Yuki (Hugo Chan)
Yuki; Photo by Oli Spencer

Yuki Talks Debut Album ‘Be Free,’ Working with Jaden Smith and more

New Zealand based producer and hip-hop artist, Yuki (Hugo Chan) has unveiled his debut album, Be Free, on Friday (May 8). This new album finds the budding talent interweaving hard-hitting hip-hop production with intricate instrumentation, straight from the heart writing, and sticky vocal melodies.  This fresh and unique “D.I.Y” approach to the genre is what makes this kid exceptionally special.

Notably, Yuki has produced and assisted in writing Jaden Smith’s sophomore album, ERYS, in 2019 and also assisted with instrumentation for “NOIZE” which features Tyler, The Creator. With that track receiving impressive placement as the official intro to last year’s NBA Playoffs, Hugo’s career was kick-started, gaining him high praise amongst his musical peers.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Yuki to discuss his debut album, Be Free and to talk about working with Jaden Smith on his critically-acclaimed record, ERYS. You can read our full interview with Yuki below.

Be Free - Yuki (Hugo Chan)
Be Free – Yuki Album Art

You are gearing up to release your debut album Be Free on 5/8, what can you share with us about the recording process? Can you choose one or two songs in particular and tell us what the mind-set was like while recording and why they stand-out to you?
Two songs that stand out to me, especially in the way they were made are “Be Free” and “Darling.” “Be Free” started out as a beat with just one verse from me and I knew that I wanted it to be the intro to the album. I built out the instrumental but I couldn’t come up with anymore ideas that really stuck; I ended up sending it to all my music/artist friends and everyone came back with a verse! It ended up being like this friend group cypher track. With “Darling” it was the same, but instead of verses or vocals, it was the opposite. We went into the studio to record drums, etc. and ended up having every member play different parts of the arrangement. It was like they were there to help guide me into the album, providing their voices to back mine. They were there to see me off but letting me perform the whole song.

Notably you worked as a producer on Jaden Smith’s album ERYS, as well as with Tyler, The Creator. Can you tell us about those experiences and the effect, if any, it had on your career and upcoming album?
Of course it had a huge effect in the moment – being around people that I grew up inspired by, and being able to hang out with them and do what I love. In terms of the effect on the album, after finishing up on ERYS I had never been more motivated to work on my own solo music. Being around such iconic people and places, and working harder than I ever had before on one idea, made me want to apply that work ethic to my own music.

Are we going to see any special collaborations on Be Free?
To me, Be Free as a whole is one, big collaborative art piece, or actually more of a time capsule. All of my close music friends helped me refine and build the ideas I had, and we built memories along the way. To me Be Free is a tangible representation of all the journeys, not only musically, but as people. As far as vocal features, you can expect Maxwell Young, Thorington, Seungjin, Stupid Rich Kid, Tom Verberne, and more.

Tell us about your D.I.Y approach to the hip-hop genre and what makes you stand-out as an artist?
I wouldn’t even consider Be Free to be hip-hop, but more of a melting pot of all my influences; hip-hop is just one of them. As far as putting together the album, I really wanted to push myself and my ability as far as I could, to make it sound professional and comparable to the albums that I listen to without needing a massive budget. The album is driven and created by me, but I wasn’t afraid to reach out to others if it meant improving the overall quality. A big influence on the album’s professional feel is my mentor, mix, and mastering engineer, James Rim.

What do you hope that fans will take away from your music?
That this is the first time I’ve ever been this confident in my own music; my prior releases were almost practice to get to this point. I want Be Free to symbolize a defining moment in my solo career as the first accurate representation of who I am. If somebody asks, ‘What does Yuki sound like?’, this where you point them to.

We look at music as a universal language that speaks to people in many different ways. When did music first begin speaking to you?
I feel like music speaks to us subconsciously from the moment we are born, and it takes us a while to pinpoint the exact things we gravitate towards. For me it was during the transition into high school; music was a way for me to escape and zone out from the stresses of growing up.

When working creatively, where do you get your inspirations? What comes first for you…the
lyrical content or the instrumentation? What are some of your early influences?
Inspiration in the past few years has come less from music and more from my surroundings as well as physical things – clothes, an antique candle, architecture – and things scattered around a place of importance, like my bedroom. Right now, I would say my main musical influences are Vampire Weekend, A$AP Rocky, 80’s JPOP, Justin Timberlake, and 4:44 by Jay-Z. As for earlier on, my influences were Frank Ocean, Tyler, the Creator, Jimi Hendrix, and Kevin Abstract. My process 9 times out of 10 starts with an instrumental idea that I will freestyle melodies over. Then, if it sticks I’ll take the melody and flow, and write to it. There have only been a few times where I’ve written the song first; those moments are really special to me.

In other interviews in the past you have spoken out about feeling like an “underdog” at times during your career. How has that mentality continued to push you forward?
For me feeling like an underdog, or feeling uncertain where you stand in the music industry just pushes me more to be myself and create whatever I want. So many people get stuck in the act of trying to fit in and impress people and it never lasts. I think it’s all about understanding perspective and how those feelings affect your world rather than how you can affect someone else’s.

What does the rest of 2020 hold in-store for you, as obviously the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc upon the industry …what are some of your goals?
I’m still back in my hometown working away on a visa to get back to the States. I’ve already made more than 30 songs for a follow-up project to Be Free, which I can hopefully get done before the end of the year. I want Be Free to go triple platinum first week, but more realistically aiming for just double!!

What has been one of the biggest “moments of mayhem” over the course of your career thus far?
Being mentally at the point of giving up, and then a week later being asked by Jaden [Smith] to work on ERYS – felt like the universe was telling me to harden up and keep going.

Where can fans keep up-to-date with you? where can we find you on social media?
I’m mostly on Instagram and sometimes Twitter, both handles are @yukithedogman

Any special messages you would like to share with fans?
I’m sorry for the wait, I know I was talking about the album dropping last year and I know the wait has been too long, but I promise the wait will be worth it! It’s only going to get crazier from here.

About Kristyn Clarke

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