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It’s hard to box Baltimore-bred creative Brian Henry into just one category. Sure, he’s a sought-after DJ that regularly spins the jams at Good Morning America on ABC, and has big names from Beyoncé to Barack Obama hoping to catch one of his sets. He’s also a mastermind curator though, who under his spot-on DJ moniker as B-Hen curates block parties that bring together some of the most eclectic melanated faces of multiple generations.
Check out how they were getting it done at the B-Hen Block Party last year in Los Angeles below — even R&B icon Brandy was there!
We got the opportunity to experience how he makes the magic happen during the traveling party’s debut stop in Brooklyn, New York. Setting up shop in the East Williamsburg warehouse-style venue 99 Scott, B-Hen made sure there was ample enough space to move around, grab drinks, good eats — our favorite was the Jamrock Jerk! — and most importantly of all, dance!
“I’ve love music since I was four or five years old, listening to Janet Jackson’s Control tape — back then it was a tape! [Laughs] — but I didn’t really know what to do with [music] for a long time,” he told us during an exclusive sit-down just before hitting the stage. He explained further that he took the “corporate route” for many years in hope of finding his way, only to fall right back into the thrall of music after taking a class at the prestigious Scratch DJ Academy. “I took one 6-week course [and] quit my job. They thought I was crazy, but, uh, years later everybody don’t think that too much.”
Learning how to mix music with the vibe of the crowd was a huge lesson he took from instructors Mr. Choc of the Beat Junkies and DJ HAPA, and soon translated that knowledge into his own namesake nightlife imprint. His style is purely based on a sense of “feeling the room,” reeling you in until he has you rocking then throwing on his own selections and original mixes that you’ll only get at a B-Hen show. Oh, and he’s also quite the choreographer — again, Renaissance Man! — that spends weeks orchestrating how the live entertainment of his DJ sets will go as well.
“It’s a feeling,” he says of the song selections and transitions he chooses, going to elaborate by adding, “My barometer is like, if I’m feeling it and in my bag or dance to it while I’m practicing it, I know that energy will reverberate from me onto the audience.”
His mission isn’t a one-man job however, with sponsorship by the good people at DIAGEO and assisting sets by seasoned and rising disc jockeys on the scene alike, including Jae Murphy, GoodVibes Jones, Quiana Parks and dj mOma. Using the famous “12 notes” concept by Quincy Jones as his reference, B-Hen said on the topic of DJing expanding as an art form, “Sure, there’s always going to be room for more DJs to enter the market, but if you don’t really understand the fundamentals of music, it won’t matter and you’ll suck.”
“Stop acting like the DJ is your personal concierge on the night of an event…at this point, we are the promoters, entertainers and the people aggregating deals. We’re doing so much more than playing records.”
— Brian Henry, aka DJ B-Hen
Of course, being a DJ isn’t always a walk in the park. The nonstop late nights and eardrum assault is one thing, but if there’s one qualm all disc jockeys share it’s the dreaded reoccurring offense of song requests. “Stop asking for request,” Henry exclaimed as the one thing he wants people to know about DJ culture, doubling down by further stating, “stop hitting the DJ on the night of the event asking for a guest list and just stop acting like the DJ is your personal concierge on the night of an event.”
If you think his ego is popping out a little, listen closer to what else he had to say on the subject to better understand the message: “At this point, we are the promoters, entertainers and people aggregating the deals. We’re doing so much more than playing records; it’s disrespectful if a DJ has spent weeks preparing a set, knowing that energy will be flowing from one song to the next, and you think that during your moment of drunkenness that saying, ‘Hey, let me hear this!’ is appropriate. I just need more people to respect the craft.”
Ultimately, Brian Henry does for the most part get the respect he seeks. We witnessed it live through a venue packed with Black people from all walks of life united in unison of the beat. It was both a beautiful view and feeling, and we thank the young jack-of-all-trades for inviting us out to experience a B-Hen Block Party in-person.
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