In 2017, the world finally caught up to Van Hunt. That was the year Blue Note issued Popular(2007) a full decade after shelving the album. It was originally slated to be Hunt’s third set following Van Hunt (2004) and On the Jungle Floor (2006), a pair of albums that introduced him as a dynamic force on Capitol’s roster. “Popular was so far ahead of its time that it sounds fresh today and reaffirms Van Hunt as an important musical voice,” Blue Note president Don Was stated at the time. “The opportunity to right this wrong is both karmically and musically solid” (19 September 2017).
Written and produced by Hunt, Popular foretold his trajectory as an independent artist, far removed from the marketing machine of major labels. “I would say to people who are now finding themselves independently driven and responsible for themselves and their own ideas to keep going,” he says. “You can’t deny that you’re having fun, even in your brokest minute and you don’t know how things are going to get paid. You don’t even know how things that are now overdue are going to get paid. [laughs] It’s a lot of pressure. At some point, things are going to break open. One thing’s for sure: if you stop, it will never happen. The struggle is not only real. It’s necessary for you to achieve something that is so grand as sustainability with your own ideas.”
Hunt’s always drawn from a creative wellspring that’s catnip for curious listeners. He cleverly melds and repurposes familiar pop forms, crafting hooks that seep into the marrow and move the body. The album cover for The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets (2015) captures Hunt in pensive repose like he’s divining inspiration from someplace beyond the present moment. The Chicago Tribune described The Fun Rises as “a plunge into layered and trippy funk and soul … music that dances between the headphones: subtle, slinky, insinuating” (1 May 2015). Six years later, the “trippy funk and soul” of that album still seems like a postcard from the future ...