We don’t cover dance and electronic music all the time on Pigeons & Planes, but when we do, we bring you the best of the best. Each month, Plugged will take a look at certain aspects of the electronic landscape, filling you in on the artists, scenes, and music that you should be paying attention to, whatever your taste.
It’s not often that I cry at work… or at all. It’s not that I’m a grown ass man; it’s just that I have no heart. I don’t feel like normal people feel, unless it’s related to some truly quality music. Think of how Confusion felt when he first heard “Scud Books” by Hudson Mohawke a few years back. There are feels resonating throughout HudMo’s material, and there always have been. When Benji B and HudMo spoke about Lantern, HudMo’s upcoming sophomore album, one thing stuck out: Benji mentioned that there aren’t timestamps on HudMo’s music. It’s not like you drop the needle and say “oh, this feels like 2009 HudMo”—it’s just ill.
What’s interesting, though, is that some people definitely have timestamps on when they first heard Hudson Mohawke’s material. He said it himself: some people might have first got turned onto his sound in 2012 via his TNGHT project with Lunice; others might have been around since the release of his debut album, Butter, in 2009. You could be like me, who was seeing his name bubble on production credits as early as 2007. Whatever the case may be, there’s been one constant: beautiful tracks. There’s a reason why Hudson Mohawke has become something of a right-hand man for Kanye West, and it isn’t because of his name, it’s because of his quality.
With Lantern set to drop on June 15, now is the perfect time to scroll through HudMo’s history, recognizing what makes him more than your average beatmaker or producer; he’s an artist and a visionary, with clones following in his footsteps, trying to catch up. His sound is way more diverse than you’d think, and it’s not all just trap horns and skittering drums. Let’s light the lantern and take a trek back into HudMo’s history…
Did you know he was actually a DOPE turntablist? So dope that at the age of 15, he was the youngest finalist at the UK DMC DJ competition. He didn’t end up winning, but it’s crazy to see how talented he was back in 2003. Not too many people associate HudMo with Ludacris, but he definitely kicked off this set with a dope “Move Bitch” routine. If anything, this tidbit shows two things: 1) you have to respect how into hip-hop he is that he not only became a DJ, but he delved into the art of scratching and turntablism, one of the most intricate forms of hip-hop, and 2) he always had a flair for reinventing sounds from found material. With DJs like A-Trak, Craze, and even Diplo following the path of being a hyper-nerd turntablist into differing routes of production, it speaks to how messing around with other people’s records can inspire some to charge forward and make their own.
About four years later, HudMo’s project with Mike Slott, Heralds of Change, started to take off. Well, “taking off” is four 12″ releases throughout 2006 and 2007 for All City Records, but many of the releases features raps from one of the DMV’s finest, Oddisee. There are hints of the HudMo we’d get to hear, but back then it was much more rooted in deeper hip-hop flavors (although the OliverDaySoul-featured “Bopgunn” had some lush chiptune melodies in it).
From 2007 through 2009, HudMo’s name was catching the right people’s attention, leading to his Ooops EP, which was the first release on LuckyMe. The following year, his debut album Butter dropped on Warp, and it contained a record that was huge on its own, but could have blown the roof off of a stadium if it made its was into Rihanna‘s hands. Sounds silly, but Hudson says it was earmarked for the international superstar. Either way, it’s a glimpse at HudMo’s prowess:
While some may point to “Thunder Bay” as one of the biggest tracks off of HudMo’s 2011 EP Satin Panthers (as well as his career), it might make more sense to look at “Cbat” as being one of the bigger steps in his maturation, as it felt like not just a catalyst to the next few years in HudMo’s production, but a precursor to the entire trap scene that hit the electronic music world.
He found a way to make that sound exciting and innovative, even if the drums aren’t as 808’d out as trap became. It’s the same groove, taking a hypnotic melody, crisp hi-hats, and making sure they rock perfectly atop those thumping drums.
While the massive posse cut “Mercy” didn’t drop until 2012 on the G.O.O.D. Music compilation Cruel Summer, it was actually recorded in 2011. One has to wonder how many HudMo-assisted tracks were recorded during that year. Fusing his bright, emotional sound into “Bliss” for John Legend and Teyana Taylor was a beautiful turn, and could be seen as a foreshadowing of the Miguel, Jhene Aiko, and Antony-assisted material from Lantern:
During that cruel summer, nothing was bigger than Lunice and HudMo’s TNGHT collaboration. What started (and continued to be) an experiment is mashing down sound systems became a touring behemoth, and even though they dreaded being called “trap,” you can’t deny the influence that the TNGHT EP had on a litany of producers following them. The most accessible cut from the release was easily “Higher Ground,” which married those trap horns and drums with a hypnotic, turbo-charged diva vocal. Pure club-rocking excellence:
One of the artists many figured HudMo should’ve worked with was the 6 God, Drake. We finally got to hear it, officially, on Nothing Was The Same‘s “Connect,” which highlighted how easily HudMo can turn his hand to a sparse, moody sound—the perfect bed for Drake’s sangin’.
It’s interesting to note that he spent so much time working with rappers—he has credits on recent projects from Pusha T, Kanye West, and others, including the magnum opus that is The Rap Monument. It makes a certain type of perverse sense, then, that Lantern would eschew rap features for an exploration of the sounds that seem to move HudMo now: more innovative instrumentals and singing.
For every (finally-released!) “Scud Books,” we get an “Indian Steps” (featuring Antony). For every “Ryderz,” we’re blessed with more ambitious numbers like this one, “Very Last Breath”:
We’ve hardly finished the book that HudMo’s writing; this isn’t even a full dissection, more of a Cliff’s Notes on the career of one the truest talents of the last 10 years. The key to his story is that, like many great artists, he didn’t cater to anyone but himself, and even if it took a while for people to really catch on, his moves ultimately paid off, both for himself and for the good of the future of music.
Not too many producers can balance a life working side-by-side with Kanye West AND dropping progressive albums for legendary electronic labels like Warp. Then again, not too many are like Hudson Mohawke. Cherish his sound now, and keep your ear to the ground for his future output.