The Spin Artist: DJ B Hen
by: iman n. milner
So much about the way we receive music has changed. MP3s have completely replaced physical CDs in the way that CDS once obliterated cassette tapes. The Internet is our main source of new music and it’s pretty safe to say that kids no longer sit by radios waiting for their favorite song to play. Yes, our desire for instant gratification has resulted in having music whenever and wherever we want it but there’s one thing that has remained the same: nothing happens without a DJ. Although hip hop has always seemed to know just how important DJs are, the whole world seems to have finally caught on and DJs are no longer playing the sidekick…they’re stealing the show.
But not all DJs are created equal. In Los Angeles, one of the world’s premier places to party, there are as many DJs as there are aspiring artists and only few are respected. Among that few is ‘Hollywood’s Champion of Sound’, DJ B Hen. Though he’s still making a name for himself, already he’s the DJ no one can stop talking about. His party starting skills are perfectly offset by his boyish good looks and signature dance moves but what’s more impressive is his journey to his place behind the turntables. We caught up with the busy young spin king to discuss his journey from the DMV to the Hollywood lights of LA.
Edge: So before you were ‘DJ B Hen’ you were Brian Henry from Baltimore. How did you become ‘Hollywood’s Champion of Sound’?
DJ B Hen: Man, to tell that story, I actually have to explain where I was in my life when I decided to DJ full time. Before making that choice I had to revisit my childhood. I was on this path that I didn’t care for but I’d always been in love with music, I just didn’t know what to do with it. I was having a badass moment in life and I really set down with a piece of paper and started writing down every way that my life correlated with music. When I was done, I had 5 pages front and back. At that point I realized I had to do it, so I stepped out there and did it. The safe route just wasn’t working for me. It dawned on me that the money and security weren’t going to mean anything if I wasn’t happy in the end. I knew the only way I could truly inspire others is to something that I was passionate about…I started DJing full time in July 2010.
Edge: Leaving a secure job and following your passion is tough in any field but what was the process of breaking into this industry?
DJ B Hen: I started by taking classes at the Scratch Academy (in Los Angeles). I mean the reality is that you can’t be taught how to rock a crowd but there are techniques to DJing that you really need to know. And after that the key is simple: hustle. Hustle, hustle, and hustle. It’s about who knows you. Opportunities don’t just fall into your lap. You can have all of the talent and skill in the world but if you’re not making new and genuine relationships, you’re not going to go very far. You’ve got to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to make the big mistakes, it’s an opportunity to learn. I put out a couple bad mixtapes but I couldn’t have gotten better if I didn’t embarrass myself a little.
Edge: What can you say to the idea that DJs are just professional partiers?
DJ B Hen: That’s part of the big misconception about DJs. There’s this idea that we just do nothing all day but there’s so much business development that goes into it. We don’t just show up play records and have some drinks. We wake up and take care of business just like any other working person. I sort through emails and really everyday I am looking for my next opportunity. And then there’s practice…. practice is non-stop for me. And of course you spend a lot of time putting together the set for whatever you’re spinning that night.
Edge: Music is always changing but at times there’s a lot of repetition as far as what gets played. How do you stay fresh?
DJ B Hen: I listen to other DJs, not for imitation but for inspiration and I listen to radio stations all over the world. I constantly introduce myself to new sounds. I was a military brat so I was introduced to a lot of cultures that didn’t mirror my own. I was influenced deeply by every single one and that crosses over to the music I choose to play. I make it a point to infuse different sounds that me be foreign to the region I am spinning in.
Edge: There are a host of DJs who’ve made their style a fashion statement and some are even brand ambassadors, how much of a role does a DJ’s personal style play in their popularity?
DJ B Hen: For some DJs style isn’t important at all and I think that’s a problem. There are three elements to a DJ: your presentation, your programming and your technique. Your presentation makes the gig. Perception is everything especially in a place like Los Angeles. Your perception at times is your social capital. People may perceive you in a certain light and that ambience flows into your ability to entertain them.
Edge: How do you think DJs have maintained their influence over what is relevant in the music scene?
DJ B Hen: DJs are a small part of the music acquisition pie but we’ll always be a critical part of that pie because the artist depends on the DJ to get their songs played. A relevant DJ can make or break a record and honestly, music lovers trust DJs. It’s the ultimate cosign of an artist when a DJ takes the time to break their record. I get songs from record labels because they know the power is in our hands in many ways. People listen to great DJs in a way that they’ll never listen to a label. They’ll give a song a real chance if the right DJ says its dope.
Edge: Let’s talk a little bit about the politics involved in the business of spinning records. Ever spun a record you didn’t like? Can DJs do favors?
DJ B Hen: I don’t like to get into the politics of playing music that I don’t particularly care for because in doing so I’m not staying true to my brand. If a promoter asks me to play something because an artist is in the building or off a special request, I’ll do it as a favor to them, no problem. But as far as someone sending me a record and saying, “can you play this?”, if it’s not hot, I’m not playing it. It’s that simple. The same goes for labels. Even if I have a relationship with that label, I’ll say no if it’s not something that gets me moving. In my business you have to have a sense of integrity, they’ll get over it and they’ll respect you for presenting a pleasurable music experience.
Edge: What life lessons can you point to that you’ve applied to your career?
DJ B Hen: My parents had me when they were 18. My mom was literally going into her senior year when she gave birth to me. I always laughed at her little cap and gown picture with me on her hip. But that helped me to always be mindful of the decisions I make. I understand now how difficult it was for them having babies and being babies themselves. They were still getting to know themselves but trying to adjust to being parents and then getting married so young. I was really influenced to live my best life, seeing that they weren’t really able to do that. And losing my mother to breast cancer when I was 17 also really put things into perspective for me. It made a big impact on my life. So in everything I do, I just try to remember that a lot was sacrificed so that I could live out my dreams…I can’t take that for granted.
Edge: Ultimately, where do you see the DJ B Hen brand?
DJ B Hen: I want to start off touring domestically with a major artist and ideally build a name for myself that’s so strong that I can tour the world as a DJ. There’s a lot of DJs who I look up to whose job is to bring parties to people globally. 10 years down the line, I’d like to use the name I’ve built and channel it back into the new wave of DJs by opening a DJ agency.
To Book DJ B Hen for your next event, visit: DJ B Hen