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Husoul is a Des Moines-based drum and bass musician. In this edition of the villin podcast he discusses how he has transitioned from a rapper/producer to a gamer to where he’s currently at, music’s influence on and relationship to mental health, and the ability to find identity and individuality within sound. Husoul recently released his full-length album, Project Dilemma, in March of 2023, following that up with a single titled “Dystopia.”
villin: The track introducing this episode of the villin podcast is “This is the end” by Husoul. It’s a high energy earworm that I’ve fallen in love with, but just one of the nearly 30 songs that the Des Moines-based musician has released since debuting with “Reach” last July. That debut was not really his debut, however, and as we’ve connected there has been a theme that has arisen surrounding things not appearing as they first might seem. I don’t mean that in a negative way or in a deceptive way, but that there are multiple layers to the Husoul onion. In one of our DM exchanges leading up to this conversation, for example, he posed a question asking if I knew how to pronounce his name. I mean, at that point I’d probably listened to his music for a few hours, but by simple fact that he was asking me suggested I was probably off base. I thought it was something like “hew-soul,” but once he let me know I started hearing the tags come up in his earlier works. It was right there: “hustle,” sort of hiding in plain sight, but still vaguely out of reach to those on the outside looking in.
On an episode of the Full Drop Podcast released in March of 2020, Husoul explained that he began making music around the age of 17 and that the name had been gifted to him from a friend, but at that time he was quite a different Husoul. He was a rapper and producer. He’d released music and accompanying videos. Then, one day that just ended. That version of Husoul stopped working for the person behind the persona. Until sometime last year when there was a decision to revive the project as something entirely new.
Husoul: I wouldn’t say I was a whole different person–I’m still the same person I am now–but I wasn’t proud of the work that I was doing and putting out, because I feel like… I don’t know if you’ve seen the old videos but, you know, I made a music video for a song called “Chopsticks” and a video for “Shake It,” and those videos didn’t really–I wouldn’t say–represent me well. Because it created an image of me that people might see me as, like, I don’t know, a not so good guy, I would say, if I worded that right. But I just didn’t like how it reflected me as a person; I can say that. And the rap side of it, you know, I used to make a lot of rap beats and rap on them for fun. I would say I got tired and bored of that genre because everything felt too repetitive. I could say that. Everything felt like I was in a loop and the majority of the time I was stuck in that loop. I didn’t know what to make I didn’t know how to properly express myself because I feel like with rap music it’s kind of hard to be more vulnerable about it because I’m so used to the aggressive rap side and drill rap side and aggressive rap side, I didn’t know how to properly be sentimental and vulnerable towards it… Like, making sad music and stuff like that because I do have a–I would say–depression disorder and I was stuck in this loop where I did not want to make rap music and I stopped for, maybe, a solid three years years until I found a different genre that I like, that I could easily express on. And that’s when I started making drum and bass music. That’s pretty much it. It felt easier expressing my feelings toward drum and bass beats, if that makes sense.
villin: I can empathize with that decision to essentially try to wipe the slate clean, thinking back to the countless times I’ve tried to remove myself from the person I once tried to position myself as, deleting social media profiles, websites, or walking away entirely from people I knew and places I lived. As the saying goes, however: no matter where you go, that’s where you are. And in returning to music with a new genre in mind, I get the sense that Husoul is taking lessons learned from that first go-around and using them to lean into something more personal, or attuned with who he really is.
Husoul: Yeah, it felt like everything just felt like an online persona. Yeah, that’s how I got my first album that I released [with] my drum and bass music. I had an album called Online Persona and that’s pretty much what it is about. Because those three years that I took a break on, I felt like I wasn’t proud of myself for what I made when I made rap music and I felt that everything just felt like a persona. And I feel like that’s what took inspiration in me making my first album called Online Persona. It’s all just test music, I guess. That was when I was still experimenting on drum and bass music. I didn’t have a go-to sound in Online Persona. Everything was just like, “Hmm, what if I did this and what if I did that” and just clamp it all together. I would say Online Persona, the album is a beginner’s work. I am still proud of it because, you know, I still had the balls to move on to a different genre.
villin: Which, again, isn’t to imply an abandonment of the old Husoul, just a change.
Husoul: I don’t regret it at all. I don’t regret everything that I did. I had my time. I had a lot of good memories over there. I even performed live twice and it was always a good time. I had a decent audience and nothing could ever make me regret what I did like three/four years ago. It’s just that I feel like I just needed to move on as a person. I just got more chill, I can say that. And I just wanted to grow as a person and move on to different things.
villin: The rapper/producer persona and today’s iteration come before an after a third version of Husoul that leaned into gaming-related content. Remnants from that time exist on his Twitch channel, and as we talked I got a sense there was something more fluid at work within the timeline than a hard stop progression from musician to gamer and back to musician.
Husoul: Yeah, when I took a break from music for those three years I did game heavily. I did, and I was trying to become a competitive Warzone gamer, you could say. ‘Cause I’m the type of person that’s like, if I really like something I’m going to put it one-hundred percent of my focus into it and Warzone was definitely up there. I was competing, I can say that, and I don’t regret that either. I still have good memories in that game. I do still play it a lot but it’s not really primarily my focus on like putting content out anywhere, if that makes sense. Like right now, primarily my focus is making more music because that’s what I do want to be known as now, instead of just a gamer.
villin: My brain working the way it does, I was curious if there was more to the name “Husoul,” so I went googling and found that it (very loosely) translates to the word “get” in Arabic. This was news to Husoul when we talked, but there’s an element of that connection I really like. Like: get it; or get after it; get what you want; or get going. And this is part of the creative liberty I’m taking when approaching his journey from the outside looking in, because I see a connection there. One thing wasn’t working, so that ended while he tried something else. When that next phase exceeded its own shelf life, he moved on. And when inspiration came up again, he dove in and tried to get after something new.
Husoul: I would say I got into drum and bass music because of TikTok. Because you know the “For You” pages, like everything pops into your feed for you. For some reason I was getting a lot of drum and bass music into my feed. I was like, “Oh my God, I love this genre. Who am I listening to right now? This is what I want to make! I should get back into music.” And I did. I mean, it’s not really that deep, but I think for a long time when I was taking a break from music I didn’t have motivation or inspiration to keep doing music. Because I knew I didn’t want to keep doing rap music. But drum and bass, man, it just resonates with me perfectly. I don’t know what it is.
villin: What it is about the music, or the genre, that is so appealing is something that he and I both struggled to articulate to each other. Throughout our discussion I think Husoul did well to explain the sound, though each time we shifted to that territory it ended up in a conclusion of it just feeling right.
Husoul: The drum and bass genre is more melodic focused and BPM focused, so usually… BPM is, like, the speed of the song, right? I love–I don’t know why my type of energy is chill melodies but fast drums. [I’ve] always loved that, I don’t know why, but it’s my thing. And there’s something about it. It clings to my brain when I hear fast drums, at least maybe 170 BPM. I don’t know why but it’s kind of hard to explain, to be honest. I feel like it reflects me well making a drum and bass beat.
villin: For me there’s so much that goes into drum and bass, and so much more that goes into my personal relationship with the genre. One of the things I struggled with in our conversation was articulating the very same thing as Husoul. Why does this particular sound affect me the way it does? I’ve been listening to this kind of music for almost 30 years and it lives in a certain space within me, occupying a part of my own being in some shapeless nameless way; a vague break-beat, just constantly humming behind one of the many doors within my mind. And I like that it’s there, and I appreciate when and where it comes up. It’s strange because, as we were talking, I commented that this is the first time I’ve ever talked with someone about drum and bass despite being a fan for so long. Thinking back after the fact, I think that’s true. My friends growing up didn’t listen to what was at the time called electronica, and they most certainly didn’t have an interest in the artists I was getting into. Through the first artists I’d heard who made it in the mid-to-late ’90s (who helped inspire my journey, like Goldie or Aphex Twin or Squarepusher, to name a select few), the sound felt so modern, yet so out of time and space. Completely disconnected, yet here. It was current yet from the future. And Husoul agreed.
Husoul: Because drum and bass, the kits that I use are all just old drum loops from the ‘80s and ‘90s and early 2000s. But they still sound futuristic to this day and I just can’t explain why. It just does. It fits everything so perfectly. I think it just depends on the mood that you’re trying to represent in the song, or what melody you’re using and how you articulate the sounds in the songs and how you do that can make the song very futuristic.
villin: Adding to Husoul’s presentation of the genre is a visual element that amplifies that idea, incorporating Japanese influences, cyberpunk, and the neon echoes of a vague nameless city at night.
Husoul: It’s one of my favorite genres of all-time, by the way. Something about cyberpunk. It calms me down, I can say that. Whenever I do want to get inspiration from it I do look at cyberpunk images or the Cyberpunk anime that came out a year ago. Or, like, early 2000s PS2 cyberpunk images. Stuff like that, just anything with an old nostalgic aesthetic.
villin: When we started out there was a comment speaking to depression and I can’t help but find value in how the genre has connected with Husoul, and how it’s influenced him there, as well.
Husoul: I’m not the type of person who just sits down and grieves all day. But I do get a lot of procrastination days. It’s hard to get creative nowadays for me. It’s always been a thing. I just grew up being a procrastinator and I’m trying to break that habit. And it’s been working so far. I think ever since I found this new genre, drum and bass, last year, everything felt more fast paced. I definitely procrastinated a lot less. And I would say I’m definitely proud of that. Mental health-wise it helped me in my own little world.
villin: This most recent iteration of Husoul released his first full-length album, Online Persona, in September and followed with Project Dilemma last month. I can’t help but admire the volume of output, but also the quality of it. Being a fan of a genre for nearly as long as you’ve been a creator within that space is a really unique thing, and when we talked about influence the picture became a little more clear of how this immersive experience has helped him grow as both a creator and a fan.
Husoul: And a lot of the people I listen to are very underground. They’re like, y’know, not popular at all. But I do look up to a lot of those producers and I gain inspiration from them. And it’s just like “Oh, this person did that, or I wonder how I could do it in my way, or what kind of sounds I can make in my way?” Because, granted, I am still learning the production. I’m improving every day [with] how to make this kind of music. And I feel like my newest album, Project Dilemma, is… it’s a big improvement compared to my album from last year, Online Persona. It’s just me improving as a person and a producer and just trying to articulate how I want certain things to sound, in my own way.
I would say everything is a lot more… production-wise everything sounds more mastered. Everything sounds more faster. Because strictly my primary focus I was trying to do on this project was: faster BPM and more melodies and more drums and more variety into the drums. Because I used to have a problem where I would be too repetitive in my drums and it always sticks in the back of my mind: I gotta switch it up or I gotta, you know, pan this side to the left side of the ear and pan this side to the right side of the ear. And I feel like I did that well in the album.
villin: This may be an instance of me trying to shoehorn an unrelated topic into the narrative, but I did want to talk with Husoul about cultural representation in music and art, asking whether or not that had much bearing on him. And when he answered, he spoke of a strong Asian community within Iowa, while digging into some of the downsides he’s experienced personally.
Husoul: I do think about it a lot. I do think about it. I would say I thought about it a lot more when I was into the rap scene more because there wasn’t a lot of popular Asian rappers that were out at the time. I would say the only Asian rapper I was familiar with at the time was Dumbfoundead or Killy–I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Killy, but he was big at the time but not anymore. It definitely has always been in the back of my mind–Asian artists. There’s not really a lot out here. There’s not really a lot of mainstream stuff out here for Asian people, unless it’s like Jackie Chan or Jet Li, you know, kung fu shit. But artistic-wise, it’s rarely ever a thing. I would say the media, the mainstream media is more primarily focused on black and white. It’s always been the main thing, the main topic, for a long time, just black and white. And I don’t blame them for that because it’s definitely a safer route to stick with that instead of experimenting on diversity.
villin: Out of that topic comes a question of whether there’s a goal or focus for Husoul’s music, and my favorite moment of our conversation came as we drifted back into a blending of video games and sound. To me, drum and bass is video game music for the mind. There is a visual element to the sound whether or not there is an actual visual accompaniment to the sound. And as Husoul explained, as he progresses with the music, he can see a future where his past catches up with his present and works in tandem with his current focus to create something even more satisfying.
Husoul: I think one of my biggest dreams is making a soundtrack for a video game because I grew up with video games. I love video games. And now that I think about it, I never fully comprehended in my head… But, yeah, I think I always just wanted to make an OST or just a full on soundtrack for a video game. And now you’ve just got me thinking. I never thought about it. Wow, there you go. Video game producer that makes music. Boom. […]
I wouldn’t say a huge success, I would say if it makes into… okay, the thing about me is that whenever I make these drum and bass beats I always wanted them to make it into a racing game or something. I can just like envision them in a Need for Speed game or a Midnight Club game or just a racing game. I would love for that to happen. That’s like my biggest dream. I don’t know why. It’s nothing like becoming famous, or fame, I just want to make it to the game. I want to hear my music while I’m racing my car. That would be a dream come true.
villin: A conscious decision or not, Husoul took action to essentially wipe the slate clean, allowing all of his previous experiences with music–and what he doesn’t want his music to be–to fully inform the sort of creator he’s attempting to shift into. Regardless of whether that past work is still readily available for others to consume, it’s helping drive the progression. In this case, maybe driving his work away from something inasmuch as toward another. In that same Full Drop Podcast, Husoul was asked where he might see himself in another ten years and he guessed he might shift more into more of a producer role, or maybe even have something more to do with film or video. Now, again, looking ahead, we both came together on the impossibility of being able to project into the future about what will happen, or even settle on what might be a reasonable goal for another five or ten years down the road. Dreams of video game soundtrack production aside, it came down to something simple and grounded in the here and now. As it stands, Husoul just landed on a hope to find others who resonate with his music, and use it as a springboard to explore the drum and bass sound further for themselves .
Husoul: Just give it a chance. It’s a genre that isn’t out there. It’s an underground genre and I just ask that people give it a chance.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]