Huskii got used to being hated.
“For a long time now, I was fucked up on drugs,” he tells NME. “There was a lot of reasons to not like me. There was a lot of reasons to not support me.”
But the Wollongong-born, Sydney-based rapper is not the same man he was two years ago. And even when he attracted derision, some of it came with respect, he reckons.
“I was at one point this outlier, but people started to support me – and I don’t think they know why, and I don’t think some of these people even want to. But they’re like, ‘I do support this guy’ – because I’ve been myself this whole time.”
If Huskii was once the bad guy, he’s now declaring himself an ‘Antihero’ – the title of his debut album out Friday via a licensing deal with the revered Island Records. It harks back to the introduction of his last project, 2020 mixtape ‘Recalled’, in which Huskii rapped: “I’ve never been a hero, 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 geeky-cool glasses – speaks to NME via Zoom from what looks like a closet, his clothes neatly colour-coded on racks. In November, he and ChillinIt went on an extravagant shopping trip in Sydney, financed from royalties for their 2019 collab EP ‘4 Days’.
“We forgot about getting payment for that, ’cause all this stuff in the background’s going down,” Huskii remembers drolly. “We had a good day. I think we just went to Moncler and Prada and all the standard ‘waste your money’ shops.”
“I just wasn’t living life… There was only one story to talk about at that time – and it was me being in jail and wanting to get out, not wanting to be there”
On ‘Antihero’, Huskii offers unfiltered bars about his troubled upbringing, mental health, drug addiction, imprisonment and fractured relationships – trademark tales, but with a fresh focus. In the lead single ‘Ruin My Life’ he paradoxically contemplates succeeding – and boasts about his legacy, asserting “it’s the fact I’m a GOAT.”
Not that you’d be able to tell if you only paid attention to radio or mainstream media. Huskii’s streaming numbers are strong, and he rarely does interviews. In 2019, his career was temporarily put on hold as he faced serious jail time – that “stuff in the background”. Asked if those legal dramas are now behind him, Huskii is buoyant. “No, that’s over – I’m not even on parole. Nothing. It’s finished. Never again!”
Indeed, ‘Antihero’ represents a new beginning. “For the first time in my life, I’m not on any conditions or bail or good behaviour bond or whatever it is – suspended sentence. I’m back to square one – and I’ll start again.”
Born Ben Hayden, Huskii grew up in a dysfunctional family surrounded by drugs and violence. Both his parents were incarcerated and he was separated from his siblings. Huskii recently reconnected with his younger brother Beau through Instagram after a decade apart. “It made me wanna look for my other family,” he says. “We’ve got two other brothers that last time I seen them was in Newcastle – it was the year 2000 and they were about four and one.”
Huskii himself struggled with dependency, depression and the law, but sought relief in hip-hop. From 2016, he’d begin to establish a profile as a cult MC – his breakthrough, 2017’s nihilistic ‘Brainumb’ EP, followed by a devastating ‘Body The Booth’ freestyle for BODYBAGMEDIA. Early, Huskii had “a handshake deal” with a US label. Throughout, he blazed on ChillinIt’s projects, including 2021’s ‘Family Ties’.
His debut album, ‘Antihero’ has been a long time coming. “The last two years of mine have been in and out of jail and I thought maybe I lost some kind of appreciation for the music. I had no motivation to write songs,” he explains.
“I was overthinking everything – you call it writer’s block, whatever. But I realised that I just wasn’t living life. So there was nothing to talk about. There was only one story to talk about at that time – and it was me being in jail and wanting to get out, not wanting to be there… It just wasn’t motivational. So I came out, I lived life and then just was back to being motivated.”
“I used to be less of a musician and more of just someone who needed to express themselves”
Huskii recorded ‘Antihero’ primarily with the versatile Sydney producer Caleb Tasker, who counts among his credits Tia Gostelow and Tuka. Sonically, the album evokes Mobb Deep’s classic East Coast hardcore hip-hop rather than Huskii’s old sounds of horrorcore, grime or drill. He further experiments by singing on ‘Toxic’, a closing track of Weeknd-like synth balladry. Ironically, ‘Antihero’ clicked in a night. “We could have another project ready by tomorrow, but we’re just sitting on it,” Huskii teases.
In conversation, it’s evident the rapper enjoys keeping people guessing – journalists included. Huskii freely admits that, as a chronicler, he occasionally embellishes or exaggerates. “It’s all lies!” he jokes dryly. “Nothing’s true… I’m intoxicated right now, so nothing can be used against me. Nah!… A lot of it’s from real life.”
Huskii ponders how “life imitates art”. “A lot of it, it’s not exactly first-hand experience – like, I’m sure there’s lines where I’m talking about driving around with a kilo in the baby seat or something like that, you know what I mean? Like, fuck it, who’s doing that? But I’ve seen it happen.”
On the flip side, Huskii is aware that, however courageous, self-exposure renders him vulnerable to scrutiny and judgement. Either way, he’s now more considered with his lyrics. “In the past, I used to be less of a musician and more of just someone who needed to express themselves – and it happened to be over a beat,” he says. “I didn’t really think of myself as a purist hip-hop artist and all the rest of it. I don’t come from the same background as everyone else.
“When we made 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 this is what I wanted to do this time. I didn’t want to be so raw. It still ends up raw, but it’s not as bad as the past.
“I’ve said things in the past that I wish I could take back. I’ve deleted songs that had millions of views ’cause I’ve said one line that I don’t want to be heard anymore.”
Elusive as ever, he doesn’t identify which.
Despite his larger-than-life persona, Huskii doesn’t feel that he’s a natural performer. “I’m not really that much of an outgoing person,” he maintains. “Being on stage is crazy for me.”
Nonetheless, in April Huskii will embark on a sold-out national tour – dates pushed back from February because of the Omicron wave. “I can’t wait! But, at the same time, I’m shitting myself.” He values his fans’ loyalty – yet worries about not presenting “a good show” under COVID-safe restrictions or being forced to cancel dates again.
“That’s gonna reflect on me,” Huskii sighs. “I’ve done that before in the past, with making promises and then going to jail and letting everyone down – and they waited on me. And they still waited. And they supported me when I come out.
“I’m shit scared that anything could happen any day… The world’s weird right now. So planning something six months ahead is crazy. It seems stupid almost.” Spoken like a once-pessimistic individual now daring to hope for a bright future – that’s your ‘Antihero’ Huskii for you.
Huskii’s ‘Antihero’ is out February 11 via Island Records Australia