Huskii got used to being hated.
“For a long time, I was screwed by drugs”, he says NME. “There were a lot of reasons not to like me. There were a lot of reasons not to support me.
But the Wollongong-born, Sydney-based rapper is not the same man he was two years ago. And even when he drew derision, some of it came with respect, he believes.
“I was at one point this outlier, but people started supporting me – and I don’t think they know why, and I don’t think some of these people even want it. But they say: “I support this guy” – because I’ve been myself this whole time.
If Huskii was once the villain, he now declares himself an “anti-hero” – the title of his debut album released on Friday via a licensing deal with revered Island Records. It’s reminiscent of the intro to his latest project, the 2020 mixtape ‘Recalled’, in which Huskii rapped: “I was never a hero, I never wore a cape / I went from poor and sleeping on the floor to in the hall of fame.”
In January, Huskii – wearing a black Supreme Shrek T-shirt, baseball cap and geek-cool glasses – talk to NME via Zoom from what looks like a closet, her neatly color-coded clothes on racks. In November, he and ChillinIt went on an extravagant shopping spree in Sydney, funded by royalties from their 2019 collaborative EP “4 Days.”
“We forgot to get payment for it, because everything that’s going on in the background is fading away,” Huskii jokingly recalls. “We had a good day. I think we just went to Moncler and Prada and all the standard “waste of money” stores.
“I just wasn’t living life… There was only one story to tell at that point – and that was me in jail and I wanted out, I didn’t want to be there”
On “Antihero,” Huskii delivers unfiltered bars about his troubled upbringing, mental health, substance abuse, imprisonment, and broken relationships — brand stories, but with a new focus. In the first single “Ruin My Life”, he paradoxically envisages to succeed – and brags about his heritage, claiming “it’s the fact that I’m a GOAT.”
Not that you’d be able to tell if you only paid attention to the radio or mainstream media. Huskii’s streaming numbers are solid and he rarely does interviews. In 2019, his career was temporarily put on hold as he faced heavy prison sentences – this “background stuff”. When asked if those legal dramas are now behind him, Huskii is enthusiastic. “No, it’s over – I’m not even on parole. Nothing. It’s finish. Never again!”
Indeed, ‘Antihero’ represents a new beginning. “For the first time in my life, I’m not on a condition or bond or a good behavior bond or anything – a suspended sentence. I’m back to square one – and I will start again.
Born Ben Hayden, Huskii grew up in a dysfunctional family surrounded by drugs and violence. Both of his parents were incarcerated and he was separated from his siblings. Huskii recently reconnected with his younger brother Beau via Instagram after a decade apart. “It made me want to look for my other family,” he says. “We have two other brothers that the last time I saw them was at Newcastle – it was the year 2000 and there were about four and one of them.”
Huskii himself struggled with addiction, depression, and the law, but sought relief in hip-hop. From 2016, he was beginning to establish a cult MC profile – his breakthrough, 2017’s nihilistic “Brainumb” EP, followed by devastating freestyle “Body The Booth” for BODYBAGMEDIA. At first, Huskii had “a handshake deal” with an American label. Throughout, he blazed on ChillinIt’s projects, including 2021’s “Family Ties.”
His first album, ‘Antihero’ was a long time coming. “The last two years of my life were in prison and I thought maybe I had lost some kind of appreciation for music. I had no motivation to write songs,” he explains.
“I was thinking about everything – you call it writer’s block, whatever. But I realized that I just wasn’t living. So there was nothing to say. There was only one story to tell at that point – and that was me in jail and I wanted out, I didn’t want to be there… It just wasn’t motivating. So I got out, lived life and then I was motivated again.
“Before, I was less a musician than someone who needed to express himself”
Huskii recorded ‘Antihero’ primarily with versatile Sydney producer Caleb Tasker, who counts Tia Gostelow and Tuka among his credits. Sonically, the album evokes the classic East Coast hardcore hip-hop of Mobb Deep rather than the old horrorcore, grime or drill sounds of Huskii. He still experiments by singing on “Toxic”, a closing track of a synth ballad à la Weeknd. Ironically, ‘Antihero’ clicked overnight. “We might have another project ready by tomorrow, but we’re just sitting on it,” Huskii teases.
In conversation, it’s obvious the rapper likes to keep people guessing, including journalists. Huskii readily admits that as a columnist, he sometimes embellishes or exaggerates. “It’s all lies!” he jokes dryly. “Nothing is real…I’m drunk right now, so nothing can be used against me. Nah!…A lot of it is from real life.
Huskii wonders how “life imitates art”. “A lot of it’s not exactly first-hand experience – like, I’m sure there are lines where I talk about driving with a kilo in the baby seat or something, you see this What do I mean? Like, shit, who does that? But I saw it happen.
On the other hand, Huskii is aware that, as brave as she is, self-exposure makes her vulnerable to scrutiny and judgment. Either way, he is now more regarded with his lyrics. “In the past, I was less of a musician and more of just someone who needed to express myself — and that was on a beat,” he says. “I didn’t really consider myself a purist hip-hop artist and all that. I don’t come from the same background as everyone else.
“When we did this project it was more me trying to make better music. I’ve been in the game for five years now. I can’t help [it], but hip-hop is all I live and breathe. So I know what to do – and that’s what I wanted to do this time. I didn’t mean to be so raw. It still ends up being raw, but it’s not as bad as it used to be.
“I’ve said things in the past that I wish I could take back. I deleted songs that had millions of views because I said a line that I don’t want to be heard anymore.
Elusive as always, he does not identify which one.
Despite his larger than life personality, Huskii doesn’t feel like a natural performer. “I’m not really an extroverted person,” he says. “Being on stage is crazy for me.”
Nonetheless, in April, Huskii will embark on a sold-out nationwide tour – dates pushed back from February due to the Omicron wave. ” I can not wait ! But, at the same time, I shit myself. He appreciates the loyalty of his fans – but worries he won’t put on “a good show” under COVID safety restrictions or be forced to cancel dates again.
“It will reflect on me,” sighs Huskii. “I’ve done this before, making promises and then going to jail and letting everyone down – and they waited for me. And they were still waiting. And they supported me when I’m got out.
“I’m really scared that something could happen any day now… The world is weird right now. So planning something six months in advance is crazy. It almost sounds stupid. Spoken like a once pessimistic individual who now dares to hope for a bright future – this is your “anti-hero” Huskii for you.
Huskii’s ‘Antihero’ is out February 11 via Island Records Australia