Can web3 make the world a better place? HENO. thinks so and is leading the way.
Wallace Morgan
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NOISE DAO
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October 25th, 2022

Artist, producer, engineer, community organizer and web3 builder HENO. credits music for saving his life, and now he wants to return the favor.

“Music was always the thing that kept me safe and kept me at peace,” says HENO.

A first-generation Ethiopian-Eritrean American who grew up in Maryland, a state with one of the country’s highest incarceration rates for Black men from ages 18 to 25, HENO. at age 29 says he didn’t even expect to live this long, much less find himself in a place of abundance–in part thanks to web3. “If I'm being frank, I didn’t even think I was going to be alive this long coming from where I'm from,” says HENO. “I grew up in a low income neighborhood and saw a lot of police intervention. My reality is a nightmare to some–I'm accustomed to having police break into our house with no warrant, no knock. I remember being handcuffed when I was six years old, because they thought I was selling drugs in the first grade.” He recounts having police point a gun at his head at age four and seeing his brother slammed onto a police car by an aggressive officer when he was eight.

The trauma from these early experiences, among others, caused PTSD and hyper-vigilance from the exhaustion of combating the constant distraction and paranoia of impending harm. But when a teacher noticed his potential, HENO. not only discovered his talents, he found a source of much needed catharsis as well. “It was very therapeutic to create,” says HENO. “I had a teacher in high school who was one of the people who saved my life early. She was like, ‘you are so talented, but you don't even know it.’ She gave me a microphone, a camera, and a laptop, and allowed me to skip class but stay in the school under her watch. I would spend all day, during junior and senior years of high school, making beats, rapping, and making these stupid videos that went viral on YouTube.”

Encouraged at school to pursue music seriously, HENO. faced push back at home. Though his family loved music–his dad played drums and guitar and the family listened to all manner of Ethiopian jazz, Motown, soul, hip hop and pop–they viewed music as a hobby, not as a career path. Rather, the expectation was to become a doctor or a lawyer. In response, HENO. set out on a pre-med route at Howard University, studying Neuropsychology for two years before deciding to leave to pursue his passion. “I realized you can’t make everyone happy,” says HENO. “I had to bet on myself.” HENO. left Howard during his junior year and moved to California where he spent time in The Bay Area and is now based in Los Angeles. The decision was a risk–one that would eventually pay off–but not without its challenges.

“I was homeless out here for a bit, couch surfing, and all of that, but very determined regardless,” says HENO. “It really humbles me. I'll be walking in downtown LA leaving a meeting with a label or something and be like, ‘yo, I was homeless a few blocks over there a few years ago, like shit is different now.” Reflecting on his journey and where he is today, HENO.’s voice is both filled with gratitude and grief. “I don't even know if I would be here talking to you today if I didn’t leave when I did, because of how active it is.” says HENO. “I have friends and family who are doing lengthy sentences, and know people who have died around me.”

A reality all too close to home, HENO. is committed to using his music as a vehicle for change by telling his story and giving back towards actionable solutions for restorative justice. “In the past I've internalized it, but now I'm at a place where I feel obligated to speak on these stories, shining light on things that have been very normalized. There are people who wish they could speak on these things, but can't because they are either dead or in jail.”

Finding success in web3, having sold 150 NFTs, collaborated with Mick Jenkins, JPEGMAFIA, Chaz Bear (Toro Y Moi), and Snoop Dogg, and having been selected as one of the 100 Top Creators in the inaugural NFT100 by NFTNow, HENO. wants to pay it forward. “It hits home because it’s very real for me, and why I talk about it in my music and try to be about it in real life. I'm finding abundance in my life, and I feel like it would be selfish of me to just hoard it for myself.”

Embarking on an ambitious and meticulous plan to utilize web3, his music, and the power of audio and visual storytelling to bring about positive change, HENO. is pledging 50% of his upcoming 111 edition drop to The Bail Project, the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform, and the Baltimore Action Legal Team, and will donate 5% of his overall 2023 web3 primary sales as part of his Restorative Justice Initiative, detailed further in his recent Mirror article. “I feel obligated to bring about social impact. I'm not seeing that enough in web3, at least from the art side. We’re seeing all these big sales, seeing all these things that are great–power to artists, yes–but what can we do to bring about real impactful change with this new tech?”

Using a designated wallet for the split, HENO. has long term plans to accrue funds for his Restorative Justice Initiative starting with the initial effort to specifically combat recidivism rates and offer bail assistance for non-violent crimes. “I’m very big on wanting to tackle things like recidivism which is when someone ends up going back to jail for the same crime–a cycle that unfortunately doesn't get broken sometimes,” says HENO. “In California, felons can find work and not be discriminated against–there are laws that allow that. But in a lot of other places that isn’t the case. Maryland being one of them. If you're a felon and you’re trying to live an honest, decent life and you aren't given opportunities, it’s going to cause someone to go back to do whatever it is that got them in trouble in the first place. I'm passionate about wanting to reduce those rates as well as bail assistance for non violent crimes. There are families and communities that don't have 500 dollars to just put up for someone to come home. There are people sitting in jail for up to a year just to have a trial.”

In addition to the monetary pledges and to HENO.’s ongoing involvement with various grassroots organizations, HENO. is spreading awareness through the intentional and authentic storytelling in his music. His upcoming album I'm Tired Of Being Hypersurveilled, expected in 2023, and its associated EP In The Meantime, NFT collection, and visual accompaniment serve to shed light on the injustices and consequences of surveillance, white supremacy, and police brutality through the lens of HENO.’s personal experiences.

On the album’s crowdfund on Mirror–where he’s raised 8.29 ETH so far of a 20 ETH goal–HENO. shares that his artist journey has been a “safe haven from a world that constantly perceives me as a threat by simply existing in this country as a 6’4 Black man with dreads.” Part of HENO.’s goal with the album is to broach difficult discussions where hard truths such as this are explored. “I feel like it's an obligation to not only pay it forward on a monetary level, but normalize these kinds of uncomfortable conversations,” says HENO. His 9-track EP, In The Meantime, coming out on DSPs in January with an associated NFT drop, will serve as an introduction to the album. “Surveillance is a heavy topic and a dense topic,” says HENO. “The intention of the EP is to introduce it… I’m spoon feeding it to you. I don't want to overwhelm people.”

Having released his single “Neybors” featuring Elujay and J.ROBB in September as a primer, HENO. introduces the project’s concept with a more covert approach. “Neybors is a groovy song,” says HENO. “You wouldn't think that the song is about surveillance, but it is in a mildest way. We also surveil each other in society.” The voyeuristic cover art and visualizer adds color to the idea that privacy, and the ability to find presence within the most intimate relationships, is often intruded on by technology, lack of space, and literal and figurative noise.

Jansport Freestyle,” out today on DSPs, dives more head on detailing when police, who had the wrong address, physically intruded HENO.’s mother’s house without a warrant, kicking down the doors and wreaking havoc in the middle of the night on Black Friday a few years ago. Showcasing HENO.’s signature alternative soul sonic style, “Jansport Freestyle” juxtaposes HENO.’s soothing flow, seeking comfort in music and mindfulness, with the traumatic and all too common storyline of his experiences. He sings, “Life’s a test, but I’ve been blessed, I fight the stress with mindfulness, mindfulness, although my mind’s a mess in these times I confess.” He goes on in the verse: “Ever had your door kicked in by 12 on the holidays? Three AM on Black Friday at my mama’s place.” Further illustrating the chronic nature of the problem, HENO. says he was listening to “Jansport Freestyle” on his most recent trip back to visit family, when he was approached by police officers for simply sitting on his front porch.

Jansport Freestyle,” is one of four records that will be minted for his upcoming In The Meantime collection–an audiovisual collaboration with Andre Oshea dropping on Sound ahead of the 9-track EP release in January. With pre-sale going live November 1st, In the Meantime will include 111 editions of 3D animations paired with the four minted songs: Jansport Freestyle, Woke Up!, Flowers, and Nothing Lasts Forever (feat. Seiji Oda). All holders of the NFTs will be granted advanced access to listen to the full EP on HENO.’s token-gated Tellie website ahead of its January release.

The project, including the album, is a multifaceted and complex undertaking rooted in intentionality and authenticity that lends itself to the way the culture in web3 has made room to value more long-form storytelling in music. In web2, HENO. says he often feels frustrated by conversations surrounding content and what is most marketable, whereas in web3 he consistently notices an interest and appreciation for the story behind a record and the context for its creation.

“Everything is done with intention,” says HENO. “We have the option to say no in web3. I don't feel like I have to dance on TikTok for you to listen to my music. Instead I’ll tell you my story. And that means something in a way that is integral to me as a person.”

Showing up consistently in Twitter Spaces and at IRL events, HENO. has found a community based in authentic expression and consistency in web3 similar to that of which he encountered during time he spent in the Bay Area hip hop scene. “Community is a verb, it’s how you show up and actively interact,” says HENO. With this in mind, he’s quickly found his footing in web3, a space he credits for opening countless doors like traveling the world, and an additional community where he’s found respect and value for his thoughts and opinions. Noting the need for more diversity in the space, HENO. is using his influence to empower other artists alongside his larger goals towards social impact. “It was tight to see a lot of people who looked like me,” says HENO. referring to an IRL exhibition in Atlanta where he dropped his genesis NFT in 2021. “I felt like that was important because when I first got into Web3, it took me a while to find that. Nowadays I feel like it’s getting there, but we still have a ways to go.”

Whether he’s onboarding new artists, using his music and art to shed light on systemic issues and spark important conversations, or finding ways to invest towards a better, more just future, HENO. is motivated by one guiding light. “Everything has to be purposeful,” says HENO. “It’s not about a cash grab. It’s about fulfillment and purpose. And I feel like I'm stepping with purpose right now.”

HENO.’s personal journey has not been an easy one, but it’s been marked by his relentless commitment to healing instead of hardness. “I've been through a lot unfortunately, but I think I was supposed to because it shaped how I view the world,” says HENO. “I move with kindness even though the world has been crazy to me. I embrace it all because it's my honest truth.”

Choosing the path of restoration HENO.’s wisdom comes from an artist who doesn’t just talk the talk but is walking the walk, too. “You can't control the world, but you can control what you do and how you move within it; how you react and how you respond,” says HENO.

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By Wallace Morgan for “High Frequency,” NOISE’s weekly newsletter. Subscribe for more.

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