Today we’d like to introduce you to Hudson Handel.
Hudson, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am Sierra Leonean born but I grew up in Southern California, coming to the US in 2003. The diamond wars in Sierra Leone ended in 2002 and though my biological family wasn’t personally impacted by the war, there was a concerted effort within the country to find homes for displaced and orphaned children through adoption. My father wanted me to have a strong education so he made the difficult decision to put me up for adoption. My mom began the adoption procedures a few months prior to 9/11 so she had to deal with three years of bureaucratic delays to complete the process. We met in Senegal and spent a few days there completing paperwork before returning to my new home of Ojai.
Although my new family was white, my mom always tried to keep me connected with elements of West Africa. West African art and cuisine in the home was important, but music always hit extra hard. She often had artists such as Youssou N’Dour, Fela Kuti, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars, Daara J, Angélique Kidjo, and others playing throughout the home. As one does, I would dance to the rhythms and sounds and continued to have an affinity for music that I’d been hearing in Freetown.
Music and the arts were ever present in my family. I was introduced to a multitude of genres and artists from my mother and sister. My sister’s CD mixes in particular influenced my ear. Some of my favorites included Lauryn Hill, Mary J Blige, Erykah Badu, Missy Elliot, The Roots, Tribe, Biggie, Everything But the Girl, Amy Whinehouse, Thievery Corporation, and Little Dragon. To this day, I’m making connections between what I was listening to then and what I bring into my own sound.
My initial practice and performance of music began in elementary school. I’d always enjoyed sitting at a piano – any piano – and “playing” the keys. My aunt generously gifted me an electric piano on which I began to take lessons in the 2nd grade. During school, I also did choir one year and the violin another. My lessons continued until about the 6th grade when my priorities began to shift, as I was traveling a lot for club soccer and becoming more invested in kicking it with friends.
7th grade, I got an iPod and began discovering more music through Pandora. I began formulating my own library of music consisting of the usual suspects such as Eminem, Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Snoop Dog, Odd Future, Drake, Kanye, Tyga, Tech N9ne, Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa, and a lot of Jerking artists (I was big with all the dances back in 2010/2011). I brought my iPod and headphones with me to and from school every day and reflecting back now, I was well off the classical musician trajectory at this point. I admit that I resent myself for not continuing with the piano, but I know that I am blessed to have had that musical foundation set. I believe that it paved the way for my appreciation of sound and desire for creating music.
Middle school was a hard period of transition – as I think it can be for many people. I’d quit club soccer, my mother was recovering from chemotherapy, racial bullying was increasing, people who had previously been my friends seemed to have turned on me, and my academics slouched. Music became my way of processing what was going on and it continues to be a form of healing for me today.
It was a Saturday during the summer prior to 8th grade that I was introduced to music production. I remember staying the night at a close friend’s house named Jose and he pulled up Fl Studio on his laptop to show me some beats he’d put together. My world was shook! I hadn’t considered how music was made aside from live instruments being played together. Little did I know the impact that would have. Cooking beats and making music just resonated with me. I spent that night fooling around with the program and the next day when I returned homed I downloaded the mobile version on my iPod. My birthday came around a couple of months later and I asked my mom if she could get me an app called Beatmaker 2, as I think it costed $20 or something. For about a year, I was learning to make beats on these apps – attempting to recreate songs and referring to YouTube with questions. Once I graduated 8th grade, I got an iPad and was able to work on a larger screen and it was around this time that SoundCloud came up so I took advantage of it and began uploading so people could hear.
Fast forward to 2013 sophomore year of high school, I was passed down an iMac from family friends and the first thing I did was install Logic Pro. I became increasingly invested in making beats. Music became my main extracurricular along with soccer and track. Highschool was a period of self-reflectance and growth and I think that creating and listening helped to give me a safe space to do so. By junior year an identity shift was in full motion. I became less worried about being ‘cool’ and spending all my time with friends, but instead focused my energy towards my academics and music – I spent a lot of time consciously listening to and deconstructing musical productions and watching interviews with artists, producers, and engineers. I was becoming more in tune with the arts and politics that had always been a theme in my household and learning to express myself as an individual.
I graduated in 2016 and college was non-negotiable with my family. It was understood that I would attend and graduate from university and I think that was due to three reasons: one being that it was the main reason behind my father putting me up for adoption, another being that my mom didn’t attend college so she has emphasized education with her children – my sister earned her PhD and is teaching at Columbia now, and the last reason being the fact that I’m a Black man in America. When my mom decided on adopting a child from Africa, she was confronted on various occasions with questions regarding her ability to raise a Black child and what it would mean to have a Black child in America. Of course, she knew what that meant. She never allowed that to be the defining reality in our relationship nor my world view, but she and my sister were both very aware of it and did what they felt was best so I could not only be my only person but navigate the world that we live in.
I applied to a number of schools prior to graduating and got into a couple of Cal States, but UCLA (and Los Angeles) was my ambition so I decided on spending two years at Santa Barbara City College and aimed at transferring. I went not knowing what I wanted to study but quickly became inspired by environmental studies and geography, with a focus on urban design. To touch up on my music theory, I took a couple of music classes – one on the piano, and another on music history and instrumentalization. Outside of school, I was continuing to expand my understanding of mixing and mastering and enhancing my production technique. Thanks to social media, I was able to connect with other music artists and creative minds in Los Angeles and abroad. This meant I was able to trade ideas back and forth and connect through my craft in a way that wasn’t possible in Ojai and Santa Barbara. Everyday brought me closer to Los Angeles and its creative communities.
Also, I just wanted to add that a lot of stigma and hoopla surround community colleges but I endorse that route wholeheartedly. I loved my two years at SBCC. The campus is beautifully perched up on a cliff overlooking the beach across the street with the coast and mountains in view from all around. In conjunction with excellent faculty and programs, it was no surprise that it was ranked the number 1 community college in the states while I was there. I was able to save money while completing my GEs and try new life-changing experiences before transferring as a more self-assured and focused student and person.
UCLA was the last university to reply to my application so I had other schools on hold but needless to say, I was blessed to have been accepted. Dreams do come true ya’ll! My two years at UCLA have been as much about my self-growth and immersion into diverse communities I’d always sought but didn’t have access to growing up, as it has been my studies. I’ve found myself meeting and developing relationships with talented, smart, beautifully driven people of all walks of life. Moments of collaboration are bountiful, and opportunities seem to be arising left and right. The last six months have been inspiring in particular. As a member of TheBlkSpace collective, I’ve been more involved in hosting functions around music, art, and community with and for like-minded young people. It’s wonderful witnessing and playing a role in individuals coming together to bond and support one another’s passions. I’ve learned so much during this time and I’m hungry for more.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There have been two main struggles along the way. The first was living in an area devoid of any real creative community for young people – at least not in the same sense that the city offers. The Ojai Valley is a very white agricultural and tourist community that lacks diversity and cultural vibrancy. My creative endeavors were always independent and self-sustained because of this and the only way that I could connect with people who shared similar visions and values was through social media. A lot of nights were spent making and listening to music at home instead of going out to party. Along with my interests in urban design, engaging with these communities was a big draw to Los Angeles for me. I felt a certain sense of freedom and unleashed potential now that I am in the city. The other struggle was balancing my creative passions with my school work and life, but I imagine that almost every artist deals with this regardless of their medium.
The thing that people often say is “don’t be an artist if you want to have any success or income in your life”. I’m generally a pretty rational and practical person so this quote has always haunted me in the back of my mind. Throughout my years in high school, I was balancing my creative interests with school, soccer, track, and the teachings of life. I’ve grown to appreciate and value being a well-rounded individual but I also feel that being spread too thinly can leave someone lost in the middle of everything they’re trying to achieve. The beautiful thing about the arts however is that regardless of what you do in life, you can always find time to indulge in your craft. Being passionate means that you’ll always be committed regardless of the circumstances.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I’d say that I’m an artistic mind first and foremost, but music production is my bread and butter. In the last couple of years, I’ve grown into poetry and photography, and more recently songwriting. I’ve never been able to limit myself to one niche whether I wanted to or not, which is the reason why I decided against choosing a stage name other than my own. My mom has been an artist, writer, and curator for much of her life, and my sister is a historian in modern Japanese history and art. Most of my close friends growing up were Latinx and our family friends were from all walks of life – novelists, actors, screenwriters, photographers, music producers, singers, entrepreneurs, painters, mixed media artists, academics, designers, etc. I’ve also been lucky to be able to travel the world during my 21 years, and all these elements one way or another have shaped my understanding and opened my eyes and ears.
Hip-hop is the genre I work most with but I also produce electronic, Afro-Cuban inspired beats and Afrobeats. But even within hip-hop my sound varies. There’s an array of trap, trapsoul, drill, boom bap, rap, ‘SoundCloud’ rap, R&B, alternative, and jazz rap beats chilling on my hard drive. I love blending sampling and midi work. Sampling opens up a different world of possibilities in layering sound because you get things that you wouldn’t otherwise expect and the process becomes one of simultaneous creativity and discovery. Incorporating chops and samples that have been deconstructed and then reconstructed means that you can create tones, moods, rhythms you couldn’t using a midi keyboard. You not only surprise but you also surprise your listeners. It’s also really fun to scour through iTunes and YouTube in search for the perfect clip. Being able to blend instrumental and percussive sounds in new ways successfully brings a lot of joy, and when listeners are receptive of my work, it just motivates me further. I continue to work in Logic but one of my dreams is to do full collaborative studio productions with live instruments. Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ was a profound body of work for me sonically and lyrically and the album’s production value has been the bar I’ve set for myself. I have a lot of growth to show for before that day arrives but I look forward to the possibilities. If I could be a member of any major collective/label it would have to be between Top Dawg Ent. or Dreamville – but also shouts out to Pivot Gang for the dope unique work that they’re doing as a group and as individual artists.
I also have to show special appreciate for my mother, who has never once told me to stop, turn down the volume, criticized my work, or doubted my ability. Since day one she’s been my number one supporter and motivator – always checking on whether or not I’ve been working on anything new and asking for new CD mixes. I know that parents don’t always support creative outlets for their children but she’s always been there and I’ve never taken that for granted.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I am methodical in my actions and patient with my time. A lot of that is just part of my character but I’ve also learned with experience that if there is something that I truly want, I have the ability within me to bring it to fruition. It’s been nearly eight years since I began making music but the 10,000 hours I’ve put in and the steps I’ve taken outside of music have brought me to where I am today. Greater opportunities are arising every passing week and my passion and hunger is only greater for it. I’m persistent – I understand that you’re not always going to get it right the first time, but determination and flexibility more often than not gets you results. Continuing along that note, I’m a good listener and a quick learner and I always try to be diplomatic when necessary. Though I wish I could do everything myself with my own control and oversight (maybe the Virgo in me), I know that success in this world – regardless of what it is – requires working with and managing others. What I have to do is continue pushing the envelope and pushing myself; musically, artistically, creatively, socially, intellectually, etc.
- I like working directly with artists but beats can be found on my Bandcamp for $30
- Website: https://www.cliffdrive.net/
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hdsn.h/
- Other: https://linktr.ee/hdsn
Parker West, Gillian Wynn-Lawson