How HDBeenDope Is Cementing His Voice In Hip-Hop
This feature is in our Dec. "Creative Arts" Issue. Click here to subscribe.
PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER
Brooklyn rapper HDBeenDope (@hdbeendope) has been making waves with this year’s What Can They Say EP (which features the viral “Mamba” that is the lead track of the NFL’s Songs of the Season). The 29-year-old began rapping at age 9, writing rhymes in a Harry Potter journal gifted by his third-grade teacher. The rapper then formed a group in middle school and released his first mixtape, Backpack Rap, at age 16, all while learning how to make his own beats. Now, after performances at the BET Hip-Hop Awards and the Brooklyn Nets halftime, along with guesting on Roc Nation and PUMA’s Humble Soles mixtape, HDBeenDope hopes to continue cementing his voice in hip-hop.
Your What Can They Say EP is a celebration of New York City.
That wasn’t necessarily what we set out to do; we set out to make an imprint in the city. But it was really learning that it’s less about ‘I got something to say’ and more about championing what’s around us. We got so much happening in the city. And my biggest thing is just uplifting and celebrating that. So that’s what I really wanted to do with that project. And we ended up doing that through the studio sessions. So in order for us to even get the music to the people, we had to figure out how to get the people to actually give a f–k about it. And we just started with the people that we had around us.
PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER
This new crop of rappers are all down to collaborate.
100%. It’s really all about striving to be the best. It’s all about evolution. I think every day, you got to learn something. If you’re not using the things that you’re learning to make yourself better, there’s no real point of learning. I think evolving with intention is the thing. All the music is rooted in relationships. I think that’s why we all move with that same intention. We just all try and get better.
HDBeenDope’s What Can They Say cover art shot by legendary hip-hop photographer Mike Miller PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER
How does Brooklyn inspire you?
Brooklyn comes with a level of sureness. It’s just innate. We come with a level of pride: ‘Th is is me, you just got to deal with that.’ What Can They Say is 100% that for me.
PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER
How is it having support from legends like DJ Clue, Emory Jones and Jadakiss?
It’s been dope. I’ve always looked at it as I’m an author, and these are other fire authors. To be able to get around some of these guys and just shake hands and pay my respects and to even get respect back… this is actually a real tangible thing. It feels incredible. Even with the EP, I just want to bring it back there real quick. Th at project was shot by Mike Miller. He has this iconic photo of Tupac; he has so much classic work. [I was] able to work with him for the whole day. He came out to Brooklyn and he’s just telling stories on stories. When I was on the train listening to [Cam’ron’s 2004 album] Purple Haze, Lil Wayne and all of that stuff , sitting next to Mike and hearing these stories felt like I’m inside hip-hop. I’m making my own hip-hop story. I think that’s the most incredible part about being in this position is to understand that I’m adding on to something so much bigg er than me. Th at feels incredible to just be able to put my piece on this huge mural.
Exclusive EDITION images of HDBeenDope in his hometown of Brooklyn PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER
I have to talk about “Mamba”, which has become an anthem in and of itself. I'm sure that has to feel good having one of your songs really accelerate and become so synonymous with football.
It's incredible. I made that song in January of 2022. There’s a video on my Tiktok from the day that I made it. In that moment was me understanding what that record was it was. Once I heard the beat I'm like, “This feels like stadiums. This feels larger than life.” I grew up watching a lot of Michael Jackson concerts. For whatever reason my uncle had mad Michael Jackson concerts on VHS. And that's what we watch. And I remember the day that the towers fell, mom came to pick us up, went to my granny's crib, and we watched a Michael Jackson concert. So that's what I grew up seeing what performing is. I've always seen and heard the music larger than life. I'm crafting it in my bedroom, that's where I started making music. I made “Mamba” in my room. But in my head, I'm seeing larger.
It's now the song of the season for the NFL and landing all these placements. Jimmy Butler posted it and all of these things coming from this. It's back to that sureness because that's the energy that I put into it.
Of course, Roc Nation has helped boost the connection between sports and hip-hop even further.
I mean, if you go to the office, and you just browse through the sports department, you understand why they moved the way they do. When you walk into the building, the energy just feels right. But for how I look at sports and music, I think a lot of the music that I'm making has that embedded in it. It feels anthemic. It feels energetic. It feels like stuff that a lot of people work out to or play sports to the music.
But at the end of the day, I'm still in the business of music, and I'm not unaware of that. That's where the competitive edge comes from. People love the sport they play, but it still has that competitive edge. This sports energy is just always gonna be there. And I think that's why we'll continue to build that relationship.
PHOTO BY NICOLE ROSADO
What do you want your legacy to look like?
It's not the theatrics of it. This is just what I do. But the legacy is bigger than the music. It's all about evolution. I started this tour and this was my first time going out. The biggest thing that I took from that tour was in each of these markets, it was somebody that was listening on a level that felt beyond the music. When I'm gone, people are still going to have that as something to live by and pass down. So I have learned to become better. That’s the legacy.