and Just Blaze flipped in the way that only Hud Mo can.
Peerless California enigma Ruckazoid (formerly Ricki Rucker – a leading scratch DJ and old e-friend of Hudsons) sails on the choral hurricane of ‘Warriors’. The epic refrain “We might lose the battle, but we’ll win the war/And we don’t care ‘cuz love is what we’re fighting for/So fuck what they say – we are the warriors” – the gospel echoing into ‘Kettles’, a cornerstone of the album and a foray into brilliantly transportative orchestral reverie. Written entirely by Hudson with synthetic instruments – it’s Birchard stretching out in as a latter day . What follows is the mighty ‘Scud Books’, a staple of Hud Mo live sets and the menace of club soundsystems the world over.
Antony Hegarty weaves the elegiac ‘Indian Steps’, a moving symphony of loss and redemption while the inimitable Miguel projects powerfully on the driving digital knock of ‘Deepspace’. Jhene Aiko throws the club into slow motion with the deeply futuristic ‘Resistance’ and sets the scene for the hi-tech ruggedness of the albums closing trio of monumental tracks. “Portrait of Luci”, “System” and “Brave New World” show Hudson flexing his muscles, and linking the far-reaching nature of Lantern back to its core.
Far more than an ambitious stylistic convergence, Lantern is a brave, bold and optimistic album with a distinct heartbeat. A guiding light to it’s inevitable imitators – it pushes boundaries while still aiming squarely for pop’s pleasure centers is not a task for the faint-at-heart and here Birchard has faced the challenge head on.