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The pedigree of artists Mr Hudson has collaborated with is stellar, and a testament to his many layers and versatility. He has notched up over 80,000,000 views on YouTube with his feature on Jay Z anthem ‘Young Forever’. He collaborated with Kanye West on the platinum-selling ‘808s & Heartbreak’ album, and his solo album ‘Straight No Chaser’ dropped in 2009 spawning the #2 single ‘Supernova’ featuring Mr West.
In 2009 he featured on Jay Z’s ‘The Blueprint 3’ and in 2011 on West and Jay-Z’s ‘Watch The Throne.’ He’s also recorded and toured with Tinie Tempah, Calvin Harris and Amy Winehouse.
But Mr Hudson is so much more than this colourful history and now the spotlight locks firmly on him as he returns with ‘Fred Astaire’ – his first solo single since 2011 – and a pool of epic pop songs ahead of his forthcoming new solo album.
If the first album was likened to an Escher drawing, layer upon layer, no sense of what was to come next; the second was a take-no-prisoners collection of monster pop songs; the new material signals a new direction more influenced by Bowie than auto-tune or BPMs. “This is me in retro crooner mode, I’m tipping my hat to the greats of that generation,” he says.
As influenced by classic Motown and Stax Records, as it is by the likes of Mayor Hawthorne and D’Angelo, the white boy from Birmingham, known as Ben to his mum, was ready to take on the challenge and craft some classic grown-up love songs.
“The Americans are great at that kind of stuff, but I questioned as to whether an English bloke can get away with it and move into that space whilst remaining genuine and sincere. I don’t want to be ironic or tongue in cheek.”
Mark Ronson was amongst the first few people to listen to ‘Fred Astaire.’ “He loved it,” says Ben. “He wanted to play it as an exclusive on his East Village Radio show the next day. Up until then it had just been a file on my hard-drive. I always think that until you start playing tracks to people, they’re not alive, they don’t exist. It was brilliant that Mark wanted to help me out and be a part of its story.” It was this approval that really nudged Ben into action and our intrepid boy got in there first and snuck the song onto Soundcloud the night before, excited to hear other people’s reactions.
It was on one of Mr Hudson’s many trips across the pond where the next part of the story took shape. “I was headed to LA for a writing trip with Jake Shears and David Guetta and I bumped into Rankin at the bar on the plane. He’d shot my last album cover, so I was talking him through the new direction. Once we touched down at LAX, he casually dropped it in: ‘I’ll shoot your next video. I’d love to be involved.’ It was a no-brainer.”
The new album is loosely slated for release in late 2013. “It’s been a crap year weather-wise, so I’ve just been hiding in my studio in East London, drinking coffee, making music, trying not to rush anything.”
For the most part, the last few years have been anything but sedate. Mr Hudson piqued the interest of Kanye West after releasing his debut album ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ with The Library in 2007. The pair met at the London album playback for “Graduation” and bonded over snare drum samples. Shortly after the multi-tasking hip-hop megastar laid down the gauntlet with a simple: “Let’s see if we can make you a pop-star.”
Ben was swiftly signed to West’s label G.O.O.D. Music, where he began work on his second album with West as executive producer. The first part of the record was written during a lengthy stay at New York’s Hudson Hotel – “It’s nice to stay in a place with your name above the door” – on a $100 Spanish guitar that he bought off Time Square. Our young protagonist was in a long distance relationship that was slowly unpicked by a red-eye schedule spanning from New York to LA, Hawaii to Paris and more. “It was me saying goodbye to normality. My bags were in the hall, my laptop and passport packed. I took the leap.”
Returning to North London after months on the road, he focused on the completion of the record, the remainder of which came to life in a rented room above “The Enterprise” a pub in Camden. “I had my guitars, synths, computer and a mattress. I lived on pistachios and Guinness.” The result was ‘Straight No Chaser,’ a breakneck speed sing-along of punchy pop released by G.O.O.D. Music and Mercury Records.
“After the second album and the whole promo thing I needed a break from myself. From the sound of my own voice. I was sick of the sight of my mug in the tabloids. At one point I had 3 records in the top 50. It’s amazing and I am genuinely so thankful, but it also became exhausting.”
At a gig one night in 2011, Mr Hudson jumped off stage and broke his foot. The doctor grounded him and his schedule was cleared. “I just hibernated. I went into the studio and thought ‘let’s figure out what all these buttons actually do.’ In that period I really learned my trade, the production and writing for other artists. I suppose I just nipped behind the curtain for a bit and took the focus off myself.”
He set up his own studio, turning his attention to writing and production for the likes of Pixie Lott and Wretch 32. His later collaboration BIGKids was the result of a drunken night out in Camden with Rosie Oddie. The pair’s singalong duets received support from everyone from The Guardian and i-D, to Rob da Bank and Dermot O’Leary. Their single ‘Drum In Your Chest’ was even picked up by Stella McCartney as the official music for the Adidas/Team GB Olympic digital campaign. “I scratched an itch with BIGKids, we had a lot of fun, but then I felt like it was time to move forwards and ‘do me’ again,” says Ben.
A few months later and the second solo album is close to being finished, and Mr Hudson was definitely centre stage again as he performed new material to an intimate crowd – including Patrick Grant and Alex Zane – in a packed Soho member’s club recently.
“Everything else is still going on, I’m writing with Wretch 32, Rebecca Ferguson and Paloma Faith, but I’m so excited to share my music as me again,” says Ben. “It feels like I’m forever spinning plates, but that’s how I’m happiest.”