Brand-New World: Hudson Mohawke Takes a Break From Rap on His Latest Album

The Scottish producer talks about working with Kanye and Miguel, his controversial quotes, and why he’s walking away from hip-hop (for now).

Photo by Andy Hur

Hudson Mohawke is nervous. Despite a welcoming smile and handshake, the producer from Glasgow, Scotland, carries an air of discomfort. His unease is understandable. It’s a little past 10 a.m., way earlier than most musicians would willingly agree to meet for an interview. But here we are in the lobby of New York City’s Tribeca Grand Hotel. He apologizes for being more than 30 minutes late, explaining that he had to handle some last-minute negotiations for an upcoming show. He orders a cup of tea and settles into one of the hotel’s plush leather couches. People come and go without the slightest idea that one of the best producers working today is chilling in their midsts. But that’s how Mohawke prefers it.

Born Ross Birchard to an acting teacher and a BBC radio host, Mohawke, 29, has had one of the most unlikely rises in recent memory. He started out as a kid experimenting with Fruity Loops in his parents’ basement, and after winning a number of DJ competitions, he has risen to become one of the most in-demand producers working today, in multiple genres. He and Canadian producer Lunice, whom he met in 2008, formed a duo called TNGHT, and together, they are responsible for  popularizing a form of electronic music that we now refer to as “trap”—a bass-y mix of fluttering high-hats and thunderous drops that has become the go-to sound for music festivals the world over. He’s dropped his own albums full of productions that bridge the gap between classic soul-based hip-hop production (he’s gone on record to say his favorite producer is Just Blaze). And he’s produced for Drake (“Connect“), Pusha T (“Hold On”), and, most famously, Kanye West.

Mohawke has arguably made his biggest impact on popular music with West. Recruited in 2013 to join West’s Very G.O.O.D. Beats production company, after working on “Mercy” for the Good Music compilation album, Cruel Summer, Mohawke helped craft the sound for West’s industrial, minimalist, sixth album, Yeezus. He also put in work—along with about 30 other people—on “All Day,” the single for Ye’s upcoming album, SWISH. All of that is a lot for anyone to accomplish, let alone a man who has difficulty speaking above library tones. You would think that by now, little would phase the guy who splits his time between London and Los Angeles. So, what is making Hudson Mohawke so nervous? “Doing shows like tonight, because it’s the first time we’re doing a band show,” he says. His performance tonight at Irving Plaza will be the first time he plays with a live band, and he’s been working painstakingly to make sure everything, including a custom-made neon sign that spells out his name, is perfect.

However, talk to him long enough and you get the sense that what actually makes Hudson Mohawke nervous is this—interviews. For a guy with such a low profile, his words have caused quite an uproar. For that reason he keeps mum on a number of topics. For example, during a recent interview with the Guardian, when asked about his work on West’s upcoming album, Mohawke said: “I just don’t say anything. I’ve learned the hard way. The amount of times I’ve said to the interviewer, ‘That’s not recording, make sure that’s not recording,’ then all of a sudden the headline is whatever I’ve said, ‘Under no circumstances can you say this.’ So, now I say as little as possible.”

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