A hum­ble ge­nius, Mr Hud­son has worked with Kanye, Nile Rodgers and Amy Wine­house, bal­anc­ing old school sounds with an ear to­ward to­day’s sonic sen­si­bil­i­ties.

Schon! - - Meeting Mr Hudson - Words / Evan Ross Katz Pho­tog­ra­phy / Kirk Ed­wards Styling / Kisha C. Jones Groom­ing / An­gelina Cheng

From a de­gree in English Literature at Ox­ford Univer­sity to find­ing him­self on a plane en route to Hawaii to meet Kanye West, the beat of Hud­son’s own drum has landed him a se­ries of very for­tu­nate events. So many, in fact, that our chat re­ally only man­ages to scrape at the sur­face of the path of this record­ing artist, writer and pro­ducer.

“It’s very easy to com­plain about the main­stream and bub­blegum or pulp,” he says. “We look back with rose-tinted spec­ta­cles and say, ‘Oh it was bet­ter then.’ You think that the only mu­sic be­ing made in the ’60s was The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, The Bea­tles and Ste­vie Won­der, but there was plenty of shit then, and into the ’70s and ’80s and so on, and even now...” Ben McIl­dowie – who goes by the stage name Mr Hud­son – is thank­fully not amongst to­day’s shit-pro­duc­ers.

Grow­ing up in Birm­ing­ham, Eng­land, Hud­son’s home was filled with books and records. The city, how­ever, was not an en­vi­ron­ment that com­monly bred artists. “No one got record deals there,” he states. “It didn’t feel like any­one did any­thing with the mu­sic other than en­joy it, to be one of the bands that played once a month in one of the lo­cal pubs.” So, when did Ben McIl­dowie first be­come Mr Hud­son?

“The first show I ever did, I was 16, and I rang up the pro­moter and said: ‘I’d like to come and do this open mic night.’ He says: ‘What’s your name?’ I say ‘Ben McIl­dowie.’ He says, ‘Sorry, say that again.’ ‘Ben McIl­dowie.’ He says, ‘Have you got a mid­dle name?’ From that day on, my stage name was Ben Hud­son. Then when I started work­ing with hip-hop pro­duc­ers, I re­alised that be­ing Ben Hud­son with an acous­tic guitar meant that I was just in a line of nice boys with nice songs on the guitar and I wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. I wanted to in­cor­po­rate hip-hop el­e­ments. I needed a more orig­i­nal name, so I made it Mr Hud­son. Nice guys fin­ish last. I was be­ing ig­nored, so that was one of the ways in which I flipped the script.”

Earn­ing his English literature de­gree proved fruit­less and the sum­mer hol­i­day fol­low­ing his grad­u­a­tion be­came a never-end­ing one: “I left col­lege at 21 and thought I’ve got to get a job and then thought ‘Fuck that! Maybe the fact that I love mu­sic means I can pay my rent with­out get­ting a job.’ But it wasn’t un­til 26, that I ac­tu­ally got my shit to­gether and landed a record deal.” From there, Hud­son joined Paolo Nu­tini, Mika and Groove Ar­mada in open­ing for Amy Wine­house on her tour. “What I liked about Amy is that she kept it a lot realer than a lot of other peo­ple who talk about keep­ing it real,” he re­calls. “A lot of artists are writ­ing cookie cut­ter lyrics and I think Amy’s suc­cess is a re­minder that peo­ple ac­tu­ally love a bit of speci­ficity in their lyrics. It re­minds me of Joni Mitchell: a com­bi­na­tion of hon­esty and speci­ficity.”

With two suc­cess­ful solo al­bums un­der his belt, Hud­son is still ar­guably best known for his work along­side Kanye West, who has re­mained a fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor. “He heard my first al­bum when he was in Ja­pan,” Hud­son ex­plains. “I guess he didn’t want to lis­ten to hip-hop while he was work­ing on his fash­ion stuff over there. Next thing I knew, I found my­self in Hawaii work­ing on 808’s and Heart­break. Just like that.” It turns out that when he sent his track There Will be Tears to Kanye, the su­per­star had emailed two min­utes later telling him to get on the flight to Hawaii straight­away. Hud­son de­scribes the sound they cre­ated to­gether as a “sad ro­bot voice: a com­bi­na­tion of au­to­tune, sad lyrics and ag­gres­sive drums.”

Fresh from a year-long col­lab­o­ra­tion with Du­ran Du­ran, writ­ing and pro­duc­ing their new­est al­bum, Pa­per Gods, Hud­son is also near­ing com­ple­tion on his third al­bum, Au­tumn In Au­gust, which will be out as soon as he whit­tles down the “thou­sand or so” songs cur­rently on his lap­top down to ten. Easy, right?

It helps that he has a sharp aware­ness when it comes to pop cul­tural shifts. “There’s al­ways been a re­la­tion­ship be­tween hip-hop and fash­ion,” he states. “The as­sumed con­text of hip-hop is a low-in­come ex­is­tence. Once you get money, you want to show it; you wear it. Whereas the rich kids want to look as broke as pos­si­ble, ‘slum­ming’ it on the Lower East Side in ripped jeans and beat up Con­verse. Ironic you might say, how the rich kids want to look poor and vice versa, but I don’t care whether peo­ple roll around in ripped jeans. I don’t want mu­sic to end up com­pletely aban­don­ing mu­si­cal in­stru­ments or the process of record­ing them. I hope we’ve got another Nir­vana about to break.”

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