On June 27, Glen “Beleaf” Henry wouldn’t have released what his Kings Dream Entertainment label mate Ruslan called the album of the year, , if he hadn’t called his father one last time nine years ago.
Or what was supposed to be the last time.
At the age of 17, Beleaf left his abusive mother to move in with his grandmother. Over the next three years, home became his grandmother’s house, then his aunt’s house, then his girlfriend’s house and eventually his car. Beleaf created enough conflict in each relationship that he became unwanted.
So he gave up.
“I realized that everywhere I went, I was the common denominator of all the issues,” Beleaf told Wade-O Radio. “I just got to a point where I thought, ‘I’m not really doing anything with my life, nor do I know what to do.’ I ran out of options.”
Beleaf graduated high school. He had a job. But through them, he hadn’t found a purpose.
Feeling like nothing but a problem, 20-year-old Beleaf decided to commit suicide. He planned to drive his car to the Baltimore freeway and, wearing no seatbelt, crash full speed into a wall.
En route to take his life, for some reason, he called his father.
“I liked him, I guess,” said Beleaf, “or something.”
Beleaf didn’t live with his father, who had moved to California. But at least he wasn’t abusive.
Beleaf told his father he planned to kill himself and why. His father, terrified, offered Beleaf a second chance: to move to California, live with him and start a new life.
“I had a very sober thought,” said Beleaf. “There’s something else out there. It’s not just Baltimore in my future … I’ll just try it and see what happens.”
Beleaf had lived in California with his father two years during elementary school. Not long after Beleaf moved in again, he reconnected with a childhood friend who started bringing him to church. Beleaf didn’t attend church growing up, but he didn’t resist because girls attended church.
On Sunday, Beleaf went to church with his friend, and throughout the rest of the week, he partied with a Five Percenter named Jamal. Beleaf had explored Five-Percent Nation the one year he attended University of Maryland Eastern Shore. He had connected with a group on campus, and Beleaf just happened to sit next to Jamal on his plane from Baltimore to California.
But Beleaf’s Five-Percent associates failed to impress him.
“I was on the way to becoming a Five Percenter, trying to figure out all the laws and really investigating it,” he said. “But the people I was around who were living that life weren’t really living that life … I couldn’t find anyone who walked that out, so that was irritating to me.”
Beleaf soon found a group brought together by faith which did walk it out. At The Movement in San Diego, Beleaf not only met girls—he met Ruslan.
Beleaf typically didn’t gravitate toward white people. The first time he learned Ruslan, a white man, had a black girlfriend, Beleaf was boiling. But he and Ruslan shared a passion for hip-hop culture that surpassed Beleaf’s racism.
In a childhood filled with sorrow, hip hop became Beleaf’s escape.
“Let me ride this rollercoaster of rhymes,” he said. “Let me see what these people can create with their words and the imagery it can have it my mind.”
Beleaf idolized emcees like Big L and Black Thought.
“[Black Thought] would say words like they were created for him to say them alone,” he said. “And whatever he said, I believed him.”
With hip hop as their common bond, Beleaf began spending time with Ruslan’s crew. While Ruslan rapped, Beleaf just lent a hand—cutting hair, taking pictures, carrying pianos.
But Ruslan needed a DJ. He recruited Beleaf, despite his inexperience. And within a few weeks, after practicing for hours on his father’s floor, Beleaf became a serviceable DJ.
Spending time with Ruslan and others from The Movement did more than motivate him to become a DJ, though. Their lives were the evidence that Beleaf wanted to see to give God a chance. Beleaf did, and little by little, his faith strengthened as he surrendered more and more of his life to Jesus Christ.
Not long after Beleaf became a Christian, he became a hip-hop artist.
“I never really thought I could [rap], until I got saved and God straight up gave me the gift,” said Beleaf. “I didn’t rap until 2005. As soon as I got saved and started kicking it with Ruslan, that’s when all the talent got put on me. It was out of nowhere.”
Beleaf traded his turntables for a microphone, and he and Ruslan became theBREAX.
Nine years ago, Beleaf felt purposeless. This changed not because he found hip hop, but because he found God, who Beleaf believes gave him hip hop.
“I think it was honestly the Lord giving me a gift,” he said. “‘You think you don’t have a purpose and you think you can’t do anything, but I want to show you what you were created to do.’ And I honestly feel like it’s a calling on my life to rhyme. I don’t feel like it’s a choice. I feel like it really is my purpose, to rap well. I didn’t even want to rap, until God showed me I could do it. Why else would he give it to me if I wasn’t supposed to use it for his glory?”
Beleaf’s latest use of this gift is Red Pills + Black Sugar. It’s a concept album that tells the tale of a man who’s been told he’s going to die. He’s given red pills to take the pain away, but because he’s going to die anyway, he plants the pills as if they were seeds to see if they’ll grow fruit.
Just as the man is about to commit suicide, a tree which grows from the pills starts to bloom fruit.
“I never say it during the record because it was going to sound super corny,” said Beleaf, “but the pills have the blood of Jesus in it. The blood of Jesus is the only thing that can save us. The disease that the guy has, he’s infected with sin.”
Red Pills + Black Sugar isn’t a story about Beleaf. But its concept is heavily influenced by the phone call which made it possible.
“I had this mindset that I was going to do something catastrophic that would end my life, and I was interrupted by grace,” said Beleaf. “I was interrupted by something I wasn’t expecting.”
Like the main character in Red Pills + Black Sugar didn’t expect his pills to grow fruit, Beleaf didn’t expect his second chance to bloom a relationship that would change his life forever.