A Chat with Benji

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by Colin Keegan

Benji is a Pittsburgh-based rapper who just embarked on a tour with Earthgang and Duckwrth. Melisma recently had the chance to talk with him before his show at the Middle East on 10/21. Check out the interview below!

 

Hey Benji!

What’s goin on? How you doin’ bro?

 

I’m doing well, how are you?

I can’t complain. Can’t complain at all man, having a great time.

 

This is your first big tour, right?

Yeah. First tour, first experience of a tour, First time being around a tour… all that. All that good stuff.

 

How have you been adjusting to tour life so far?

Oh man. It’s a challenge every day, I can tell you that much. I’ve never caught up on sleep so well, and as far as the best part – I’ve been getting better at finding my own time to relax and decompress before a show and then making sure I get enough sleep while I’m on the road eating properly as best as you can but that’s kind of hard to do, not gonna lie to you. But it’s been good adjusting so far, I just have to keep up with it, that’s all.

 

What are some of your favorite things to do to unwind before or after a show, and what are some of your favorite things to eat?

Definitely tea. I love tea. So that definitely helps me out a bunch. Everyone on the bus is so funny. Just being able to sit down with everyone or whoever and just kind of kick it, you know what I mean? It’s always good energy and good vibes before a gig or even afterwards to relax and unwind and decompress from a long road of travels. For the most part yeah just tea, sleeping, and just being around all the guys.

 

What is your favorite type of tea?

I like Matcha. Matcha easily. Best tea in the world. Yup, love Matcha.

 

Hot or iced?

Oh, hot. Definitely hot. Gotta have hot matcha.

 

For sure, I agree with that too.

I don’t think I’ve ever had iced matcha before. I’m gonna have to try it.

 

Do you have any cool stories from tour so far?

Uh… I don’t know, do I? Do we? Everyday is so different. I feel like every story is a cool story to me because it’s my first time, you know what I mean? All the shows have been crazy. Last night was really fun, I got to meet Chaz French. That was really cool… Oh! I met Bink for the first time! Legendary producer. That was wild, and he loves my stuff so that was a big shock. It was random, I just came on the bus to grab some tea and he was there. It was right before my set, too. We had a great conversation about production and mixing and qualities in music texture. It was a really crazy random conversation, but that’s probably the coolest story I got so far, for sure.

 

That’s fantastic, any plans to work with him?

Yeah! He wants to work with me! That’s what he said, so Imma take him up on his word. But I’m hoping I can get some work in with him soon. Whenever we can get something together.

 

What’s the most unexpected thing about tour so far?

I think for me probably the response from the crowd when I first come out, like when we get into a groove during our set and how responsive they are. They really dig it. For not knowing who the heck I am for the most part, they really get in there with me and vibe out. They love the music so I think that’s probably been the most shocking. I don’t have to do as much work in person as far as like on the show. That’s our mentality, just making sure we introduce ourselves properly as an opening act and getting the show together but the response from the fans has been insane and I wasn’t expecting that so far, or so much, especially this early, too. I think we’re only like three shows in, with the fourth one tonight. It makes me really excited and encouraged for the rest of the shows on the tour.

 

That’s fantastic. I know it is a bit early in the tour as well too, but I’m curious, are there any things that you’ve learned from being on tour and from being around the other artists like EarthGang?

Oh yeah. For sure. Time management is crucial on a tour. Super crucial. Sleep for sure, I can’t say enough about sleep. Even just learning the business of touring, like who handles what, who’s in charge of what, who books what, where the money comes from. The business of that, and even just the business about music, period. Just being around well-established artists like EarthGang and seeing how they operate and interact with their fans and seeing how they’ve built their brand up to where it is today. It helps me visualize what my artistry could be like in a couple of years, a few years, just going forward and really trying to put that work in. It’s cool to be around that. You only dream of that so many times until you’re actually right there in the fold. It’s really cool that I can get this experience, especially around a great group like EarthGang. It’s a dream come true, for sure.

 

How did you meet EarthGang? How did you get in contact with them?

This tour is my first time meeting them in person. We share the same management, Since The 80s. I signed to them a couple months ago. We have a mutual connection—my older brother is Christo, he’s J.I.D.’s tour DJ and producer. [Christo has] done a lot of work with EarthGang over the years, so I knew of them for a long time just from the relationship my brother and them have established [for] probably six, seven years really. It’s really cool to be in this position as myself, you know, knowing that my brother’s worked with them. So I kind of get to learn a little bit about him and what he’s been doing or what he was doing in the past while he was away and then, you know, I kind of get to do the same thing myself as well. But yeah, that’s how we got linked up. Our management that we share now, they called me in like June, flew me to L.A., [I] had some meetings, met some people and then they told me back then I was going on tour with EarthGang. So I kind of knew about it for a while, and then, yeah, they just put the pieces together and boom. Now I’m blessed.

 

That’s fantastic! So I heard that you’re putting out a project called Smile You’re Alive. Could you tell me a bit about that?

Yeah! It’s gonna be a great project for sure. It’s emotional, to say the least, but I think it’s very encouraging. It’s largely produced by myself, and I got a couple of other producers on there— my brother [being] one of them. We collabed on a couple joints on the album. I think it’s creative enough, personally. It’s got some really nice live musical elements in there that can really translate to shows. I think it’s a really good, relatable kind of album, especially in today’s climate, where the industry is right now. I think people when they listen to it, I think they’ll be able to vibe with it pretty well.

 

What’s your favorite song to play live?

Wooh man, it changes every day, I can tell you that much. I’ve been doing a new song called Eastside Bounce the past two shows and it’s been going up crazy. So imma try it again tonight. I think that one so far is pretty good, but it could be anything. I got a song out called Tamale— that’s always fun. it’s a nice dancey song. Mimosa is a good one… what else? [The] list kind of changes every day, but I think Eastside Bounce is my favorite so far.

 

You mentioned that your album has a lot of emotional content. What would you say for you is the most personal, hard-hitting song that you’ve written or put out?

Hmm, There’s a song I put out called M.I.A. It’s a song about my journey getting to this point in present day America and the music industry. You know, just about the challenges and struggles that you go through trying to make a name for yourself in this kind of a business. Sacrifices you have to make and all that comes with it. I think that’s probably one of my more emotional songs. Then again, it’s also encouraging as well. I try not to dwell on the issues or the challenges or anything in my life that is kind of depressing, without making sure there’s an encouraging tone to it as well, so that it allows the listener to kinda look forward and not dwell even on, you know, whatever they might relate to in the song. And then the song on the album that’s called Zola Rose, that is going to be… *laughs* that’s a story in and of itself. Oh, yeah. When that comes out, I think everyone will like that song a lot, for sure.

 

Can you give me a teaser about it or what it’s going to be about?

You ever seen Maury? Like the TV show, Maury. Yeah… It’s kind of like that. *laughing* That’s the part I can get you without giving you any like super crazy details but I think that answers the question.

 

Do you have any pre-show rituals? Anything you do to get yourself hyped up, or calmed down alternatively.

Yeah! I like just having my own time alone, just blasting music and getting myself together. I was an athlete in college, so I kind of just did the same thing there. I’m just in my own zone, getting myself warmed up and hyped up to give a good performance. Definitely gotta get some tea in there, and a couple shots of tequila doesn’t hurt you, I can tell you that much. But other than that, yeah just being around my guys, my DJ, my manager, and you know, just say a quick prayer and get it going, get rolling.

 

What did you play in college?

I ran track in college. My body really, really hates me for that now. Yeah, I ran track

in college for four years.

 

It probably helps out when you’re performing on stage though, at least a little bit.

Oh man yeah. My stamina is still pretty crazy for not having worked out in six years and still eating like crap, I can tell you that, but yeah definitely helps too. There was a show I did back in February back home in Pittsburgh and I stage dived—unsuccessfully, for sure—but dude, I jumped out probably like 20 feet. It was ridiculous. It was pretty shocking to see the video, I didn’t think I still had that in me. I launched. I took off. Whenever I get a crowd that’s willing to catch me, I think I’ll try it again. But probably not jump as far.

 

What’s the first thing you do when you get to a new city?

Food. Food, food, food, food, food. I’m a big foodie. I try to find either some local cuisine, or just anywhere good that’s close to the venue. We just like to chill out, hang out, see the city a little bit, walk around and then yeah, next stop is food. Gotta have some. 

 

Do you have any favorite type of food, or do you just like anything that’s good?

Tacos man. Tacos are like… I don’t know, the child of earth, I guess. It’s just so— Tacos are just amazing. They’re my favorite food ever. But I haven’t found any tacos other than when we were in Tallahassee. The venue had tacos. Those were really good, though. There were definitely really good. But hopefully— we’re around New Haven now. I’m hoping that I can find some tacos.

 

What do you think you’ll miss most about home?

My friends. I got a really big solid friend group back home. Damn near hang out every day at my house. Just being around them a lot, and sharing great stories and just being around good energy, definitely miss that a little bit. But, you know, whenever we get home we’ll at least something to tell em and some stories to share. My family, of course too, I’m a big family guy. And my dog, love my dog to death, so I miss her a lot. But other than that… we have some great tacos in Pittsburgh man, and some chicken wings on the Southside, they’re crazy. Man, I sound so fat the way I talk about food it’s crazy. But yeah, definitely, definitely miss that for sure.

 

What are some of your musical influences and what inspired you to start making music professionally?

My influences range from anywhere from like, 70s, 80s funk and disco, R&B and soul, to today’s fusion jazz. Thundercat, Hiatus Kaiyote are my two favorites right now. I still blast Earth, Wind, and Fire and The Gap Band and Graham Central Station. I’m a bass player as well, so I listen to Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten. I watch a lot of their performance videos on YouTube. What got me started making music professionally was seeing my brother do it a little bit early on and then I kind of wanted to just do— or at least try it. I’ve been a musician all my whole life, so playing music was nothing, but I liked the concept of, you know, crafting music digitally. So that’s how I started producing first and then I put out my first mixtape in college. After that, I kind of just liked the response out of it and then I just kept rolling from there. Everything kept getting better and people in my city started to take notice and started liking me a little more and then boom! Things kind of just took off from there. It was kind of like a domino effect. I just have a giant passion for music man, I love music to death. I’m fortunate to make music at a high level now. But, you know, I think I’d still be doing it anyway, even if it wasn’t professional.

 

Is there any specific moment you can look at as a turning point when things started to really pick up for you musically and professionally?

Yeah, when I met my DJ, Slim Tha DJ, my shows got exponentially better from that day forward— it was like two years ago, I think. We linked up, we lived together, and still live together now. We’re going on three years. We’re very similar people, very similar taste in music, he’s a musician as well and a producer, great producer. So once I got to link up with him and really work with somebody that I was very comfortable with, the music started. Man, it started pumping out like crazy, dude. Right now we have so many songs together right now, just stashed. Our shows got crazier because he’s a guy I trust on stage to guide me in the right direction as far as mood and everything else. I think that was probably the turning point that I can look back on and say was the moment where things really started to take off, for sure.

 

What advice would you have for anyone else who’s thinking of becoming a musician or just starting out?

Man, if you love it, do it, you know? I was in college, I ran track for four years, I dropped out [during] my senior year. I felt like I just wanted to do this so bad, so I had to make a decision. You’re gonna have to make tough decisions along the way and crazy sacrifices that you might think you won’t recover from. But I promise you, if you really love it you’ll recover easily. You’re gonna go broke, regardless, so just find ways to make money, make ends meet, and pay bills. You’re gonna do some things you don’t like to do, but they’re very rewarding in the long run. Just really work on expanding your comfort zone, but always stick to your guns, you know, because the only person that really knows you, is you. So just stick to your guns, but don’t think you have all the answers as well and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

 

What songs or artists are you currently listening to the most?

Oh, man. I’ve been bumping “Lottery” by K CAMP like crazy. I cannot stop listening to that song. But also SAINt JHN, been listening to SAINt JHN a lot. That’s kind of it. Young Thug a little bit, it kind of varies. But again, I’m always listening to Thundercat or Hiatus Kaiyote, still. But yeah, I’ve been jamming to that “Lottery” song by K CAMP for like, ever now. Seems like I can’t stop playing it for real. I love it.

 

What is one place you would absolutely love to have your music be played?

Ooh… Paris. Paris, France. I want to go to Paris, I want Paris to love me, and I want my music played in Paris so I can go to Paris. Paris just seems like a really dope place. I want my music to go there so I can go there.

 

Alright, last one – most important question I think – if you had to categorize your music as a type of tea, what type of tea would it be?

If I had to categorize it as a tea… oh, boy. Funny as hell. Uh… Herbal? Maybe? Some, like, herbal tea. Yeah, I don’t know man. I could probably call it some— it probably sounds like matcha to me too, if you’re a fan of matcha. Definitely a green tea. My music is definitely a green tea for sure. Probably some herbal tea.

 

Herbal tea? What makes it herbal?

I don’t know man, I would get high off my music. It’s a vibe man, it’s a big vibe. Herbal tea is good for the soul. Everything’s a vibe, at least I try to keep it that way.

 

I’m honestly surprised you didn’t say Matcha. I thought you would say matcha right away.

Yeah, it could be anything, it could really be anything for real. It’s definitely matcha. But, you know, it could also not be matcha.

 

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