In the world of hip-hop, it’s often said that authenticity is key to your reputation, or even being taken seriously as an artist. For Ben Hayden (better known to music-lovers as Huskii), he’s the real deal, and his music makes it clear.
Born in Wollongong, Huskii’s difficult upbringing is well-documented. Surviving sexual abuse, a parent in jail, and encountering drug abuse firsthand, Huskii’s own personal troubles followed him into his musical career. Emerging onto the scene a few years ago with the likes of Barely Awake and Paranoid, the hip-hop artist began 2020 facing an extended stay in jail.
Though he missed the release of his Recalled release due to time spent behind bars, his release opened up the doors to writing new music that came from the heart and spoke to his real experiences.
Debut album Antihero was the result of this. Described as “proper Sydney music that will live forever”, tracks like “Ruin My Life” and “Heroin Rap” represent the stories of his past, with dirty, raw, and emotional stories helping to give an insight into the history of one of the country’s fastest-rising hip-hop artists.
With Antihero out in the world now, with the video to his song “Toxic” also released today, and with his upcoming Australian launch tour sold out, it’s clear that Huskii is on the precipice of permanently making his mark on Aussie hip-hop forever.
To celebrate his rising success, Huskii spoke to Rolling Stone Australia about the making of his debut album, the importance of vulnerability, and his distaste of the fame that follows him.
Firstly, congratulations are in order for the new album. It’s a pretty amazing release, I’m guessing is one that you’re feeling pretty proud of as well?
Yeah, I’ve put my all into this one. I probably did the other ones, but I just couldn’t pull them off how I wanted them to. So me and Tasker took time, we sat down together, and I’m actually proud of this; I think it’s 100 percent.
Before we go too deep into it, I should ask how you’ve been dealing with everything over the last couple of years? Have you been doing alright with the way life is?
You just gotta take it day by day, I suppose. Yeah, it is what it is. Anything can happen. You know, anything could happen. My whole tour could get cancelled tomorrow, so there’s no way of knowing.
How badly were you sort of personally affected by the last couple of years? At the start of 2020, you were facing some time in jail and everything was up in the air. Is that all sorted now? Is it all behind you?
Yeah, I went to jail twice since then. I think that they were just fucking around because of COVID, and the courts weren’t working, the trials are getting cancelled, and I was sitting in there trying to get bail for six months. Then my girlfriend was pregnant at that time, and it was one of the most hectic times of my life.
As a result, I’m guessing that Antihero was something you would have been sitting on for quite a while. How far back in time does that go? When did you first start putting material together for it?
Not really, eh? In the last 12 months? I’ve been not really writing music, maybe just like a verse here and there, since 2020, really. ’cause I haven’t en’t really been living life. I’ve been homeless, I’ve been moving all around the place in and out of jail, having a baby. I didn’t have time to write music and I didn’t know what to say on that topic.
But until I actually kicked back and lived a bit of life and felt a bit comfortable again, I wasn’t making music. This all was just coming out real quickly, to be honest. I just think it’s just the buildup over the last two years. We could say it’s been three years, but really, I only put pen to paper in the last nine months or so.
A lot of artists can find themselves thriving under pressure, but it sounds like you’re someone who needs a bit of stability before you can focus on your thoughts and put pen to paper.
There was a different process. My older music, I would have been happy doing that, but I just wanted to take a different direction. I wanted more input, I wanted to take more time to polish off the actual verses. And like I’m a good rapper, that’s the thing. I don’t really listen to many other hip-hop artists, so I don’t really draw inspiration from people like that. So trying to make my own sound was difficult when I didn’t have time to put the work in.
The actual album was only finished up a few weeks ago, is that right? The mixing and everything was going up almost to the last minute, from what I’ve heard.
Yeah, right up until… I didn’t even know when it was done, but it was maybe two months.
It is quite amazing that you can be working on something so close to its release, but I guess that’s a benefit of the modern age, isn’t it?
Yeah, I think one of the songs was mixed on Zoom.
With an album that you’re taking more seriously, for lack of a better word, was that something that followed onto the mixing, too? Sort of stepping back and saying, ‘Let’s make sure this is absolutely perfect’?
Yeah, exactly, and Tasker is exactly the same. They’ll do some things, I mean, he probably goes overboard sometimes, and I’m like, ‘No, we need to bring that back. We had it perfect’. That’s the good thing working with him; he has his own input. Most people would just listen to what I said.
He’s definitely someone who understands music as well. I mean, not only does he know how to make music, but he knows how to sort of bring out the best in what an artist like yourself wants.
Yeah. So that’s the one thing I noticed about him. Like, singing. I wouldn’t be singing on a song around all the boys in the studio. That’s how most people work. That’s how I made songs mostly, with like, 10 people in the studio doing what we do. Wasting time and making one song in six hours. Me and Tasker, we would’ve recorded these songs in a couple of hours. We had drafts going in like, an hour, once. We come out and there were six tracks there. We went to a couple of different studios and re-recorded until we got it right. We went to Bodega and we got it right.
The album’s been out a few days now, so what’s the reaction been like from fans?
It all seems to be pretty good. Like, I was very curious to know what people would think, because it’s kind of a new thing for me. It’s like a cohesive project. I wouldn’t know how to listen to one song at a time here and there. It seems like everyone has given me feedback on the whole album as a whole, and it’s pretty good. I’ve heard it’s too short [laughs]. That’s not a bad thing, I can live with that.
I did see some folks on Twitter ask if it’s an album or an EP because it’s just seven tracks. But I guess it doesn’t really matter what you call it, you just want to put it out there.
That’s what I thought. I’m all about music, man. that I’ve always been a big fan of all kinds of music, and I get real lost in it, and I fully invest myself in it. It’s weird, it’s like I study this shit for no reason, and I’ve got all this useless knowledge. I could get a job at Rolling Stone, man [laughs]. I just kind of wanted to do my own thing this time.
The album does sort of have some heavier content in terms of lyrical focus. But getting an album like this out into the world, that would finally allow you to purge it all from your mind and think about the next step, wouldn’t it? Because this is obviously stuff you’ve been living with for a while.
Yes, I’ve always done that with my music, and that’s always helped me. And that seems to help other people. I’ve never really held back with stuff like that.
“I don’t think anything negative will come from me being honest.”
You were describing the album as “proper Sydney music that will live forever”, but in your mind, what is it that makes ‘proper Sydney music’?
It’s definitely the vibes, but it’s mostly the content of what I’m saying. I don’t know. The last couple of years, it’s been quite dark and Sydney seems to be different. The whole place has been a bit weird, everyone’s dead. It seems like, I don’t know, Gotham City or something.
You’re not wrong, there’s definitely a little bit of a darker vibe in the city as COVID has gone on.
Everyone’s forced to not do shit. Everyone’s sitting here at their house, having dramas with their girlfriend and stuff and then keeping it a secret. I’d see the boys, once every six months, you’re not going to talk about having dramas with your girlfriend; you’re going to keep that shit to yourself. There are all kinds of things. People just need to make sure they’re happy at home. I think that’s all that matters at the moment.
Before, I wouldn’t have to say that stuff. Everyone’s going to the beach, doing this, doing that. It’s kind of depressing. I would associate isolating yourself with mental health issues. That’s how I’ve been when I’m not seeing my mates and I’m not going outside. That’s me being depressed. But I haven’t been depressed. I’ve just been living like that. So it’s fucking confusing for me. I don’t know what everyone else feels.
It’s definitely been rough, but I guess that is one thing for artists which has been good, since they can focus on one thing to help get them through all the negativity.
Yeah, it’s good, but there’s not been many releases. So it seems like it’s going to come out in 2022 will be original from everyone. If everyone has been sitting on something for two years, and making something like I was, it’s going to be pretty original because I haven’t been drawing inspiration from my last music in six months. And OneFour, they haven’t been dropping many tracks. It seems like the whole Drill thing has died down. It seems like we’re waiting for something else.
Listening to the album itself, there is a whole lot of vulnerability in there. That’s something I’ve noticed with your work is that you are a very honest writer. But at the same time, something I’ve noticed in the world of hip-hop is that vulnerability can sometimes be seen as a weakness. Is that a fear that you have at all?
It used to be, for sure. I would be vulnerable, but at the same time, I would let people know, like, ‘I dare you to say something’. I’m not really like that anymore. That was kind of just me being scared that someone would use it against me. That’s why, in my older songs, I would kind of say some things I don’t really stand for or be tough and just kind of catered to the Australian music scene.
But then I realised people like my music, and what they liked about it is what I stand for. Dumb shit that no one cared about. I just thought it was being myself and this whole time, and it’s come to the point where I don’t even think about it anymore. I don’t think anything negative will come from me being honest.
From your own point of view, if you’re just purging yourself, and it makes other people feel better, it’s a bit of a win-win, isn’t it?
It’s worth it when you grow up and you think your life’s going to have no purpose. And you just think, ‘What am I doing? This is shit.’ And then someone tells you that you saved their life? It’s crazy. Like, that’s almost enough inspiration to do it forever. And that happens every week. Someone’s telling me, ‘You saved my life’, and ‘I don’t know where I’d be’. That’s crazy for me.
On that topic of vulnerability, though, there’s the last line in “Heroin Rap” where you basically, say, “Fighting all these demons ain’t as easy when your fans know the truth”. That makes it feel as though being open can be more of a curse than anything else.
It happens, but in the long run you’ve got to get over it. You’re right though. It depends what topic. Like, if I’m talking about demons I have inside me and I’m just telling people, some people will relate, and they won’t really use that against me.
But if I’m talking about how I’m struggling to be on drugs and get off them, someone could find something wrong with what I’m saying there. And they’d somehow use it against me, like, ‘Oh, you’re a bad influence’. But I don’t care.
On the other side of things, even if they were going to use it against you, it does feel like it is important to even open up that dialogue because it’s the sort of thing where it shows experiences from all sides, doesn’t it?
Yeah, you have to. I didn’t just make this stuff up and start talking about it. I was exposed to it. I mean, it still happens every day. I see kids growing up the same way I grew up. That has nothing to do with me. I’m talking about the life I was pushed into, and there’s other people that relate to that. So if someone’s naive enough to think, ‘What’s this dickhead doing?’, let ‘em. That’s the whole point of that “Heroin Rap” song. Some people didn’t listen to it, they were turned off by the name.
There was an interview with yourself recently where you talked about how you basically don’t recognise the person that you were. I know for a lot of people who have gone through traumatic experiences throughout their life, that’s basically their goal – to be so far removed from where they were that where they are is drastically and completely different. What do you think has sort of helped you the most in making this progression in life?
It’s just time, man, and time heals most things. I wish that I could trigger it to one thing and put my finger on that and glove that advice to someone, but it’s really just taking it day by day. Like, I think I grew up, and that’s all it was. I had a daughter, and all these experiences turned me into what I am. You just have to stick to it and do it.
I’ve been asked this question a few times, like, ‘What advice would you give people dealing with adversity’ and stuff like that, and it’s like, there’s nothing I can really say. It depends on who you are and how you deal with it. The only thing I can say to people is just don’t give up. Because there’s a chance you, there’s a chance for everyone. I don’t know how to do it, but it’s the truth, but there is a chance.
One thing I do want to mention, and I’m not sure if you seen it, but there’s a petition on Change.Org to get you on the cover of Rolling Stone Australia. Have you seen this?
Nah, that’s hectic [laughs]. Let’s go.
How do you feel about that? You’re obviously a humble guy. So I can’t imagine that’s the sort of thing that you’re thinking about when you wake up in the morning, are you?
Now I am [laughs].
Well of course, I can’t promise anything, of course.
What do you mean? Who else is going to do it? We’ve all seen Chillinit’s muscles. Let’s get my muscles out there. I’m ready. I’m just like David Bowie, put me in a dress. We’ll replicate Young Thug’s album. [Laughs] I want to lock it in now. Make the call.
Now that the album is out in the world, you know, in a perfect world, you’d have been touring it right now. How does it feel for you on stage? Is it an enjoyable experience or do you sort of feel a little bit introverted when you get out there and start performing?
I hate it, man. I hate it up until about a minute into it or one second into it. But the day leading up to it, the days leading up to it, I do my head in. Sitting in random hotel rooms on the other side of the country, stressing. It’s been a while too. To be honest, I’ve been on drugs most of the time as well. So now that’s not an option, I’m fucked. I just have to be out there, you know what I mean? I’m going to be on.
I’ve spoken to a lot of artists who are in that same position where they say they would love music if it wasn’t for the performance aspect.
This whole music thing, like… I love making art, and the way I make my best art, or the best project, would be kind of not living on Instagram and not having to deal with that stuff, and just all the shit that I hate. And this whole industry, it doesn’t cater to people who don’t want the fame.
Everyone’s out there saying that, ‘Oh, I want the best project’, or, ‘It’s not long enough, Huskii’, and this and that. But if I disappeared to make that project and make it perfect, no one would like me anymore. I’d be gone, they would forget about me. I wouldn’t be on Instagram, I wouldn’t be living the life I live. Like, that shit I hate.
And a lot of artists I’ve had this conversation with, they kind of agree, man. Some people, they feed off it, but I don’t want to be famous, man. I mean, sure, I want to pay the bills and stuff like that, but I don’t want to be walking through a shopping centre, and everyone knows me and everyone looking at me and then at the same time, being too scared to say something to me.
So they’re just staring at me. And I notice that shit. Like, I’m with my daughter and there’s like 15 school kids staring at me and walk in my direction. Then it’s like, ‘What the fuck is this man?’ Now everyone else is looking at me. I’ll go take a photo with this kid, one at a time. 15 times, while my daughter’s there… Like, it’s hard, man. That shit I hate, but I’ll still do [laughs].
That sort of goes into what you were saying before, because it’s isolating. And sometimes to make good music, you have to isolate yourself, but the fame can be isolating, too.
I don’t know. It’s a bit of a weird one I can’t get around. Like, if you want to make music and you want people to listen to your music, you’ve go to promote that. You can’t just drop off the internet. I’m not, Kanye.
I’ve talked about this with everyone. The reason I don’t like taking photos with people isn’t because I’m too good for these people and I don’t want to fucking give them my time. It’s because I’m embarrassing myself. Like, it’s fucking embarrassing for me. I don’t want to have to smile for your camera, I look like a fucking dickhead on camera. I’m embarrassed of my ugly face.
Like, I’m a normal person. People think that I’m some fucking sick cunt who thinks he’s mad and they’re like, ‘Oh, take the photo with me so I can hang it on my wall’. I’m like, ‘Bro, I don’t want my face hanging on your wall’. I’m fucking embarrassed of my face; I’m no different to anyone else. It’s fucking hard. People judge me because they think, ‘Oh, he’s fucking up himself and don’t even have the time to talk to me’. I’m like, stumbling over my words. I don’t know how to talk, I’m embarrassed, I’m put on the spot. It’s a fucked up situation. I wish I could just go and live in the mountains somewhere.
Huskii’s Antihero is out now via Island Records Australia/UMA.
Huskii – Antihero Tour 2022
Wednesday, April 6th (Sold Out)
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, NSW Friday, April 8th (Sold Out)
Corner Hotel, Melbourne, VIC Thursday, April 14th (Sold Out)
Unibar, Adelaide, SA Saturday, April 16th (Sold Out)
Jack Rabbit Slim’s, Perth, WA
Wednesday, April 20th
Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle, NSW
Friday, April 22nd (Sold Out)
Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane, QLD Wednesday, April 27th (Sold Out)
La La La’s, Wollongong, NSW Friday, April 29th (Sold Out)
UC Hub, Canberra, ACT
Tickets available via Niche Productions