When it comes to taste-making hip-hop, alternative pop and R&B, Jeff Bhasker, 29, has practically created a whole genre unto himself. You can hear his quietly explosive brand of pop in his groundbreaking work on Kanye West’s “808s & Heartbreaks” and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” collaborations with Alicia Keys (“Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart,” “Girl On Fire”) or genre-bending work with fun. and Nate Ruess (“We Are Young,” P!nk’s “Just Give Me A Reason”), but also in other recent hits by Lana Del Rey (“Summertime Sadness”), Emeli Sande (“My Kind of Love”) and Kid Cudi (“Wild’n Cuz I’m Young”) bear his now-signature formula, via Bhasker’s frequent collaborators Emile Haynie and Patrick “Plain Pat” Reynolds, respectively.
Perhaps that’s why Bhasker’s ready to reinvent himself. “Right now I’m kind of searching for maybe evolving my sound. It’s interesting to hear all these sounds now that still have the seeds of what me, and [Patrick] Plain Pat [Reynolds] and Kanye and Emile have proliferated – all these spooky, organic, however you want to call them songs,” he says.
In the meantime, Bhasker shared some insights into his collaborations with P!nk, Keys, Taylor Swift and Kanye, his upcoming work with Natalia Kills as well as his own pet project, musical alias Billy Kraven.
“Just Give Me A Reason” has become one of the biggest hits for P!nk as well as yourself. How were you two initially paired?
I think it actually came about through [RCA co-president] Peter Edge. He was one of the first people that believed in my music and my sound. And I think she had wanted to work with Nate as well. And we just kind of did it in one day and got together and hammered it out… it just kind of magically came together, and almost in an improvisational way. I started playing some chords and Nate just started singing, and Alecia [Moore, a.k.a. P!nk] started typing down lyrics and we just kind of put the song together from there. It was an unusually collaborative and spontaneous song.
Do you prefer writing songs from scratch, or producing songs other people have written?
All of the above. I wrote “Sleeping With A Broken Heart,” it was like a complete song, before I laid it down with Alicia. “Run This Town” was like let’s come up with each verse and I just happened to come up with this one verse. Or if the song is just amazing and the person has it written like “We Are Young,” which was largely written, or Taylor Swift and “Lucky One,” which was a fully formed song, then it’s like, “OK great it’s done le’s record.” When the songs are in different stages you have to help them in different ways. I want to understand what they’re trying to do and trying to say.
You weren’t involved with “Yeezus,” but what was your take on the music?
I think it’s amazing. I think what came out was a fresh and awesome sound that was really challenging and innovative and exciting to listen to. It’s harder to listen to, but that’s why you’ll still be listening to it in 10 years, 20 years — not whatever else album came out today. I love Wale, but I don’t think that’s the music people are going to actually say, “That’s what defined this year.” That’s what Kanye does – over and over again.
Given your high profile these days, you must be fielding all sorts of requests from artists big and small. What makes you say yes?
I’d like to develop an artist form the earlier stage, when you just have raw talent and help guide them and allow them to develop faster or more wholly. That’s the most interesting thing to me when someone has a concept and I can help refine the concept and guide it. Natalia Kills is an artist I’m working with, where she’s been around but I’ve known her for so long that we actually collaborate really well together. I encouraged her to write more songs on her own, not to just write to her tracks, and I think she did some of her best writing on this album [due in September on Cherrytree.]
You’ve also been spending time on your own music, under the name Billy Kraven. Some of the songs on your mixtape, Born On The Fourth July, sound like they might have been originally intended for other artists. Were they?
Some of the songs are three or four years old. They’re all during an era when most of my big records and my music started being exposed so it’s all in that vein. I love all that music, that’s why I wanted it to come out. It deals with a lot of different and difficult subject matter that’s kind of missing from today’s music. It’s cool to just put it out there and let people hear it.