Beatnik Ear Candy is OD Hunte’s debut album, but he’s no newcomer. On the contrary, this singer, rapper and producer – born in Trinidad, now resident in North London – is a music industry veteran with a CV that encompasses star collaborations, a string of production credits as long as your arm, and music placed on some of the biggest movies of the day. If you don’t know his name, it’s because prior to now, OD’s been a back room kind of guy, more to be found writing and recording, playing and mixing – but stood just outside the spotlight. “For a long time I didn’t feel I had something to say,” says OD. “I knew how music should sound, I knew how to direct other artists – but I felt like, what can I rap about?” Over time, though, a number of songs began to linger on his hard drive – songs that didn’t feel quite right in the hands of other artists, but felt like a body of work. And gradually, Beatnik Ear Candy began to take shape.
And thank God it did. Because OD Hunte’s debut album is a breath of fresh air, a hip-hop album made with smarts, songcraft and a true global attitude. Listen to the mix of styles here – from the dramatic rap histrionics of “Big Things” and “Beautiful Rhyme Story” to the Rudimental-tinged summer anthem “Lost Time”, the sparkling electropop of “Best In Life” to “Kingston Town”, a sunny homage to the music, people and culture of Jamaica. Eclecticism, says OD, is in his blood. “Growing up, my dad used to play Bob Marley, Motown, country and western, steel bands and calypso – a real mix of stuff. So channelling these different styles of music doesn’t feel crazy to me, it feels natural.”
The path here has been a long one. OD’s father worked for the oil company Amoco, and brought OD and his sisters to England while they were in their teens. The young OD was already making music on a Casio keyboard, building loops with a basic sequencer. But it was when a university friend doing work experience at a major studio handed him a DAT breaking down the innovative Teddy Riley production of Bobby Brown’s new jack swing classic “Two Can Play That Game” that OD’s eyes were opened to the glittering possibilities of music production. Soon, he was selling his own sample CDs, and before long was writing library music that began finding its way onto films and TV.
OD’s CV speaks for itself. He’s worked as an actor and a model. He’s penned songs for major labels, and recorded a bona fide platinum record with the Flemish vocalist Natalia Druyts. His song “Get Them Hands Hi” – a collaboration with Artful Dodger vocalist Lifford, released under the group name Ten Days Till – has appeared everywhere from NBA Live 07 to American Pie: Presents Beta House to Fast And Furious to Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and has clocked close to a million views on YouTube. When he’s not recording for films, TV and commercials, you’ll find him working with up-and-coming artists, in the studio with the likes of Wretch 32, Emile Sande, Leona Lewis, and Fleur East – the breakout X-Factor star who was recording music with OD just before she signed to Simon Cowell’s Syco.
Accordingly, Beatnik Ear Candy offers up a mix of name artists and rising stars. The smooth, soulful “Never 2 Late” features an old friend in the shape of Mark Barry of BB Mack. On the heartbroken “Be Alone”, we hear Jeanine – the girl from Dizzee Rascal’s “I Luv You”. Elsewhere, there are wild cards, like Geneva Lane, who lends a smoky soul to “Pick Me Up”, or South African rapper Index Dex. “One thing I’ve always tried to do with the raps is stuff that’s real – stuff that’s happened to me, or stuff that’s happened to people I know,” says OD. The one exception to that is the chilling, angry I Can’t Breathe, a response to the death of Eric Garner, a New Yorker whose death was captured on video after he was put in a chokehold by police. When he heard about it, says OD, he was outraged, and the words just flooded out. “The best tracks are the ones that just write themselves.”
So now, like his hero Kanye West, OD is moving out of the back room and into the spotlight. It’s about time. But one more question: what about that unusual album title? Of course, there’s a tale. Inspired by Maradona, Hunte decided he wanted to be a footballer. “When I was just starting training, a guy said to me, Hunte – you know you’re pretty unorthodox? In Trinidad, that translates as, you’re bad. But I look at myself now and think, a lot of what I’ve done is unorthodox, in the true meaning of the word. The album throws all these different styles put together, like candy – and maybe it shouldn’t work, but it does. Beatnik is another word for unorthodox, so that was that – it’s like ear candy, Beatnik ear candy.”