Vanilla – (United Kingdom) – Hip-Hop Producer
A little over a year ago a dear friend of mine from Portland, Oregon suggested that I take a listen to an instrumental album called “Soft Focus”, constructed by a producer from Oxford, England named Vanilla. I was unfamiliar with his music at the time, but after reading up on him a bit, I came to learn that some of the young producer’s major influences (J Dilla, Madlib, Flying Lotus) were not only some of my personal favorites, but just generally regarded as some of the most significant hip-hop producers of the last decade.
If you’re a fan of hip-hop, you likely know who J Dilla is and what he has meant to the foundation of the genre. But ever since his sudden passing (due to Lupus complications) in 2006, it seems as if hip-hop has been lacking that ever so particular sound that he brought such life to. It’s hard to explain what that specific sound is, but I would attempt to define it as a type of hip-hop that embraces all musical genres that came before it. A hip-hop that incorporates the roots of Motown, Soul, Funk, Jazz and R&B into the core it. Simply put, it’s just “feel good” music.
Upon listening to Vanilla, whose real name is Hugo Harrison, it is distinctly clear that he is producing music from the same cloth that Dilla once did. He honors Dilla even in the name he chose to produce under, saying,“I selected the name Vanilla for two major reasons. 1) I have blonde hair. 2) It rhymes with Dilla.” His albums are a breath of fresh (instrumental) air to the ears of those that are interested in any of the above-mentioned genres. The undoubted, best quality about his catalog though, is the versatility of it to the individual consumer. You need the perfect music to put on while entertaining guests for a cocktail party or barbecue? How about while you study or are indulging in your creative outlet? On a long flight across the country? Driving In your car with the windows down? Thinking about your significant other? Getting over a broken heart? Working out, biking or boarding? Or simply just spending some solo time in thought? Vanilla’s music is applicable to all of the above life scenarios, and plenty more.
While the details of his background are tough to come by, he is clearly making his presence felt in the close-knit circles of producers and hip-hop fans alike. His three most recent albums, successively released in 2011 (High Life), 2012 (Soft Focus) and 2013 (For What It’s Worth), can all be found for streaming and download at his bandcamp or soundcloud pages, with the 2012 release, Soft Focus, being the most acclaimed compilation to date. He is currently in the studio working on some new content for the masses, and I along with a rapidly progressing fan base, will be impatiently awaiting.
I tend to judge the quality of an album based on its ability to play smoothly all the way through, hiccup free, with the listener’s impulses to skip tracks being absent. All three of Vanilla’s aforementioned albums, flawlessly achieve the full album-cruise control status. Click play, step away, enjoy, repeat.
Below are a few select tracks from his recent albums–
A Chance (Soft Focus):
Wishiknew (For What It’s Worth):
Still Love U (Soft Focus):