New York’s vibrant rap scene has given birth to numerous lasting careers. On the cusp of making himself a household name, Brooklyn rapper HDBeenDope spits with the conviction of a certified rap star. Born Darius Henry, the 25-year-old artist barrels through his haunting production on single “20k,” proudly thumps across “Gross,” and delivers a smooth melody on “Window.” Each of these three songs, all appearing on his latest album, Broken Dreams, out today, showcases a particular layer of HD’s expansive artistry. The rapper has seemingly endless energy and just as many flows.
The shapeshifting “Hollywood” showcases HD’s fearsome delivery. From melodic to snarling in under five minutes, HD moves through the glitching production like a king crossing his expansive throne room. Too, “Hollywood” reminds us HDBeenDope does not make music for the fame, but rather, as a vehicle to perfect himself and his craft. Better yet, if you want to know the full story of HD, it’s right there on the titular “Broken Dreams,” a seven-minute tale of his career thus far. “Broken Dreams” is impressive if only because HDBeenDope can hold our attention all while telling a direct, no-frills story of chasing this hip-hop fantasy and trying to hold out hope.
“It’s always something you’re chasing,” HD tells me of the concept of “enough.” “I’m very internal. Any issue that is going on, I try to find what my role is. Not looking for blame, but just figuring out what role you play in all situations. Even if something is great, it’s still this feeling of, ‘What could I have done to make it better?’ I don’t know if there’s a place where I know I’ve done enough.”
On the topic of better, HDBeenDope is using his music to make himself better. He refers to Broken Dreams as a very “human album,” a body of work designed to drum up conversation and spark a connection between HD and his fans. “Getting the music out is my therapy, so any type of emotion that’s on this project is me releasing shit that’s in me,” he says. “There’s also this thing of wanting people to hear it.”
Whether Broken Dreams gives you hope, makes you think, or inspires you to chase your own dreams, HDBeenDope is just happy the music is in your hands. Though he admits to getting caught up in his future, at the time of our conversation, he can say with confidence he is proud of himself. Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did you first start taking music seriously?
HDBeenDope: In middle school… That’s when I told my homies we’re gonna start rapping. I was 12 or so. My vision was: I’mma get on 106 & Park, I’mma get the cars! At that point, my influences were 50 Cent and Lil Wayne—things like that. Then I got to high school, and J. Cole came out. My idea of what making music was, was a little different. It turned into my therapy. Around 16, I put out a mixtape of me rapping on other people’s beats. I put it up on YouTube, and there’s this kid outta Jersey, and he was passing around my mixtape around his school. That moment for me was, “Oh! This actually connects with people!” That was my turning point, for sure.
Early on in the new album, Broken Dreams, you rap about it being three years since your last drop, and not doing enough. What does “enough” look like to you?
It’s always something you’re chasing. I’m very internal. Any issue that is going on, I try to find what my role is. Not looking for blame, but just figuring out what role you play in all situations. Even if something is great, it’s still this feeling of, “What could I have done to make it better?” I don’t know if there’s a place where I know I’ve done enough.
Do you ever worry about how much pressure you put on yourself?
I don’t worry about it too much. When I have conversations with some of my friends, they make me think about it a little bit more. When I’m sitting in my room, I’m not worried. I’m like, “C’mon, this is what you need! This is how we get goin’.”
On Broken Dreams, you sound intense and hungry. Where does that come from?
Getting the music out is my therapy, so any type of emotion that’s on this project is me releasing shit that’s in me. There’s also this thing of wanting people to hear it. With this project, there’s a lot of topics I talk about that spark conversation. That’s the biggest thing: being able to put the music out and have conversations around the music. That’s where things truly lie. The same way this is my therapy, I would hope it could be the catalyst for somebody else.
On “Hollywood,” you make it seem like you don’t care about clout. If not fame, what does matter to you in your career?
It’s the connection. That’s the biggest thing that’s important to me, being able to get my stories off and have other people connect to it and share their stories. To put a song out and have somebody say, “It made me feel this,” and share their journey with me… There’s a lot of walls I put up naturally, but on record, everything’s on my sleeve. The idea I could put something out, and it could make someone feel comfortable enough to bare their whole soul to me, is pretty dope. There’s just a lot of connection in that. Once you break that wall down, there’s a deeper level of “we can be human together.” That’s why I try to make sure all the songs are as honest as possible.
What’s the most important story you’re telling on Broken Dreams?
It’s [me] going through a bunch of things, and you end it with me saying, “You still gotta keep pushing.” The album is very human. Throughout everything you go through, the human thing is to keep going. That’s the overarching message: throughout everything, just keep pushing.
You showcase a variety of flows (“20k,” “Gross,” “Window”) on the project. How do you ensure you show all sides of yourself while still keeping your work cohesive?
I go live life. That’s the most important part of making projects for me. I write down everything I went through [in] that timeframe, and from that list, I’ll start putting a tracklist together. Like, “This is what I went through… This could be a topic of a song.” I have a tracklist before I even write a song. Finding cohesion is something I worry [about], but it’s not consciously done. The stories are the most important thing here, but since I have a hand in all the production, it sounds like it belongs together.
During an old interview, you said: “As I started making more music and taking it seriously, I thought, ‘I don’t want to be known for making hits, I just want to make real music.’” How is this album going to ensure you’re not known just for hits?
In terms of the approach of the record, there are more topics in focus… My biggest record right now is “Byrd,” and that was me waking up one morning and making a beat. With this project, with everything being so focused, it’s, “What’s the song about? What’s the message?” Throughout that, you’ll get the layers to the story. The main focus is on making sure people understand what I’m talking about and are free to get their analysis on things and how it relates to them.
From that same interview, you said: “The Internet is why I’m here today.” Social media can be amazing, but have socials ever harmed you?
As of now, no. If I wasn’t rapping, I wouldn’t have a social media. At least, not an active one. I’d probably be on there to see memes, but I wouldn’t be posting actively. The idea of staying in front of people, that’s the negative side of it, to me. Sometimes, I don’t wanna post anything. I don’t care to be in front of people just to say I’m in front of you.
Which Broken Dreams session was the most fun?
It will probably be “Inizio.” I record everything in my house, studio in the bedroom type thing. But “Inizio,” we did the choir at Engine Room. That was all me, my homies, the choir, and the engineer for that session, and it was jokes the whole time.
How do you keep the positive energy in the more serious tracks?
Being that I write a lot of these joints after I went through them, I analyze them from a different place. I try to find my role in everything. Once you go through something, in that moment, you’re emotional. But once you have time to digest it and grow from that, when you look back, you can analyze a situation from a lot of perspectives. Me being able to take these topics and look at them from different angles, I can be a little more unbiased. It isn’t just this one-dimensional type of thinking.
You end the project by saying you hope someone is proud of you. Are you proud of you?
It’s wild because my cousin always reminds me: “You’re doing good things!” I get caught up in where I wanna be and not where I’m at. But I am proud of how much has happened so far.