Mr Hudson was just another smooth-singing, melanin-challenged British person before Kanye West took him under his wing, enlisting the crooner to work on 808s & Heartbreak and Blueprint 3 (that’s him on “Young Forever”) and signing him to his G.O.O.D. Music imprint. Now Hudson’s got a second album, Straight No Chaser, out in October; a Kanye-featuring first single, “Supernova”; and plenty of good stories. He spoke with Vulture about Blueprint 3 (before it leaked) and autographing his first breasts.
So how did you meet Kanye?
He heard the first album, he heard Tale of Two Cities. I’m really proud of the fact that it wasn’t me being up in his grill, it wasn’t, like, my record company hustling. It was just the album that did the talking, you know?
And then he flew you out to Hawaii to do 808s & Heartbreak?
You know how we do, yeah? Isn’t that crazy? Well, at first it was Blueprint 3, to sing on a track called “Young Forever.” We just did a little bit of that, and then he said, “Hang on, I need to make my album.” And then we did 808s & Heartbreaks in about three weeks. And luckily, they didn’t send me home. They kind of forgot to send me home. And I ended up being part of the whole process. So I sang on a track, and co-produced a track, and just helped out. I remember Kanye saying early on he just wanted people to help. He didn’t want people to get their own shine or their own take. It was just, “Help me make the record.”
What was the daily ritual like when you were working on 808s?
Just, you know, wake up in a nice hotel, have a cawfee, play some basketball, make some groundbreaking hip-hop. And then go to bed. And repeat.
Were you just playing one-on-one with Kanye?
Sometimes it was one-on-one, and he insists on playing full-court. That was some serious cardio. I was in the best shape of my life after that.
Are you any good?
For an Englishman, yeah. But no.
What about Kanye?
He’s pretty good. He’s got a mean finger roll. But we were sort of cursed — we’d always have to get injuries. I’m not quite sure how it’s my fault, but apparently it’s my fault that Kanye ran into the pole at one point, head first. That was a serious injury. We were watching a lot of violent movies at the time — Apocalypto, Robocop — and I think it was spilling over into our basketball culture. But it was fun. We would run around, and we’d be working on hooks, working on the lyrics while we were on the court, just sort of singing them at each other.
When things started happening with Kanye, were you nervous to tell people about it?
Well, you know, that’s the thing, you don’t want to tempt fate and say, “Oh, this is happening,” and then when it doesn’t, you look like an idiot. I kind of kept it quiet, but it got to the point where other people were doing the talking for me. People like Jay-Z, and DJ Semtex, and Kanye West were going, “Yoooo, Mr Hudson is on The Blueprint 3.” And I’m just sitting there like, “Yeah, I suppose I am. If you say so.”
What else can you tell us about Blueprint 3?
Do you know what? It’s been pretty locked down. I’ve heard the beats that Kanye’s made for it. And I’ve heard what I’m singing on, and that’s about it. That’s cool. I’m glad that I haven’t heard it yet. Now, when it comes out, I’m gonna be like a fan: “Gotta get that record, I gotta get that new Jay-Z album.” And I’m on it.
Are you friendly with Jay-Z as well at this point?
I met Jay-Z quite a while back, a couple of years ago now. He heard my stuff quite early on. He keeps his ear to the ground, J-Hov. But, you know, he keeps himself a little bit more ... where, you know, Kanye’s sort of bouncing around. I just assume that Jay-Z is in some penthouse office or something, sipping Champagne, smoking a cigar, while Kanye will be on the basketball court, or at some store looking at luminous clothes. D’you know what I mean?
Moving on to Straight No Chaser — the story is that you were living in a storage space while you were recording this album?
I was living above a pub in north London, in a room that I had used just to store my guitars and a couple of synthesizers. When I split with my girl, I was like, right, where do I go? So I just ended up sleeping on the floor and kind of forgot to leave, ’cause I got distracted by thinking, Maybe this is the time to make my album. I said to my friend, the landlord of the pub, I said “Michael, can you sort me out with a mattress?” And I just had a sleeping bag.
So are you still finding the transition to fame surreal?
I’m kind of getting used to it. I’m kind of pleased with myself because now I’m not stupidly starstruck anymore, like I was with Béyoncé. I blushed like a 15-year-old and hid in the corner and played on my laptop. But here’s a funny story: So I’m just in my little area in northern London, just puttering about, going to shops. And these two mums with their prams do you call them “prams”? What do you call them? You put a baby in it, you wheel it around?
Strollers. So these two mums with their strollers are going into the store and they’re wheeling it around. And then one just goes, “Oh, my God, you’re that man that sings that thingy with thing-a-mi-bob.” I said, “I think so, yeah.” And she ran up. And she made me sign her receipt from the supermarket. Also, talking about signing things, I signed my first mammary the other day. In fact, two. A pair of breasts. In fact, two people, so four breasts. I have signed four breasts. And they were enormous breasts.