Few people would have bet that one of hip-hop’s most influential producers in the 2010s would come from Glasgow.
Ross Birchard, aka Hudson Mohawke, emerged from the Scottish underground in the 2000s and quietly took over hip-hop in the space of a decade, adding weight to Rakim’s adage that “it ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.” In 2003, as DJ Itchy, he became the youngest ever turntablist to reach the DMC UK finals; two years later he released his first forays into hip-hop as part of Surface Empire alongside Dom Sum and as Heralds of Change with Mike Slott. The string of EPs the Heralds released on Dublin’s All City imprint between 2005 and 2007 were ahead of their time – five years later, their take on hip-hop was a mainstream concern.
It’s as one of the sonic cornerstones of LuckyMe that Birchard first hinted at his potential. Founded in the early 2000s, LuckyMe evolved throughout the decade as a collective of like-minded friends driven by a passion for music and innovation. Unafraid of taking chances and pushing the music into new directions, LuckyMe’s artists pumped out digital curveballs and connected with the world on MySpace and in the clubs. Soon enough, inquiring minds came calling.
In 2009, after the Heralds of Change EPs and a now legendary beat tape, Hudson’s Heeters, Warp Records knocked on Birchard’s door. A year earlier, they’d signed Los Angeles’ own beat wonder, Flying Lotus, and in 2010 they roped in fellow LuckyMe maverick Rustie. Warp was banking on the most unique voices from the so-called late 2000s beat scene, artists who clearly had the potential to make the transition from the underground to the mainstream.
Six years on from his Warp debut, Birchard has well and truly infiltrated the upper strata of the music world. Kanye West brought him on board as an in-house producer for G.O.O.D Music, resulting in credits on Yeezus, Pusha T’s My Name Is My Name and Drake’s Nothing Was The Same. Just Blaze, someone Birchard always admired and who in turn recognised his unique style, announced to the internet that HudMo made “the chords I hear in my dreams”. And in the early 2010s Birchard formed TNGHT with Montreal’s Lunice, another LuckyMe family member, and ended up turning a stylistic joke into the quintessential festival soundtrack for bro ravers.
Throughout it all though Birchard has remained the same quiet, elusive music nerd he’s always appeared to be. but don’t let that fool you. He’s managed to achieve what few other producers from his generation have: to be a hip-hop producer in the traditional sense and an artist in his own right. Here’s a celebratory run-down of 10 of his key tracks to date…
(from Hudson’s Heeters, 2006)
As Kutmah put it recently, will someone please just release a high quality version of Hudson’s Heeters already?
‘Still On It’
(from Ooops!, LuckyMe, 2007)
Birchard’s first official solo release as Hudson Mohawke and LuckyMe’s debut as a label (collaborating with Wireblock), Ooops! was the soundtrack to many a MySpace late night adventure. A collection of four R&B bootlegs, the Ooops! EP is testament to both Birchard’s forward-thinking sensibilities and the label’s knack for being ahead of the sonic curve. While it left a fair few heads confused on release, drop any of these joints today and watch the spot blow up without people thinking twice.
Heralds of Change
(from Puzzles, All City Records, 2007)
Tucked at the back of the Heralds of Changes’ third EP, ‘Work That’ is a perfect sonic photograph of that moment in time when beats and dubstep were the best of friends. Low down and dirty.
(from 6×7, 2008)
Birchard’s contribution to All City’s 7×7 series was a curveball of oddities, three cuts of out-there weirdness when everyone expected banging beats. The beatless ‘Star Crackout’ is a standout, an eerie, fractured ballad for the digital generation.
(from Room Mist, LuckyMe, 2009)
Birchard’s production for fellow LuckyMe signee Nadsroic was a summation of his early intent to blend the smooth with the rugged in the vein of Ooops!. While the EP remains criminally slept on, ‘All Hot’ did make it on his debut album for Warp.
(from Polyfolk Dance, Warp Records, 2009)
That drop. One of two cuts from Hudson’s Heeters that made it to his first Warp release.
Bonus cut: ‘Monde’
(from Butter, Warp Records, 2009)
Alongside ‘Overnight’, this is as good an inception point as any for Birchard’s so-called maximalist approach.
Bonus cut: ‘ZOo00OOm’
‘Woof Woof’ (Hudson Mohawke remix)
(‘Woof Woof’, 2010)
This remix for Dan Deacon showed off Birchard’s growing pop sensibilities, already apparent in Butter, and the ingredients for the recipe that would allow him to infiltrate the mainstream: drums that sound like a kid bashing away in his room and sugar sweet melodies that play earworm in your head for days on end.
(TNGHT, Warp Records, 2012)
The best jokes are the shortest.
Bonus cut: ‘Chimes’
(My Name Is My Name, GOOD Music, 2013)
That thing I said earlier about Birchard’s pop sensibilities? It also works with rap shit. A Glasgow kid and Kanye West soundtracking Pusha and Rick Ross? That’s hip-hop right there.