DJ B-Hen is far more than just a DJ, he’s an entire vibe. For anyone lucky enough to know him, they already know the love, authenticity, and positive energy he exudes at any given moment. Hailing from Baltimore but now calling sunny Los Angeles home, real name Brian Henry quit his 9 to 5 over a decade ago to pursue his dreams of DJing, picking up steam after finishing a 6-week course at Scratch DJ Academy.
A student by nature, B-Hen studied Economics at Morehouse College with plans of attending Harvard Business School. Having grinded his way to where he is now, he brings new levels to the term “celebrity DJ.” Not only has he spun for all the greats from Beyoncé and Cardi B to Pharrell and even Barack and Michelle Obama, but he’s a recurring DJ for Good Morning America on ABC.
Fast forward to today, B-Hen shifts his focus to the B-Hen Block Party, which is exactly what the name alludes. Having thrown block parties since 2014, this was a no-brainer… but he never thought he’d be able to take it on the road. Now, he’s traveling from coast to coast to give select cities a taste of the live action. There’s no VIP section, guest list, bottle service on purpose, this is a chance to step outside, dance, and enjoy music.
Flaunt caught up with DJ B-Hen virtually, who was posted in his home in Los Angeles. Read below as we discuss how the idea for DJ B-Hen block party came about, why there’s no VIP or guest list, his recent show in D.C. and how many people came out, ticket prices going up, the many hats he plays, banning mainstream songs, and more!
Where are you at right now?
I'm at home here in LA now, thank goodness. We've been on the road with this during the summer, and we've learned so much. [laughs] Inclement weather, how spoiled we are here in LA. We don’t have to deal with things like rain. We had to add a tent to our D.C. event a few days beforehand, it's crazy how much these things cost. But we do it for the joy that it brings everyone’s faces and feet, so it works out. I'm grateful.
How was the tent in D.C.?
Oh it was lit. It was a clear tent so it gave a really cool effect to the entire experience. It really enclosed the space. Normally all my block parties are always 100% outdoors. We've never had a tent to encapsulate the experience so we could distinguish the dance floor versus the people who were trying to be cool and drink. If you were ready to dance, you had to bring your butt into the tent.
I know D.C. has the go-go scene, they're really big on upbeat energy. How was it in that city?
It was great. I'm originally from Baltimore, it's up the street from D.C. A lot of my friends who live in the entire DMV area came out. One of our main driving factors is that in the DMV, there tends to be a lot of separation between what people believe is the DMV versus what isn't. People say D.C., Northern Virginia, and Prince George's County is, but when you get to Southern Virginia where Clipse and Pusha T are from, they’re like, “I don’t know.” If any of them are from Baltimore, they're like, “I don’t know.”
So our goal was to unite all of Maryland, all of D.C., all of Virginia under the sound of my voice and the music. I had a section at the party where I stopped the party, and played specific song selections from each of the regions, everyone went up. For PG County, I played some music from Wale. It took everything up to a whole new level because even though he reps D.C., he's from PG. It was great, everything’s been really great.
I think I saw Tamar Braxton come out?
Tamar came to the one here in Los Angeles, yup.
What does it mean for you to have these people show up for you?
It's incredible. I like everyone to be equal. Given we're an entertainment capital, with everyone having such a great time, it was only a matter of time before celebrities came. Celebrities have been coming since the first one, to be honest. LeBron’s show that’s formally on Starz, Survivor's Remorse, the entire cast and crew came to our very first block party. Every event, we've had some form of celebrity.
At this point, Lena Waithe’s been to every one of them since we launched it. The only one she missed was this most recent one because they moved Tribeca dates, but she’ll buy 50 to 60 tickets for her team. Macy Gray, Nicole Scherzinger, Tamar Braxton, Brandy, Lizzo. The names run the gamut in terms of people who've come, but I think it's a testament to people wanting to be present and having a great time. Whether you have an Emmy or Grammy, or if you just have $20 in your pocket, we want everyone to feel welcome.
Is that how much you charge for the party?
No, the party prices increased. [laughs] I wished we were still $25. Tickets right now are $44. That doesn't even cover our overhead for the party, that really gets people in the door. We want people to understand it's more than a party. We’re a mini-festival. At our LA event, 1500 people attended. We were maxed out, we couldn't fit any more people in the space. We had another 600 plus people who had registered on the ticketing website, they were on standby on a waitlist.
For our next event here in Los Angeles on Saturday, September 25th, we are expecting upwards of 2500 people. The cost of attendance helps not only cover production—when you have that many people, it's not just a party anymore. The production element we put into it in terms of having a stage, trust, lighting, and LED boards in front and behind the DJ booth… they're very akin to things you’d see at a music festival.
Where's the venue on the 25th?
Can’t reveal that just yet. [laughs] That's one of the things we love, we always love a surprise delight. We always release the venue details one week prior to the event. One, so that people don't go down there and try messing up stuff. Two, so that leads to some level of excitement. “Where are they gonna host it now?” It keeps them on their toes.
Do you remember when you first got the idea for DJ B-Hen Block Party?
Absolutely. I was celebrating a birthday party, my birthday in 2014. A particular venue, who will remain unnamed here in Los Angeles, said, “Yeah we'd love to have you, but you can't play that new hip hop.” I'm like, “Excuse me?” They said, “You can do 80’s, 90’s hip-hop. Don’t come in here playing that trap music.” I’m like “So you want me, you want my people, you want our money… but you don't want the full breadth of our culture?”
I’m an HBCU graduate. I’m through and through about our people or people of color as a whole. We’re overwhelmingly creative forces behind so many aspects of the entertainment industry, so it rubbed me the wrong way. My friend lived right off of Venice and Hauser, which is close to Venice and Fairfax. He lived at the edge of the block. We went behind the building. It's a 4-unit building, there’s many of those here in LA. There was a parking lot back there. Someone said, “Hey, you should host it back here!” And that's how it was born.
How many people came out?
We did it in 2014, for roughly 250 people. We didn't know what we had. We didn't even have a photographer on site, that's how much we didn't know what we had. It's grown incrementally every year to the point we hosted this as an afterparty during Weekend 2 of Coachella in 2019. Now, we're taking it on the road and going multiple dates in different cities. We've done thus far Atlanta, D.C. We got a second date here in LA, then we're closing it out in Oakland on October 23rd.
I’m from the Bay! Sometimes in LA, people feel they’re too boujee to dance.
Sometimes? All the time! That's what makes the block party so special. We don't care if you're black, white, Latino, Asian, green, gay, straight, lesbian, transgender. All those things I've noticed in my time of being a DJ here in LA for 11 years now, tend to pose barriers as to whether or not people will get together. We want to demolish those barriers and say, “No matter your different walks of life, come together. Fuck all that, let's dance.” One of the things that worked toward our success is we've removed the things that are a part of the typical nightlife and Hollywood experience. There's no guest list.
Oh yeah! I saw you have no VIP.
No VIP, no sections. I went to a party at the Academy the other day. When there's sections, there's a space of the haves and have nots. If you got money, if you’re balling, if your friends can spend $1000 on bottle service, you get to stand here. If you don't have money, then you get to stay with the peons on the dance floor. That's not the experience we want. Music for me is love, and anything that's love brings us together. All those elements I mentioned, those things separate us.
On the onset of creating this block party experience, we eliminated all of those elements and that truly brings people together. What we’ve found out is people dance. You're not wrong at all, you're 100% right that people typically in LA don't dance. But I've learned that's not just LA, that's any major market in the country where they have bottle service. There's nothing wrong with bottle service, shout out to the liquor brands, but it's the culture in the club that tends to lead people to not dance. I'm glad we successfully found out how to navigate around that. It’s refreshing, people want a different experience.
How was graduating from Atlanta? They’ve got their own hub of music right now when it comes to hip-hop. They’ve got so many artists out there. What was that like?
Atlanta was great. We received a lot of support. Thankful for Natalie as well and her team in terms of support from local celebrities. We had reposts from Tiny of Xscape, Cynthia Bailey from Real Housewives, her daughter Zonnique. We had Atlanta Bankhead Seafood, which is a staple in the community. A lot of my college friends from Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta all showed up. It was great.
There's been a lot of violence in Atlanta, something that people had warned me of. Since the start of the event, we've been incident-free. I was happy to come to Atlanta and create a safe space for everyone to feel warm and welcome. We had 943 people come out... and it rained. They came out, it started raining at the event. They went to their cars, had a smoke, had a drink, then came back into the party. That’s love! If we’re doing it in LA, they’d be like, “Alright, we out. We going home.”
What’s the reality of putting on a show, because I imagine you have to DJ too?
I’ll say this: I'm being stretched. This has been the most challenging season of my professional life. 100%. I ain't even gonna hold you, I'm not gonna act like this is easy. It's not easy. Because to date, it's been self-funded. Thank God my dad taught me how to have good credit and have great relationships. To be the person who's the financer or the guarantor of this event, in addition to managing and flying out with a team of 7 who's based in LA—in each market, we hired anywhere from 55 to 65 black-owned vendors. That includes security, bartending team, videographers, photographers, you name it. The stage and lighting and production team, the team who does everything from the activation standpoint. We bring on so many different people.
At the end of the day, I'm the boss. It brings on a level of stress because in my mind if something goes wrong, then it’s on me. Thank God for an amazing team. Our creative director, Davon Johnson, he's born and raised in Los Angeles. He’s a complete creative genius. He's the one who’s been able to take the block party to the next level from the production standpoint, ensuring we have LED screens, picture and picture, trust lighting. He's had experience working with Coachella. He just got finished doing a huge HBCU activation at the US Open in New York. He’s worked with Megan Thee Stallion, City Girls, Kamasi Washington, Masego, a host of different artists, and he's been able to lend his ingenuity. He's an architect, undergrad and graduate major from Hampton University, also an HBCU. Without him, it’s hard to say what this experience would look like. He's incredible. When you have great members like that on your team, even though I'm the boss, it's great to have someone who shares in the vision and sees where this will go in the future.
Where do you want it to go in the future?
News level status, of course. It won’t be called The B-Hen Block Party by any means. I’ve worked to change the name of this party 3 times. We called it Untamed when we did that at Coachella. We’ve called it Higher Frequency. We’ve called it Party on the Block. Attendance is always through the roof when we call it B-Hen Block Party, so I've accepted I’m the vessel by which this flows. This is really a unique opportunity for us to understand what we do extremely well and where our opportunities for growth are. As we take it on the road, we've been able to galvanize the community in a way that folks are even flying in to come to this next LA date. In the very foreseeable future, we'll be activating a derivative of this experience as a music festival.
What would you say are the most lit songs to drop during one of your sets? What gets the crowd up?
“Came out bussin’, came out bussin’, came out bussin’!” That Isaiah Rashad featuring Uzi [“From The Garden”], I play that as my first track and the crowd goes crazy. I do my best to pay homage to every single market we go to. If I'm in D.C., I’m playing go-go. I’m playing Wale, I’m playing IDK. If I’m here in LA, I'm showing love to the LA artists. It's like that for each market, making sure we pay homage and are respectful. Also presenting things in a unique way where they haven't heard them. Flips, edits, remixes are the quintessential juice of the block party. For all the DJs, I demand them, “Do not play ‘Swag Surfin’. Do not play Meek Mill's ‘Dreams and Nightmares’.”
Because we've played these songs out. No disrespect to those artists, those artists are amazing. There's a bank of 15 songs that I send to the DJs in advance, ask them “Do not play the songs, and here's why.” They’re monotonous. We've heard these songs 50K times and it doesn't push you creatively. If you have a country song you want to cut into for 20 seconds and get out of it, be my guest. Play the things that a promoter would yell at you in the nightclub saying, “Why you playing this?” Those are things I want you to play because if you're passionate about it, your energy, the frequency of you up on that stage, having a great time, that pushes out into the crowd. If they do or don't know a song, they see you're into it so they're going to be into it.
The job of the DJ is not to play the songs that everyone knows, but to take you on a musical journey and to introduce things that you didn't know you needed. Our DJs are incredible. For our LA event, [whistles] all-star lineup! This is the most all-star lineup we've ever had, and we've had some great DJs. Jasmine Solano from Clubhouse Global, she’s amazing and incredible. We have DJ Damage from Real 92.3 and Revolt. We have DJ Benjamin Walker from Brunch 2 Bomb, and he does a host of different events throughout the city. Last but not least, me and hometown hero DJ Artistic.
He definitely gets it lit.
Each of the DJs have everything from 15 minutes to an hour to perform. It's not just a DJ set, I want you to perform. I want you to have a great time. They'll all be giving us our logos. Our logos will be onstage in queue with their music. I push them. A lot of DJs in the hip-hop and urban space tend to play from the gut, we play from what feels good right now. I encourage the DJs: can you prepare a set in advance? By preparing the set in advance, we then in working with you can pull graphics to align the graphics to the music that you play.
That's the level by which we're challenging the DJs to step their game up. You see this type of production at music festivals. Sometimes we get challenged because we want to make sure we're authentic. We want to make sure we're not coming up there and pushing buttons. It's not pushing buttons at all, you're still up there playing live. But if you give us some type of insight into what your set looks like, we can program visuals to go along with the music. When you lit at the party, that’s what takes things up a whole other level. [laughs[
You studied Economics in college, what did you want to be? Did you ever think you'd be doing this, taking your DJ sets on the road?
Hell nah, I didn't think I was gonna be a DJ at all. My dad was not in favor of me being a DJ. I wanted to be a DJ when I was 13. He took me to the pawn shops, we couldn't find anything. He said, “No son of mine is ever going to be a DJ.” I was crushed. I did the corporate life, investment banking on Wall Street. Corporate life out here in LA, I had a great opportunity working for Verizon in entertainment marketing and sponsorship.
I was doing a 9-month MBA prep program at UCLA. The Anderson School of Management has an MBA program called Riordan Fellows, I did that for 9 months. I did a week-long program at Harvard Business School. Between these prep programs, I was a shoo-in. I wanted to go to NYU Stern, UCLA Anderson, or Harvard Business School. The whole goal was to study entertainment, music, and technology from the business school aspect. The economy turned: I could go to grad school or do what I always had a passion to do, so let me figure it out. I quit my corporate job. I enrolled in Scratch DJ Academy on the westside. You know DJ Hapa? Super cool DJ aficionado from the Bay. I took a 6-week class there, then I quit my job. They thought I was completely crazy. They asked me to go ask for my job back. I said “No, I'm gonna do this and be a celebrity DJ.” They said, “Yeah, uh-huh. You and everybody else. Go ask for your job back.” By then, it was too late. I told myself I’d give myself a year. If it didn't work out in a year, then I’d go to grad school. It's been 11 years in the game and now baby, we on.
Any goals for yourself at this point of your career?
To make sure I maintain my health and wellness in the process of taking this to the road. Sometimes the things you ask, you don't know how much strain it’ll put on you. More than anything else, I want to be a vessel of light, love, and joy. I want anything I'm attached to to bring joy to people's faces and their feet. That’s my goal. Dancing is one of those things that’s not a lost art form, it's not something that's only meant for the professional dance community. When we dance, we release stress. The stress that we've all been through from this pandemic in 2020, the posts of people who look like me who’ve been murdered throughout this country. I want our events to serve as a safe space that makes people dance, relinquish that stress, just be present in their own bodies and have a good time.