Does the name Robin Hannibal ring a bell? If not, then perhaps the music this Denmark-born, Los Angeles-based producer has made will sound familiar — his sensuously attuned soul-pop group Rhye released the brilliant slow-jam Woman earlier this year, and of course, he’s sampled in Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” which you have definitely heard.
Robin “Hannibal” Braun gained traction here in the United States in 2006 with Living With … Owusu & Hannibal, an underrated nu-soul gem made with Danish singer Philip Owusu. Additional work with the Boom Clap Bachelors, a collective of Danish musicians enthralled with American soul music, and the solo album Bobby made him a favorite of the underground indie-soul circuit and influential DJs like Gilles Peterson and Garth Trinidad.
That led to the unexpected success of Quadron, a 2009 project Hannibal launched with singer and Boom Clap Bachelors member Coco O. “The funny story is, we never shipped it to anyone in the States,” he tells Hive. “It was because of the projects I had done earlier that some of the radio DJs and tastemakers in the States found out I was doing Quadron. They figured out how to get it and then slowly introduced it to the U.S. market.” a process that accelerated when Plug Research licensed it for U.S. release in 2010. To capitalize on the opportunity, Hannibal and Coco O. moved to Los Angeles. Fortuitously, Mike Milosh, a singer with whom Hannibal had just begun working on what soon turned into Rhye, relocated there, too, to be with his girlfriend and soon-to-be wife.
This week, Quadron released Avalanche, a sumptuous escapade that spotlights Coco O.’s incandescent voice with Robin Hannibal’s nu-soul and R&B arrangements. Here’s a handy starter guide to the world of Quadron, as told by Hannibal himself.
1. Pharrell loves Living With … Owusu & Hannibal
When Ubiquity Records released Living With … Owusu & Hannibal, says Hannibal, “That’s when my American adventure started.” He began making industry contacts, and met Pharrell Williams, who participated in Quadron’s Avalanche sessions. “[Pharrell] mentioned [Living With] as being one of his favorite records,” says Hannibal. “He remembered a lot of the songs. He could sing a lot of them, which was really cool.”
2. How Boom Clap Bachelors’ “Tiden Flyven” turned into Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”
“Kendrick and his producers had been listening to a lot of different albums I was involved with. He knew about Quadron, Boom Clap Bachelors, and Owusu & Hannibal,” says Hannibal. “So he asked [Coco and I] if we were interested in doing some songs with him. We did a session with him, and we did some songs. In that process, they also played around with sampling some of our material.” Kendrick and producer Sounwave focused on “Tiden Flyven,” a standout track from Boom Clap Bachelors’ 2008 album Kort Før Dine Læber that’s co-produced by Hannibal and Ronni Vindahl and features vocals by Liv Lykke. Its dreamlike melody nicely complemented “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” and Kendrick’s lyrics of melancholy and introspection. “It was cool to hear someone insert [Tiden Flyven] into something entirely different,” says Hannibal.
3. Quadron nearly made it onto Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, too
“We did a couple of songs with him, and they were sounding really cool, too. But I could also hear they were sounding different than how his record ended up,” says Hannibal. “I think it made sense that he didn’t use those. But it was a good experience. He’s a really nice guy, really genuine.”
Will those songs ever be released? “I don’t know. They weren’t finished,” he says. Then he adds, “One of them was a song [Kendrick] wanted for him and Drake, and then he ended up doing the “Poetic Justice” song.” Quadron turned that demo into “Better Off” from their new album Avalanche, which features a new verse from Kendrick.
4. Quadron’s first album was actually a soundtrack for a Danish movie
In 2009, Coco O. was asked to contribute to the soundtrack for Se Min Kjole (English translation: Hush Little Baby), a “road movie” about the adventures of four teenage girls. “[Coco] asked me if I was interested in doing it with her, and we were allowed to do whatever we wanted to do as long as we did one cover,” says Hannibal. The cover song was an interpretation of folk-rock duo Skousen & Ingemann’s “Herfra Hvor Vi Står.” The film’s producers gave the duo a chunk of cash that they turned into their debut album. “We made it without really watching the film. We kinda knew what the film was about – we read the initial script, and we tried to put some of our songs in some of the scenes. But they weren’t really asking us to change anything. They just wanted the same voice for the different songs in the movie.” You can hear Quadron’s “Slippin’” in the theatrical preview for Se Min Kjole.
5. What does the name Quadron mean, anyway?
Both Hannibal and Coco O. are mixed race. “My father’s father is African-American and from Michigan. And his mother is German and white. And then my mother is English and white. That makes me [a word] that they don’t really use in the States, but in Europe you do.” He says that Europe isn’t traditionally as multi-racial as the States, at least until a relatively recent influx of immigrants to the continent. In Denmark, for example, “your parents are from Denmark, and your grandparents are from Denmark, you know?” As a result, he explains, “When you’re a quarter African-American or African, it’s called quadron. And in the States, it’s quadroon. It’s the name of the Quadron project because Coco’s father’s father is African, and her mother is white, so she has a similar background that I have.”
“In Europe it’s a newer thing, and we’re very proud of it, so we wanted to show it in the name of the project,” he adds. “Also, we’re very inspired by soul music, which is such an African-American genre. We wanted to pay tribute to it.”
6. Hannibal and Mike Milosh Hooked Up Over a Remix to Form Rhye
As Quadron prepared remixes for the U.S. release of its debut, label Plug Research recommended Milosh. The Canadian-born artist released three albums of leftfield pop-soul on the label, including 2008’s iii. “He did a remix [of “Slippin’”], and it was really cool, he put some additional vocals to it. I liked them so much that I took those vocals and made a new song out of it, with a different chord progression and rhythm,” says Hannibal. The new song formed the basis of “Major Minor Love” from Rhye’s Woman.
7. A Woman Was Actually the Catalyst for Rhye’s Woman
The two developed a long distance friendship – Milosh lived in Berlin, while Hannibal commuted between Copenhagen and L.A. – and discussed the possibility of working on more music. “He came to Copenhagen, and we did three songs in a week,” including “Major Minor Love,” “Woman,” and “The Fall.” After Hannibal relocated to L.A. permanently, “[Milosh] met a girl in L.A. and started coming over here as well. It was also a chance to work with me. It was very organic.” He says the sessions were incredibly focused. “We only made those ten songs [that became Woman]. We didn’t do, like, 20 demos. We only did those 10 songs, and we put everything we had into those. It’s different from any other record I’ve made. You always end up having too many songs, or songs you don’t like. … We liked all the songs we came up with.”
8. You Shouldn’t Mistake Rhye’s Voice for a Woman
“I listen to a lot of soul music, and a lot of men sing very high — Marvin Gaye, Prince, Maxwell, D’Angelo,” he says. “But [those singers] also bellow and growl or they use their lower register and their talking voice. But Mike stays in that [higher register] all the time. I think people identify singers that sing with that type of emotion and clarity with a woman. I think it’s more that than the actual tone of his voice, because to me, it’s not what I really hear.”
Quadron’s Avalanche is out now on Epic Records.