Nov 18, 2022
Get to know up-and-coming Brooklyn rapper HDBeenDope
Roc Nation’s newest label signee combines old school lyricism, freestyle skills and drill beats
Darius Henry was just nine when he heard 50 Cent for the first time, but even then he knew he needed to tell his own stories through bars. Some 20 years later, Henry, who performs as HDBeenDope, is having a moment. He signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label in September and almost immediately released his hard-hitting and ear-catching five-track EP “What Can They Say” on October 21. On it, Henry combines fast, aggressive drill beats with a melodic sound and conscious lyrics that take from his own life experiences.
Also last month he performed the Brooklyn Nets’ 10-year anniversary halftime show and before that took to the stage at the BET Hip-Hop Awards, his first awards show. He also popped up at a Roc Nation rooftop cypher hosted by Jadakiss alongside other Roc Nation signees.
“HD represents everything a Roc Nation artist should be: creative, dedicated, hands on and most importantly consistent,” says Roc Nation label co-president Omar Grant. “His approach to music and all creative aspects are intentional. He has a sharp attention span for detail which you see embedded in his musical storytelling and across his visuals. We’re thrilled to have him on the team and show the world what’s to come.”
Born and raised in East Flatbush, Henry first made a name for himself two years ago by uploading one-minute freestyle videos to his YouTube channel every week for 36 weeks, packaged together on his FreeVerses hub. (The most viral of those, with over 15,000 views, sees him rapping over Baby Keem’s “Orange Soda” beat.) The one-minute freestyles — often as good as or even better than the original songs whose beats he rocks — leave listeners wanting more than just 60 seconds.
Brooklyn Magazine caught up with HDBeenDope in the Blueprint Room at Jay-Z’s art-filled offices, inside Roc Nation Headquarters, to discuss where he’s from — and where he’s going.
How did you get into music?
I found 50 Cent, right? I was stealing CDs from my brother. When I was going to school, my mom was listening to a lot more Calypso music, soulful music, country, gospel, and shit like that. So, my brother had all of the hip-hop and I would just take all of his CDs. To me, 50 Cent was like, “Yo, this is what it’s like to be a rapper.” That was what started my writing. And then, through 50 Cent, finding Lil Wayne, and getting to J. Cole eventually. They were my impact. 50 was the bravado, Wayne was the wordplay, and J. Cole was like the introspection result of it.
Speaking of introspection, what do you think about when you’re freestyling?
I play the beat, and it’s just a matter of letting the beat speak to me. Wherever my mind is at the time, is where my mind is at. The music just has to speak to me, you know what I mean? The music has to tell me where it wants to go.
Before you start the freestyle, do you usually hear the beats first?
Yeah, one million percent. All of the FreeVerses are me listening to the beats first and letting that guide the direction.
After you signed to Roc, you released the “Paper Planes Freestyle” in celebration. And you shot the video around your hood?
Yes, that’s exactly right. We were driving down my block and ended up at my crib. Then we went to the Chinese store in my neighborhood. They have fire fries and wings. Then we went to the Brooklyn Promenade. It’s a cool place to chill out if you’re in Brooklyn. Lastly, to where we’re at right now, Roc Nation.
How did your latest EP “What Can They Say” come together?
“What Can They Say” was produced by Dizzy Banko, a.k.a Violation…shoutout to the homes. It’s really just a culmination of what it means to have that little bit left in the tank, right before you feel like, “I’m done, I’m gonna quit, whatever it may be. you have that little voice in your head that’s like, “Come on, one more, let’s go.” That’s what this music represents.
So it’s about perseverance?
Definitely, definitely, definitely. That’s even where the title comes from. It’s like, “What the fuck are people gonna tell me now?” I did this. Beyond that, there’s a double meaning asking what they can say before you’re putting out any type of creation. At this point, we’re all content creators. We’re all uploading pictures. So, before you put that stuff out, there’s sometimes that voice that says, “Ah, damn. Maybe I shouldn’t do this” or “Does this look a certain way?” And that voice isn’t real. These aren’t real people that you’re creating in your head. “What Can They Say” is really like that voice that asks, “What can I really say doesn’t exist?”
How has your life changed since you’ve been signed to Roc Nation?
Aside from the glitz and glam that everybody would expect, I definitely feel like the biggest change has been mentality. Understanding the position that I’m in right now, where this has the potential to go, and where we always knew it would go since I decided that I was going to do this for real. It’s just a matter of being in the game now and making it work.
How will you represent Brooklyn while also bringing a new sound?
I’m in Brooklyn and I’m from Brooklyn, so it’s just in me. Beyond that, I feel like the sound of music right now, especially in New York City, is missing diversity. I feel like where we’re at is really dope, the music sounds good, it’s just a lack of diversity on a prominent level. I feel like I can bring a little bit of balance to it.
What are you doing about diversity — assuming you mean sameness in music — when it comes to younger and emerging artists?
Definitely just by being the example in making sure that I continue to keep shit pushing. I feel like that’s the best way I can motivate somebody — to just continue to tell people to level up. There’s people that have been with me since 2012, watching this journey. My whole model is learning to become better left and right. That comes from family. That’s what we live by, and it’s just about learning something everyday. What is the most mundane thing or the most complex thing, but if you’re not using it to better yourself in some way, what are you really doing? That mentality is just all about evolution in some way. Anybody who joins the journey, wherever you join it, you’re watching the evolution of a person.
Who are some of your dream collaborators?
50 Cent of course, because he’s the reason I started rapping. Lil Wayne. These are the pillars. J. Cole. And then my wild collab would definitely be Jack Johnson. I think “In Between Dreams” is a fire album.
What’s coming up for you?
The biggest thing that people can expect from me is more music. It’s just not stopping. “What Can They Say” just dropped, I want the world to hear that. I’m recording a lot, and there’s a lot of good shit happening.
What makes you different from other rappers and musicians?
I mean, there’s only one HDBeenDope. I’m my mama’s baby, you feel me? There’s nobody else like me. But realistically, it’s honestly everything that we put into this … it’s pure, it’s intentional, it’s honest. It’s all meant to put some of that motivation and energy into the people.
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