Van Hunt


R&B | Funk | Neo-Soul | Indie | Alternative

Blue Note


indie r&b icon van hunt’s lost album ‘popular’ is released after 10 years

August 22, 2017
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Unreleased albums create an alternate universe of what-ifs. What would have happened if Hendrix had ever gotten to release Black Gold, or Prince’s Camille (or Dream Factory or or or or), or Zach de la Rocha’s solo album? The list is long and tied to complex webs of intellectual property law, estate control, and arcane label contracts. Some of these what-ifs were answered decades too late, like The Beach Boys’ Smile, and Death’s …For The Whole World To See…, but Van Hunt’s latest, Popular occupies a strange place in that land of alternate realities by being a decade late but sounding like it was recorded last week. Maybe in this case, it took the world a decade to catch up.

Van Hunt recorded Popular in 2007, but because of various label ownership drama, was shelved by Blue Note’s then parent company EMI. Hunt went on to release What Were You Hoping For and The Fun Rises, the Fun Sets, on his own label, but Popular sat tantalizingly unreleased in Blue Note’s vault. Hunt had declare the album his most personal and was reportedly devastated by the decision to shelve it. Fast forward a decade, and Blue Note is under new ownership. Recognizing that the sounds Van Hunt was pioneering 10 years ago are suddenly everywhere, the world was finally ready for Popular.

The album is definitely a document of a tumultuous period in Van Hunt’s life. The songs veer wildly between post-punk breakup anthems, folky reminiscence, and R&B seduction. It’s easy to hear the turmoil in his life, particularly on cuts like “Ur A Monster,” plays like a mini-opera.

Echoes of Prince abound, with “The Lowest 1 Of My Desires” mutating the future funk into an industrial-tinged fulfillment of Trent Reznor’s famous declaration that he was just trying to make a Prince album with Pretty Hate Machine. The come-ons aren’t just come-ons, there’s an acknowledgment of the hollowness of the whole thing. “Jump on the ground and wrestle with my shame / Because I don’t want to hide behind anything.”

When the weary optimism of “Finale (It All Ends In Tears)” rolls, it’s hard not to hear a metaphor for the album itself. It’s a love song that acknowledges that it’s all going to end in tears. Heartache is inevitable, but it’s worth the pain. The process of bringing Popular out of the shadows has been full of heartache too for Van Hunt, but hearing it after such a long wait, there’s no question it was worth the pain.