Hudson Mohawke's turn at producing for Kanye West is exceptional as an example of how the digital age elevates people from their Playstation to the global music industry.
The R Kelly-featuring, echo-ey, uplifting album opener ‘To The World’, taken from Kanye West’s upcoming G.O.O.D. Music crew album Cruel Summer, was produced by Hudson Mohawke.
It’s our song of the week. This is not only because ‘To The World’ is an interesting, infectious track with a gospel-happy hook, but because it has an equally uplifting message in its actual production; that today is a day in which people can show such an extraordinary amount of talent or individuality, all from the comfort of their own Glaswegian home, that international superstars will take notice, will learn their name, and have their people call their people.
It’s a collision of worlds that feels so abrupt and unexpected that it has that queasiness of a bumped dodgem – just like a fairground ride, it had that unnatural acceleration, that clunky jolt, that heady surprise of being on an unfamiliar ride in what yesterday was merely a park you walked through every day. Not so long ago, Ross Birchard was a well-kept secret, a diamond in the rough, and a self-hewn diamond to boot. At twelve and thirteen years old, he began learning how to make music with the help of a Playstation game, and went from there, with the intense dedication of that person who just has to get to the next level, beat the next score, get the next expansion.
Talking to Totally Dublin earlier this month, Mohawke said of the uprising of freely downloadable software and laptops catapulting musicians into the scene, “It’s obviously amazing that it gives literally anyone the ability to make music and experiment, regardless of previous experience…Just get some software and mess around. So it’s good in that sense but it’s taken away or demystified things a little bit and also it’s made for a complete influx of people releasing music who have only been making music for like two months or something. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing but there’s no level of having to work on your craft and save your money to buy equipment and sort of cut your teeth in it.”
The thing about Hudson Mohawke is, with his head down and that video game glare in his eyes, he did work hard at his craft for many years, and it manifested itself in a sound strong enough to launch him out of his small online realm and into mainstream showbiz. It was no fast process, but it was one that saw the sudden meeting of two worlds that would never before have crossed; the performers, the people who grab microphones at awards shows when they feel the need to express themselves, and the quiet, perfectionist, software obsessives. Both have achieved some kind of superstardom; both are now sharing the same bill.
Mohawke broke the news of his collaboration with Kanye and R. Kelly to the world on his Twitter feed earlier this week, announcing “R.Kelly and Kanye over some mohawke n that’s just the first trackkk, make sure you get that GOOD Music – Cruel Summer albummm [sic]”. It was an inescapably fan-sick tweet, barely able to get around the weirdness of itself. Mohawke has built a sound for himself by intensely focussing on technology, and Kanye has worked the industry to become one of the world’s biggest stars. They are worlds apart – except they’re not, anymore.
To The World itself is a strong and promising album opener, with some great sneering Yeezy moments, some gorgeous vocal features and, of course, extraordinary, bold production that is tweaked to perfection by computer-precision hands. It raises optimism not only for the album itself, but for a music business that even now, can throw these kinds of zany curveballs; a business that even now continues to expand and to surprise us.