Hyro The Hero David Draiman Disturbed interview
[Photo courtesy of Better Noise]

When he wrote the lyrics to “We Believe” four years ago, Hyro The Hero believed he’d come up with an anthem. The song, which is about the difficulty of knowing who and what to put your trust in, seemed to speak perfectly to the present moment.

As he finally recorded the track in January 2020, it felt even more prescient—especially the bridge, where Hyro sang “I can’t breathe” as a way of talking about conflicting voices in the media and online. But after the death of George Floyd in May, those words—and the entire song—took on a new meaning.

“I never in my life dreamed that would end up being such a big line,” recalls the Houston-born, L.A.-based rapper in his easy Southern drawl.

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One person who realized right away just how big it would be was Disturbed singer David Draiman. When Hyro, who has a long and distinguished history of collaborating with rock artists, sent him the track to sound him out for a team-up, the metal icon was instantly convinced.

“The track speaks for itself,” Draiman says. “All you had to do was hear the first verse, and it grabs you right away.”

The pair recently joined Alternative Press for an exclusive conversation about the song, the state of the world and the continuing challenges—and rewards—of pairing rap and rock, more than 35 years after hip-hop unit Run-DMC broke new ground with “Rock Box.”

The name of this song is “We Believe,” but clearly there are lots of people right now who don’t know what to believe—or who don’t believe anything. What do you hope they get from this track?

HYRO THE HERO: Deep question. So I basically was just speaking about what do you believe in, in these times we’re living in? You got YouTube, you got real news, you got fake news…all these different things. So I’m asking, what do you believe in? Because everyone’s being pulled every kind of way.

So not to put an ending to the song, but it’s more like you got to believe in yourself and believe in us as a people, to bring some peace, to bring some solution.

The chorus asks, “So who can I believe in/The devils or the demons?” Is that a lesser-of-two-evils kind of idea?

HTH: Exactly. With the devils and the demons, you’re trying to find the good in this when everybody’s saying that everything is bad.

Not necessarily just about elections and politics. I believe in the people—the 99%. ’Cause I don’t like the way they try to divide us. I’m trying to be that person that says, “We are the 99%, and everything else is division.” We got to find whatever it is that will pull us all together, and then we can finally try to find some solutions to what’s going on.

DAVID DRAIMAN: Amen [Laughs.]

David, when you got the lyrics, what was it about them that spoke to you?

DRAIMAN: I love the fact that he’s calling out the keyboard warriors of the entire world, who talk their shit…but don’t actually do anything. They don’t call their Congressman. They don’t petition their state representatives. They make it a game online, and they pretend they’re being proficient at it. When all they’re doing is scoring points, like a bully in an ass-kicking contest.

HTH: Pressing “Like” is a way of fighting the powers that be. [Laughs.]

DRAIMAN: Oh yeah. That’ll do it! [Laughs.] So I love the fact that Hyro had the courage to call out the bullshit and call for unity, all in the same message. Before things had really gotten as bad as they had. There was some prophetic shit here, dude!

So the “I can’t breathe” part will now certainly remind people of George Floyd. How did you mean it originally?

HTH: Four years ago, I didn’t have the mind I have now, to be able to make a song with a chorus and bridge, these types of things. So when we stepped in with [producer] Matt [Good] to turn that part into a bridge, I was thinking [that it means] that it’s suffocating when everybody’s telling you what to do, what to believe. So how do you hear anybody when everybody’s screaming and everybody knows what’s right? You feel me?

When rappers and rock artists join forces, there’s often a stereotype about who should do what on a track. How did you figure out where each one of you fit on the song?

DRAIMAN: There wasn’t a whole lot that needed to be done. Hyro had already written something that was pretty damn brilliant. I think what it really needed was a different set of ears to say, “OK, here’s what’s missing.” It’s hard as an artist to step away from your own work when you’re so connected to it.

We brought in on the chorus a call/answer aspect. And in the verses, I felt like there were certain words or phrases that needed to be—dare I say, Run-DMC-style—backed up. But obviously with my vocals. And with the bridge, in particular, that line was so prophetic, that I added the more guttural line on top. But all the elements combined make for a hairs on the back of the neck standing up moment.

Even today, after all the rap-rock combinations that have occurred over the decades, if you look at the comments on the official video, a lot of people admit that they’re metal fans who are discovering Hyro—and hip-hop—for the first time.

HTH: I know!

DRAIMAN: It’s still a gateway drug. [Laughs.] It’s the silly genre-based tribal nonsense. People become genre snobs. They really do. The average person, when you take ’em away from their little chat rooms online, and you put ’em in a public place, and the right song comes on, you realize that that’s all bullshit. People like good shit. And different things resonate differently for different people, but something good is something good.

HTH: It’s wild to me because if you look at hip-hop today, it’s so rock-influenced. From the clothes to the way they spit, everything. But if you give them a full-on rock song…nah. And the same thing in rock.

DRAIMAN: Everybody’s so worried about the damn label. Go back to the birth of nü metal. Guys like Korn and Deftones didn’t wanna be called that because there was some kind of ridiculous negative connotation to it. Why? Because it fused elements of hip-hop? That’s what gave it its strength and made it fucking cool. And there’s no greater snobbery than in the hard-rock and metal community, in my opinion. They’re the worst.

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HTH: In hip-hop, if you throw a guitar out there…motherfuckers still get scared of that guitar. 

DRAIMAN: Really?

HTH: Yeah. But the thing with rap and rock is that you got to get the balance right. It’s something that can get corny very, very quick. 

DRAIMAN: That’s true. And I’ve always wanted to jump into it because my delivery has always been rhythmic. But maybe one day we’ll trade verses, rap-style. We’ll see. [Laughs.] It would be fun. The closest I’ve ever gotten is that tune on the first record, “Droppin’ Plates.” But it’s funny because the rhythms actually come from reggae. Listen to the chorus on “Stupify”: “See, but I don’t get it/Don’t you think maybe we could put it on credit?” That’s reggae! Take any of them. Look at “Inside The Fire.” Pull the rhythms out—it’s reggae.

When you do a collaboration like this one, you have a chance to not just help out a fellow artist but to possibly open your fans up to a new genre of music. Does that make a project like this more interesting?

DRAIMAN: People sometimes need to be shocked to open their eyes to something. There need to be multiple moments like this in musical history, every couple of years. Hell, why should we wait? It should be a continuous thing. I think people love it when it happens. It’s good for both artists. It’s a win-win situation. But one thing that rock is very fortunate to have is that when people invest themselves in you, they really fucking invest themselves.

HTH: That is the truth. They’ll stick with you for life.

DRAIMAN: And that is something I think you’ve earned a piece of.

HTH: Thank you. When I started doing this, I wanted longevity. If you create music with no substance and no message, you won’t be lasting long. When you’re rapping about drugs and guns, you’re not gonna last long. But in rock, you can’t come with no foolishness. You got to have some sort of message.

Hyro, you just dropped a new song called “Fight”—a collaboration with Chad Gray from Hellyeah—that’s similar in sound and sentiment to “We Believe.” Is there going to be more topical material like this on your third album?

HTH: Yeah. Every time I make a song, it’s topical. I may have one or two that’s just like, “Get the hell up!” ’Cause I love making those right there. But when you go across the album, I’m taking you across a journey. I’m not preaching to you. ’Cause I don’t even got the answers. I’m just giving you a different perspective.

David, one of the comments I saw repeated on the video was, to paraphrase slightly, “David is screaming again. This is awesome.” What does that mean for a new Disturbed album?

DRAIMAN: Let’s put it this way: I’m in the mood to write some pretty nasty shit. I highly doubt that the next body of work from Disturbed is going to be chock-full of ballads.

HTH: Awesome! [Laughs.]

DRAIMAN: There might be one, maybe two ballads. But I’ve been dying to get back to the pummeling, aggressive, anthemic shit. We’ve got a song that’s ready to go that is an absolute motherfucker, and I’m planning on getting together with the boys after the new year. Given all the shit I’ve been through lately and the kind of year 2020 has been… Well, I’m ready to give everybody what they’ve been asking for for a long time.