The double life of Cullen Hughes

Meet the student behind LUCID, SoundCloud’s lo-fi hip-hop extraordinaire

CARLO JAVIER // EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Cullen Hughes is not hiding anything, but you could say that the 21-year-old, fourth-year Capilano University Business Administration student lives a double life. On any given day, he could pass as any regular university student. He loves hip-hop, works a part-time job at North Shore Community Resources and learned to play the piano in the third grade before switching over to trumpet in high school. But there’s a duality in Hughes that does not always manifest itself in your everyday student. When the sun goes down and night sets in, Hughes tidies up his room, prepares some green tea and gets to work. While his classmates and peers may refer to him simply as “Cullen”, on Soundcloud, Hughes is known as “LUCID”, a lo-fi hip-hop extraordinaire.

In the near two years since he started releasing music under the moniker of LUCID, Hughes has amassed over 2,000 followers on Soundcloud, been a part of online music collectives within both the electronic and the lo-fi hip-hop community and as of last summer, started working with United Common Records (UCR) and is due to release two albums under the startup label.

It was a serendipitous moment at a previous job that gave Hughes the idea for the name, LUCID. In what seemed like just another routine shift, Hughes noticed something unusual in the pet store’s latest shipment haul. He had grown accustomed to seeing brands like Jamieson’s and Super Pet, that when he saw “Lucid”, he could not help but comment on how out of place it was. “That’s way too cool for a pet food name,” he recalled.

While his takeoff into music started in the third grade, his production work only began just around two years ago. A long-time hip-hop fan who taps Madlib, J. Dilla and Flying Lotus as his biggest inspirations, Hughes found he needed a way to satisfy his creative desire – one that a trumpet just could not achieve on its own.

His first productions centered on experimental electronic music. “JUNGLE”, the first track uploaded on his SoundCloud is reminiscent of the ‘intelligent dance music’ (IDM) that Flying Lotus popularized. “Dark Forest” channels a similar electronic feel, even almost breaching towards the ominous atmosphere of Until the Quiet Comes. Soon, Hughes branched out of electronic, and found his niche in the lo-fi hip-hop community. “Most of the music that I do listen to is pretty laid back and relaxed,” he said. “The sound that I come out with reflects a little bit of the sound that I listen to.”

These “laid back and relaxed” tunes are evident in the music Hughes has released. “Proceed” is a keys-driven track that features the dexterous rapping of Spokane-based emcee, Xander. In “Before You”, another collaboration with Xander, and beatmaker Kasper, Hughes calls back to his jazz roots, offering a lush environment for the impressive rapper. His other inspirations are also evident in the overall aesthetic and presentation of his music. Tracks feature anime and cartoons as art and the song “Over”, even starts off with a sample of a scene from Death Note. “I like that VHS, 90s look,” said Hughes. “I feel like lo-fi with the vinyl static fits that look.”

Part of what makes Hughes’ production so gravitating is how he combines his skill with a digital audio workstation with his knowledge of classical instruments. “You hear a lot of the newer people, they’ll find some weird jazz song they’ll hear on YouTube, download it, put a couple of drums over top and throw it on Soundcloud,” he said. “I like to add my own layers to the song as well, so I’ll put in my own bass line, synths that I have, do all that kind of stuff myself.”

While his work as LUCID has given him a creative outlet to prosper his passion, there is a bit of dissonance that looms. “It’s weird releasing music, because it is almost personal,” he said. “It’s weird saying, ‘Ooh I like this, I made this’ and then putting it out there, it feels kind of almost exposing, so it’s nice having people out there saying, ‘It’s good, we like it, it sounds good’.”

The latest song on Hughes’ Soundcloud is the aptly-titled “Things will be better soon”. The track is a dreamy adventure that samples Chet Baker’s “You’re Mine, You”, looping and layering the song’s haunting jazz guitar intro with a simple drumbeat. Hughes’ modifications may seem innocuous, but the little details he added completely transformed Baker’s melancholic tune, to a lush, cozy and relaxing song.

Hughes admits that he was not in the best of places when he mixed the song. His girlfriend had been away travelling, and the song’s somber feel perfectly captured his gloomy mood. Released six months ago, “Things will be better soon” essentially marked a potentially massive shift in Hughes’ young career. After its release, UCR reached out to him with an opportunity. LUCID has been silent as of late, but this could very well be just a momentary blip. With two albums on the way, things just might indeed be better soon.

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