Coming into 2021 with over twelve million streams during 2020 alone on Spotify, Darius Henry has found his creative stride with latest album ‘BrokeN Dreams’.
Henry, known to the music world as HDBeenDope, has accumulated a large following since 2019’s breakout singles ‘Byrd’ and ‘Cayman’ amongst others, tracks he credits as part of his daily routine of making beats. He recalls, “I think the biggest part of crafting a full album is experiences; you’ve got to live. I wake up every day and go and make a beat, and just get the ideas out. That sometimes will prompt random songs; that’s how you get records like ‘Byrd’ or ‘Cayman’ – those records that are just me waking up and making something. The songs on the album like ‘Hollywood’, these are layered songs, that’s really just me living and experiencing life.”
An album built upon experiences, ‘BrokeN Dreams’ draws upon HD’s innate writing and production skills, crafting a highly produced listening experience across a 15 track epic. Calling on friends such as Rodes Rollins and Mayila for feature duties, HD discusses the importance of a strong team around him. “I think this was a really dope process; even having somebody like Mayila on ‘Creepin’ – she came in and did an amazing hook on that record, or Rodes Rollins on ‘Superheroes’, he killed that as well. My homegirl Angela, she’s in the background on ‘Hollywood’, just so many different people. They add such a great element to all these
records and I feel like they all helped produce that, so I’m super thankful for all that collaborated on this project.”
The multi-faceted artist has since re-discovered his passion for creating during the pandemic, with freeverses appearing on social media throughout the past few months. These one minute cuts sees HD exploring various aesthetics through visuals. Not being able to tour the new tracks and the lack of person to person interactions has added a new dynamic to the feedback on the album. “I haven’t got to see it in the world, if you know what I mean,” HD explains. “Reading comments is great and getting all that type of feedback is amazing, but actually being able to hear these records live is really, really important. I performed ‘Die With Me’ for the first time in November of last year and I look at that video and I’m just like, ‘man, imagine if this was at one of these festivals.’ It’s something that I’m really excited for, whenever that day comes.”
That person to person connection has been largely missed this year, the rapper tells us. “The artist in me misses shows; that’s like my favourite part of making music in general.” HD last toured with Portugal. The Man on their North American tour in 2017, which saw him open up the show. He reminisces, “I feel like that helped my live show a lot. Obviously they’re a rock group and I’m a hip-hop act; a lot of people went in there not really trying to see hip-hop. It forced me to figure out ways to bring them in, make them feel engaged and essentially have them root for me. One of the little things I’d do on that tour, when nobody really knew me, I would just go out in the line and pretend I was trying to get tickets from
people, ‘have you guys got tickets?’ It built this weird connection because I’m just making jokes with people, having fun and they’ll see me later on stage and it’s almost like I’m their friend. We made a connection and now they feel like they’re rooting for their friend, rather than just some random opener. Little things like that are what I enjoy so much about being the opener in that situation.”
With lead tracks ‘20k’, ‘Inizio’ and ‘Die With Me’ sitting at nearly 500k music video views combined, ‘BrokeN Dreams’ has become a hit with fans new and old. HD explains, “it seems that a lot of my fans who have been with me for a little bit seem like, ‘oh wow, this is a step ahead,’ and I’m very, very happy to see that. [I wanted] everything with this project to be a level up, even moving forward that’s where my mind is; levelling everything up. I’m super proud of how the production came out.” Speaking about the popular track ‘Die With Me’, HD delves into the origin of the concept, “it comes from my homegirl and she was saying, ‘I don’t know how you get up on stage, I would die if I had to do that.’ That was just something that she said which is a hyperbole that everybody says. People say that all the time but with her saying that it sparked in my head and I was like, ‘I would die if I had to go and work your job’ and that’s how ‘Die With Me’ was crafted.” The accompanying music video for the track sees HD collaborate with Erikson Corniel on the direction. Single beams of light show HD in a 3 minute emotional battle, intimately portrayed with muted colours and leaving you with an eerie sense of mortality.
Further tracks on the album such as ‘Superheroes’ move towards a more lyrically intimate production, referencing idolism. A split
concept song, ‘Superheroes’ sees HD collaborate with Rodes Rollins, accumulating into a light-hearted, chilled track that sees a piano-laced beat overlaid with HD’s rapping and Rollins’ singing. Expanding on the song, HD says, “the song has two meanings and I feel like this might be the first time I’ve ever explained both meanings. The initial concept is idols – say you’re a [six year old] child, you look at somebody like everything they do is the greatest thing in the world; you just want to be next to this person. Then you get a little bit older and they might now have conversations with you, but there’s still a degree of separation. You’re still trying to impress them. Then you get to being an adult and you start to realise like, ‘oh wait, you’re just a person, you’re not this idea that I created; you cry, you go through things like me, you’re trying to figure this out like everybody.’ That’s the breakdown of this superhero mentality. But then there’s also the side of it where it’s about money, which is why the person’s name in the song is Ben; like Ben Franklin – a hundred dollars. So when you’re six years old, ‘we can go to Toys R’ Us and probably buy like everything,’ [but] if you give a hundred dollars to a six year old, they feel like, ‘oh, I can get anything I want – the whole world is mine.’ Then you get to being a teenager and I talk about the girls who finally want me and things like that, that’s the thing you’re worrying about: the Jordans, the girls and these sides of things as a teenager. Then you become an adult with a hundred dollars, ‘what am I going to do with that? I got so many responsibilities, this thing doesn’t even matter anymore.’ So it’s that parallel between an idol and the relationship with money as you get older.”
Personal growth has been an important part of the process, HD tells us. His new podcast project ‘BeenDopeSpeaks’ aims to identify and expand upon this growth but within topics close to the album. He explains, “when I came up with the concept of the project and I had the tracklists written out, my thing was, these are topics that actually relate to people’s lives at the core of the record. Regardless if you think the song is good or not, I don’t care about that; at the core of the record these are topics that everybody has been through, and I really wanted that to shine through these podcasts. I wanted to be able to talk to my friends about these records but about the core of the songs and show people like, ‘everybody goes through this.’ Something like ‘Hollywood’, which is a song about getting out of your environment and then coming home with a new perspective, and people assuming that you think you’re bigger than them, or some shit. It’s like, ‘no, I’m just trying to tell you about my experiences, I’m just doing different shit’.” He expands, “more importantly I want to have some conversations. Once these episodes come out, I’m hoping that it will prompt some conversations between me and the people listening to the project. They can go back and even hear things they haven’t heard before and maybe even be down to share their own stories. I’m always open to hearing how people relate to the music.”
With snippets of new music coming out in the form of freeverses and the new podcast out in the world, HD has no plans to slow down. He says, “to me my whole acronym is ‘Labb Rat’ – ‘Learn and become better, receive and think.’ But that ‘learn and become better’ aspect is when I take everything that I experience as a
learning tool. [The album is a] time capsule for me. I think everything is where it’s supposed to be in that record and it’s still something I’m very proud of. It definitely was a chance for growth; the first version of this project that I had was good, it definitely just wasn’t this. I doubt I’ll be taking that along for the next one. I’m in a groove and I’m really excited about that.”
HDBeenDope’s latest album ‘BrokeN Dreams’ is out now on Labb Rat.
Photographer Emilio G Hernandez
Stylist Ines Itsaso
Grooming Koji Ichikawa @The Club New York using @LAICALE