Van Hunt: Watch for the hook 

Industry woes catch Van Hunt's 'Popular' off guard

"Man, I love boxing."

If you've kept up with Van Hunt's tumult-filled past few months, you can understand why the soulful crooner might come out swinging with such a statement. At the moment, though, he doesn't have former labels or broken industry promises on the brain. No, Hunt's seriously talking about the ring.

"My uncle was always into boxing," he says. "He taught me a few things. It just went from there. I've always loved the sport. I've never really been in gyms or anything like that. [But] if you've ever been on tour with me, I'm shadowboxing constantly."

If the slender fella from Dayton, Ohio, ever found himself in a toe-to-toe with the heads of EMI Records again, he'd be well within his rights to pull out the real gloves and start jabbing.

Van Hunt's eagerly anticipated third CD,

Popular, was to be released in January '08 on EMI off-shoot Blue Note Records. Sadly, unless you were a music journalist or one of Van Hunt's corner men, you likely never heard the record. Chances are you probably won't, either. Talk about fighting words.

"I have no idea what's going to happen with Popular," insists the 31-year-old father of one. "They own the master on that. They opted to not sell it to me at a price that I could afford. They've got it and I'm sure they'll come out with it when they deem it necessary and profitable."

The former Atlanta resident's fans took the album's questionable release like a blow to the gut. But more astute followers wondered from the beginning how the frisky Van Hunt would mesh with Blue Note, the breezy recording home of acts such as Norah Jones. The whole thing just sounded odd.

The '06 Grammy winner swears the label eased "any of my doubts by telling me that they liked the album," Hunt says. "They said that they didn't actually have any comment on the album. That worried me as well. They said they liked it and didn't have any critique on it."

The record didn't get much negative backlash from the fortunate few who actually heard it, either. While departing slightly from the trip to funk-filled paradise heard on Hunt's '04 self-titled debut, Popular was a tad less erratic than his sophomore follow-up, On the Jungle Floor.

Popular songs "The Lowest 1 of My Desires" and "Break Down Ur Door" were set to score a mesmerizing one-two bedroom combo. If only the label hadn't thrown in the towel.

"They're just not able to spend money freely," says Hunt, who claims he won't go the traditional route with recording again. "They didn't think that they had enough money to really propel my project to where it needed to be. They would consider my project to be a little more pop than what their artists normally sound like. It would take a little more money to promote me as opposed to their regular artists. They didn't wanna spend it."

Though he's taken his hits lately, Hunt has yet to fall. He's been too busy touring and putting the finishing touches on a book of short stories. "It all started when I was going through a tumultuous time a little over a year ago," the proud new author reveals. "I just needed something to focus on. I started writing and I kept writing. I let one person read it and they liked it. I let another person read it and they liked it. It flowed into that and became a book."

And the next album? Van's also worked that into the game plan: "I have two records right now that are ready. It's just a matter of talking to different distributors [and] labels about maybe licensing these records."

He exhales. Then the rejuvenated soul contender adds, "Just come check out the shows. Now that I'll be releasing some records without somebody hovering over me, I think they'll see all of me in these records. It won't be such an intense affair."

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