Since the Beatles set the blueprint in the ’60s, musicians’ careers have been bolstered by reinvention. Miley Cyrus, for instance, found a new lease on life by transforming from country-pop star to hypersexualized party queen, while superstar DJs like Tiësto have deliberately moved through trance, electro, and house.
For feted Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth, however, the progression from Juno-winning electronic star to bona fide hip-hop producer was a happy accident.
“More than anything, I’m indecisive,” he tells the Straight on the line from his hometown of Toronto. “I’d say that scatterbrained-ness is basically my sound or quality as an artist. Whatever I start making when I wake up, I just go for it.”
Hemsworth has R&B artist Tinashe to thank for connecting him with the hip-hop world. Touring through the States with the singer, the producer took a break halfway through the dates. Finding himself in Atlanta, the epicentre of southern rap, Hemsworth took time out to hit the studio and create some new music. There, a stream of talented performers crossed his path every day.
“Up to that point, making music was all about collaborations through email,” he recalls. “A lot of rap started happening just because I was in the same place as so many people. The writing was able to go really quickly—much faster than emailing, where you send something to someone, and then you basically have to bug them every week or two for them to pass it back. We got results fast.”
Hemsworth is already building a name for himself in the scene. Last summer, he released his first high-profile hip-hop collaboration, “Hunnid”, a track that features Bay Area legend E-40 and Atlanta’s Yakki, and was later tapped to curate a guest mix for Drake’s OVO Sound Radio. Following that success with a fistful of further sessions, Hemsworth recorded a full-length album, and plans to release the project, called Elsewhere, by the end of summer.
“It’s a challenge to jump into a new genre, because you’re opening yourself up to new worlds,” he says. “In the electronic community, I think people generally know my name, or I’ve toured so much you’ve probably caught me at some point. In the rap world, it’s humbling, because I’m unknown. It’s like starting fresh each time I work with someone different. I quite like that.”
The smoothness of Hemsworth’s transition relies largely on his attitude to production. Putting his collaborators first, the musician sees his role as that of a facilitator—someone who empowers the vocalists or contributors he works with. Able to shift his sound to accommodate all kinds of performers, Hemsworth is a selfless creator.
“When I work with people, I’m most comfortable when I sit back and create a platter for them to do their thing on,” he says. “Part of it is knowing who I’m going into a session with. I’m lucky to record with people that I’m actually a fan of, so I understand beforehand what their sound is like and what their strengths are. Everybody has different tastes for the production they like, and I try to approach each song by saying, ‘I know you like this kind of synth’ or ‘I know you like samples, or this kind of drums,’ so I’ll incorporate that into what I’m writing. At the same time, that approach lets me push someone a little further in a direction they might not go on their own.
“I’m really excited for the new record to come out,” he says. “It’s a bit all over the place, but in a good way. I think it finds that balance.”
Ryan Hemsworth plays Fortune Sound Club next Thursday (May 10).
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