We talked to Griselda wordsmith Benny The Butcher about his Black Soprano Family crew, his new Gangsta Grillz mixtape, ageism in hip-hop, and more.
Benny the Butcher’s jail cell vision has finally begun to materialize.
The seeds for Black Soprano Family, the Griselda wordsmith’s label imprint, were planted in the concrete soil of Elmira Correctional Facility in 2011 and watered upon his release in 2012. Nine years later, his perseverance and unwavering diligence have culminated in a label partnership with eOne, and the latest entry in one of the most storied and prolific mixtape brand in hip-hop history — DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz.
This time last year, Benny was basking in the praise that came as a result of his stellar release, The Plugs I Met. The critically acclaimed EP found him expertly illustrating his time and wealth of experience on the streets through cogent storytelling and colorful lines, like, “See, before I knew an A&R, I was weighing hard/Back when Nicki Minaj was in a training bra.” Later on that year, Griselda would release their debut Shady Records album, WWCD. Despite Griselda, as a group, being signed to Eminem’s label, only Conway the Machine and Westside Gunn have solo deals. Benny is still moving independently under the Griselda Records banner and releasing music how he sees fit.
Since the release of The Plugs I Met, Benny has signed a management deal with Roc Nation and spread his potent form of street rap across the hip hop landscape — placing feature verses on the albums of Freddie Gibbs, Russ, Lil Wayne, and more. While he hasn’t released a full solo project since The Plugs I Met, collaborative releases alongside Hit-Boy and Harry Fraud are still looming on the horizon.
However, his primary focus at the moment is the escalation of the Black Soprano Family name and the hungry, young artists that have put their faith in him and trust in his vision to be one of the most dominant labels rap has ever seen.
Released today, Benny the Butcher & DJ Drama Presents: Gangsta Grillz x BSF Da Respected Sopranos provides fans with more of what they’ve come to expect from Benny and his peers: impassioned bars about gunplay, cocaine calisthenics, and the pitfalls of street life, over simple but effective production. On songs like “It’s Over,” which features Heem and Rick Hyde, Benny speaks on the temporary nature of drug money while a gorgeous vocal sample loops in the background. On “Da Mob” Heem sends a warning to his opposition, rapping “I‘m shootin’ everywhere the laser blink, Drums on the .223, shuttin’ down the motor on the V/So be careful ridin’ down them streets, And nigga bring your biggest gun when you think of runnin’ down on me.”
Before he dropped his mixtape, we got to talk with Benny about his BSF crew, the Gangsta Grillz brand, ageism in hip-hop, and more. Check it out below.
How have you been holding up since the COVID-19 pandemic jumped off?
Paranoid, like everybody else. Checking on my loved ones, trying to stay safe and stay in the mix of things at the same time. It’s a tough balance. I’m like an essential worker, so I got to do what I got to do.
I did the NPR [Tiny Desk performance] in the house. I’ve been doing stuff in the house, but I been getting out too. A lot of things you can’t do in your house. You know what I’m saying? I gotta get out to LA and record with my producers and shit. The family, basically, I catch them when I catch them.[laughs] I just got back from Buffalo. I got to see my mom, kicked it with my kids. My kids come down and stay with me from time to time, shit like that. My girl, she come out of town and tour with me.
How do your kids feel about you being a rapper?
Oh, man. They understand. They’re just reaping the benefits off of it and enjoying it. Those are my babies, man, so it feels good to share something like this with them.
Have you ever talked to them about your past and everything you’ve dealt with between being on the streets, in jail, and then coming out and doing what you’re doing now?
Yeah, I have. They know. They’ve come to jail and visit me and shit like that. It’s hard, you know what I mean? Those are girls. It’s hard raising girls. I’m not a female. I’m a man. I talk to them, let them know that I did a lot of those things so they didn’t have to. I was raised different from them.
How does it feel to have your first Gangsta Grillz entry?
This shit feels crazy, man. The people waiting on it. I’m just ready to give people what they be yearning for, what they hungry, for because I know they ready for it. I know that the level of music I was doing, I know they’re going to fuck with it. I’m all the way ready.
Authenticity has also been the core concept surrounding the promotion of the project, and the lack thereof regarding other rappers. Do you feel like that’s something new or has that kind of fraudulence always been present?
It’s always been around. This is real life, and my story is a story of millions. I’m not the only person who’s been through it. I’m just probably the only person who knows how to rap this good and talk about it. Other dudes who’ve done what I’ve done…don’t rap. The things that we’ve been through, it’s crazy. The pain that we went through that shaped us into the people we are, to take those penitentiary chances, to do whatever we was doing, you know what I’m saying? It’s like, in some crazy fucking twisted way, that’s cool. It’s a trendy thing. It’s cool to be from the streets or it’s cool to have a background like I had. But at the same time, those are our real lives. And people glorify the things that real people really had to go through. And that’s why in my music, I try not to glorify it. And when I speak about it — if I sound proud of it when I’m talking about it — that’s just because I’m proud of where I’m at now, knowing where I came from. A lot of dudes think…they don’t know what it takes to be that type of person because it’s two sides to it, and they think it’s cool. Niggas is just trying to be cool.
What is the current roster for BSF?
Currently, it’s Rick Hyde, Heem, LoveBoat Luciano, Jonesy, FlexxBaby, Young World & DJ Shay.
You’ve had the vision for BSF since 2011, when you were locked down at Elmira Correctional Facility. How do you feel about the execution of that vision since you’ve been out?
Man, it’s been beautiful. As you can see, that was nine years ago and that was the first time I uttered those three letters to myself and nobody even knew because I was in Elmira Correctional facility and I was in reception — you can’t even use the fucking phone like you want to. You got to send out letters. So it was something that I held on to until I got home. So I feel like we’ve done great. Starting all the way from the bottom, the dirty filthy bottom of a prison cell, to creating an idea and releasing our first project on a major label.
What was your first move for BSF post-prison?
This is a hard one. My first move, outside of having talent and getting the paperwork right, was building a team. [DJ] Shay has always been my producer, Rick Hyde has always been around. Duffel Bag Hottie, City Boy, they’ve always been there. So I always had people around me who believed in me and was going to help me push the envelope and put my dreams on canvas. And I say that’s a hard one because it’s hard to get people to walk behind you and walk through fire with you, but the way you get them to do it is by going first. If you’re going hard for your damn self, man, trust me the people around you — when they see you serious and they got love for you — they gonna rock with you. And it don’t gotta be the people who you was in the sandbox with, it could be somebody you met today who’s just capable of the job.
How have you transferred leadership from being outside on the streets to being in the music business and running a label?
By just going hard with it and using the same tactics. Everything I do is zero to 100. Everything I do I really fucking overdo it. So just being hungry, relentless, and being matter-of-fact about everything — communicating with the team and making sure everything is quality. And learning from the dudes around me and not being apprehensive about it, just taking it and putting it all together.
One of the newer people around you now is the inspiration behind the song of “97 Hov.” Did you and JAY-Z talk ahead of the eOne deal?
I always text Hov and get insight. We always kick it. When you’re around people like that, you getting game from them through regular conversation. I’ve been around him hours at a time, soaking up the game, so. Even before the eOne deals, I’ve made mental notes of things he’s said. That’s somebody who played this game at its highest level. So I’m definitely taking advice from him.
Is there anything you can cite specifically?
When it’s your turn, it’s your turn. Don’t feel like you gotta accept everything that they put in front of you and don’t feel like you’re being the bad guy when you turn shit down. Coming from a place where we come from, it’s a blessing to be here, and people think you gotta jump on every opportunity like it’s not going to come back around again. So just go make it how you want it, tailor-made for you. That shit spoke volumes to me.
What was your mindset going to deal with eOne? Do you feel like you had leverage?
My train of thought was just to get the best situation for all of us. I’m the face of it, but the Black Soprano Family deal is exactly what it entails — it’s the Black Soprano Family. I don’t owe eOne no solo albums. We’re doing compilations, a solo for Rick Hyde, and a solo for Heem.
And there was other deals on the table, but that one made the most sense. And of course I felt like I had leverage. I’m a person who didn’t even find a solo deal yet for myself. I got million dollar deals on the table and I bring a certain influence and a certain level of people expect this shit to sound a certain way. So, of course, they wanted to be in business with somebody like that, with a keen, sharp mind like myself. That was my leverage.
What drew you to Heem and Rick Hyde?
Let me tell this story about Rick Hyde first, because Rick Hyde’s always been around. That’s all that needs to be said about him. I came home from prison in 2007, he was at the studio. Me and Shay had been working together when I came home. He was helping Shay, and they was doing shit. So he just evolved as I did. He’s here with me today after all of those years.
Heem was from the hood. I didn’t even know he was rapping and shit. He paid me for a feature and then the shit was fire. And I was like, “You need to come fuck with me on some business shit, leave the streets alone, we’re going to do this and I’m going to make sure you good.” He trusted me, believed in me, and he rode with me. And I rewarded him with a top position with the gang.
You have solo projects produced by Hit-Boy and Harry Fraud in the pipeline but are there any other one producer projects you’d like to make happen in the future?
There are a whole bunch of dudes, man. 9th Wonder, Just Blaze, Daringer, Alchemist, DJ Shay, motherfucking Boi-1da. Me and him just connected on some shit. I know that’d be crazy. Timberland. It’s a whole bunch of dudes out there I want to work with but I would love to work with those dudes specifically.
Ageism has always been a topic of discussion in hip hop. You’ve never been shy about your age. How do you feel about claims that it’s still a young man’s game?
I feel like, of course, that’s a million percent untrue. But I think that’s the rhetoric that people push. Because, I’m going to be honest with you, this some shit the young niggas may not want to hear. But, the young niggas is easier influenced. You can’t put a deal in front of me and think I’m going to take it, as I’m 35 years old. You can’t give the same shit you would give an 18-year-old. You can’t talk to me like you would talk to an 18-year-old. You don’t hit your prime until you’re 30. That’s known to everybody. You don’t hit your prime stride until you’re in your 30s. Guaranteed.
Who [are] the best basketball players right now? They’re in their 30s. Yeah, the young dudes are nice, but [the best] are in their 30s. Who’re the best rappers right now? Yeah, the young dudes are nice. But who are the legends? Who are the legends today who proved themselves? You can’t prove yourself until you’ve made it to your prime. This is a grown man’s game. Even if the young dude is the talent and getting all the views and selling all the records, it’s grown-ass men behind them calling those plays and making sure everything gets made how it needs to be. So shout out to the young niggas. The young niggas bring light to the game. They put the blood and the light in the game, but you ain’t an OG until you put time in.
What are you currently listening to?
I’ve been listening to Money Man, 42 Dugg, G Herbo, Lil Baby, as well as my old Mobb Deep albums. I definitely listen to Hov. I listen to the Nas shit. I got that Jack Harlow joint in my rotation. Lil Durk in my shit. My nigga Chase Fetti, Polo G, Stogie T, that shit me and him got, “Animals,” that’s crazy. And I’m listening to the City Girls. City on Lock is a fire album. “Jobs” is my shit.
Where do you see BSF in 5 years?
I see us with our foot still on niggas necks and pushing the culture forward. By then I would’ve brought new artists to the table, pushing it further than we took it. I’m on that shit and we ain’t going nowhere. Because, like I said, this thing ain’t based on what nobody do for us. We do everything ourselves. And we’re hungry. So, as long as we’re rolling and as long as we’re hustling, and bringing in money, we’re going to be investing in ourselves. And putting this shit on for a 100 years. We’re going to be at the top.