No matter what you do in life," declares Brandon Bordeaux, better known musically as H*Wood, "you're going to trip, you're going to fall, you're going to make errors. But in the grand scheme of things, the grand scheme of the goals, the errors are the lessons."
Bordeaux speaks from experience. In a matter of years, after moving from Aurora to California, the rapper experienced a meteoric rise in the music business before falling just as fast. Now he's back in Colorado, better for the experience and with a new EP, Doubt Kills, that he believes not only raises the personal stakes for him as an artist, but raises the stakes for his home town.
Bordeaux found quick success in Hollywood in his early twenties with the singles "Barbie Doll" and the hugely popular "Could It Be You (Punk Rock Chick)," a track issued on Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins's imprint that focused on the glossy materialism and party lifestyle of high-class Los Angeles. "I didn't even go through the whole 'I'm in Hollywood and I can't get into clubs,'" Bordeaux recalls of his time in L.A. "I was already blessed...and then I got signed, and when I got signed, that's when everything became, 'This is really what the industry and life as an artist pursuing this lifestyle is about.'
"I saw everything," he continues, repeating it twice more, like a bloodied Brando speaking his final words. "Hollywood is the heart of all of it, everything.... I saw how it was. I was wanted to be placed in a box. They wanted 'Could It Be You' 10,000 times. Every song had to be 'Could It Be You,' every time."'
Eventually, the heat from "Could It Be You" faded, and so did H*Wood's star. "You hear about that happening," he says. "I was hot and then I'm not. I had seen it happen, so when it happened, it was like, 'Oh, I can't go there no more? Damn.' It was just my time. My time with focusing on these things is over. That's how I looked at it. With 'Could It Be You,' that whole year, I loved it and had a great time full of great experiences, but I could not have continued to live my life that way."
Bordeaux isn't exactly excited to go into the details. He doesn't want to focus on the past. "There's a lot of dark shit that I've seen, and that's why I stay so positive — because a lot of this shit is dark," he explains. "The whole world is dark, but a lot of it originates from the industry, which originates from Hollywood. I guess just being positive and staying focused on your dream, even from the infant stages, and pushing that all the way to the end, is very important and hard to do, and that's what I really want people to do. I just want to be an example."
One person for whom Bordeaux really wants to set an example is his son, D.J., who was born when Bordeaux was only nineteen. "The announcement of [my son] coming was the most critical point in my life," he remembers. "From that moment, I just decided that I'm not going to stop [making music]. He has to see his dad at least run, run to the dreams, run to the goals. Because if he doesn't at least see that, then it's just going to be right down the same cycle, because I didn't get to see that, and my pops didn't get to see that, and his pops didn't get to see that. So eventually, somebody just has to be the one who's like, 'You know what? Win, lose or draw, this is for the better.'"
Bordeaux extends this mentality beyond his personal credo, though. He wants positivity and self-confidence to be the foundation of his music from now on. "I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to even chase this," he says. "That's enough for me to stay positive, no matter what. I want to be an example to my family and other people, everybody, that if you just stay positive and work hard, good things will come — but that all starts with killing the self-doubt." This type of thinking fuels Doubt Kills. "When you think of a good idea and those million reasons why you shouldn't do it," he says, "ignore those."
Regardless of the difficulty Bordeaux found while in California, he credits his time there with preparing him for what he's aiming to do now that he's back home. "I say that I went to Hollywood University, because that's exactly what it was for me," he points out. "It was like college; I stayed there from [ages] 20 to 24. That was my school. That was how I learned everything.... I look at 'Could It Be You' and I say, 'That was an awesome accomplishment, and that's a great trophy. But just like all the other trophies, they go back into the case.' It's time for me to go do something different, and with [Doubt Kills], I don't feel like I want to get close to that success without Colorado."
The hip-hop scene here is bursting with talent, but it lacks a distinctive identity, says Bordeaux, who sees this as a vacuum that needs to be filled. "I think Colorado has talented artists," he notes. "I think it has tons of talent, all across the board. But does it have a sound? No. I think Colorado just wants something, or someone, or a brand, to grab on to. I think, as an act, it's my job to cultivate the culture of Colorado into my sound."
And he believes that Doubt Kills will do just that. But if it doesn't, he'll keep searching until he finds a way to blend the state's unique culture with mainstream success. He definitely has no plans on hitting it big again without taking Colorado with him. "The only way that I want to recapture [the spotlight] is with Colorado," he insists. "Once I know Colorado loves it, then I want to attempt to have everybody else love it."
From H*Wood's perspective, hip-hop has been stagnant for far too long. One of the main problems, as he sees it, is that musicians are looking for cues from each other instead of within. "I think the first thing that rappers do is, 'I want to be a rapper.' Then they decide to be a rapper and try to change themselves into this other person. That's your first error.
"You're going to have to be on some other shit in the future to really press through as an artist," he goes on, "and that's what I'm trying to do, and I want to do it here more than anything. How awesome would that be for the state? If there was an artist that was just wrecking shop on the game and Colorado's just riding with them?
"I've done more here for my brand and my career than I ever did in Hollywood," he continues. "The label was doing all that shit for me. [In Colorado], I got to actually do that. I got to actually sit and mix and master and chill and, for every sound from here to here, from every picture, from every logo idea, from every website, planned for every single thing that you see about me on the Internet ever since 'W.O.R.K.'" — the lead single from his previous album, First Light.
Bordeaux is more than just a musical veteran; he's a longtime entrepreneur and a creative mind. Doubt Kills, for example, will officially premiere (though it has been available on Bandcamp since August 21) this week, when the EP will be available on iTunes, at Lucky Strike Lanes at the Denver Pavilions. H*Wood will be performing with his new backing band the Elevation, with help from DJ Five8. By having his show at a bowling alley, he thought he could bring a different dynamic to his fans than the typical rap show. He's also got his own Official HWood Mobile App, which offers everything from streaming music to an event calendar and deals with sponsoring companies.
"Everything that I'm going to be showing to you moving forward has been cooked here," promises a renewed Bordeaux. "I respect people in the music industry, I really do," he adds, "I respect what they do. But I just honestly feel like the future is here," in Colorado, he says. "I'm just one of those cats that believes in the independent grind.
"Being in the industry has a lot to do with your spirit and your soul," he concludes. "Once you step into that [space] where money doesn't matter, fame doesn't matter, what we're going to do for the night or whatever doesn't matter — anything that you want to do can happen. It all matters what's in your spirit and in your soul."