INTERVIEW: Ahead of the release of Black Soprano Family's "Da Respected Sopranos," Benny The Butcher chopped it up with HNHH about introducing BSF, maintaining authenticity, and how he shaped his hustle.
It's been a long time coming for Benny The Butcher. It's been nearly sixteen years since he released the first Tana Talk mixtape. In an era where it seems artists pop up as quickly as they fade away, the tale of Griselda proves that the formula to genuine success lies within what consistency and perseverance can accomplish, especially with their backs against the wall.
Though his contract with Griselda is independent of the camp's deal with Shady, he was still featured heavily on WWCD which concluded yet another productive year for the Buffalo-based label. Benny's situation is an interesting one, though, since he's not actually signed to Eminem. He does, however, have a management deal with Jay-Z's Roc Nation and recently inked a deal with eOne for the BSF imprint. He's bossing up in his own right following years of observing Westside Gunn and Conway navigate through the rap world. The past two years have been indicative of his trajectory with the release of Tana Talk 3 and The Plugs I Met.
This past Friday, he formally introduced the BSF crew with the latest Gangsta Grillz tape, Da Respected Sopranos. It's a moment that he's reckoned would come at some point but now, with all of the knowledge he's gained, he's in a position to boss up.
"I been saying this for years -- when I was given this opportunity, I put everything down because I knew how important it was and I trusted West and Conway," Benny told HNHH over the phone. "And I knew when they said they had the situation, they had the situation and they shared it with me. So, I put everything down, I knew nothing was more important than being out here for my family ten years from now. 20 years from now. However long it takes so I could be taking care of my kids. And I knew I was gonna last longer out here doing music than doing what I was doing so I was serious."
Just ahead of the release of Benny The Butcher x DJ Drama Presents BSF's Da Respected Sopranos, Benny chopped it up with us about working with DJ Drama, Griselda, the controversy surrounding DaBlock365 mixtapes, and he may have dropped a solid hint as to who produced his long-awaited collaboration with Drake.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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HNHH: Yo, Benny.
Benny The Butcher: Yessir, what's going on?
My dude, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. How are you doing, bro?
Man, I'm good, bro. I’m just working. Just working.
That’s what's up. I saw on your Story you were up at like 2 this morning penning some bars.
Yeah man, I was writing some bars. I had a nine-fivepiece that I'm just leaving from. I wanted to have some fresh bars for the people, man. So, I was up late just writing.
I was about to say, I thought you were tinkering last minute with the BSF tape.
Oh man, that's been done. That’s been done for a while now. We got a couple of albums done already. We keep a bankroll of songs so we just pick.
With the project out tomorrow, how are you feeling formally introducing the Black Soprano Family on a major scale?
Ah, man, I'm ready. This feels like the official rollout. I’ve been around for a while now, screaming and representing and this is our official roll-out right here. I’m proud of Rick and Heem. I feel the time is right and the mood is right and the songs are right and I’m just happy. It’s a proud moment for me, man. I talked to the label today. They said they were a little surprised at the numbers we was doing. It's a good feeling right now. I feel like it's right.
You mentioned Heem and Rick Hyde. Who else are you introducing us to on this project?
I got Jonezy. I got Loveboat Lucciano. I got other artists like Flexx Baby and Young World. But on this tape I’ma certainly introduce Rick Hyde and Heem, but its other artists on this tape. Jonezy and Loveboat.
From your perspective, as somebody who’s overlooking the entire thing, what’s your favorite song off the project?
My favorite song off the project is -- it's hard. It might be “Over” or it might be a song called “Grams in the Water.” It's out of “Grams in the Water,” “The Mob.” Man there’s some good joints on there. It's some healthy music. It's hard to pick.
Who did the hook on that “Grams In The Water?”
I said that’s Dwayne Collins. He’s from Rochester. We’ve been working with him for a while, you know what I'm saying? It's not our first time working with him. We kept it in-house. He’s a good dude.
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Gangsta Grillz is a legendary mixtape series. What does it mean to you working with DJ Drama on this series specifically?
Oh man, it means a lot. DJ Drama, that’s culture right there. We big on culture. This Griselda thing that I’m part of is big on culture. And I’m just trying to carry the torch and do my part. It was only necessary that we went that way. I did my mixtape with DJ Green Lantern before. I’ve had beats produced by Alchemist. I’m all with the culture.
What's your favorite Gangsta Grillz mixtape besides your own?
Uh, I like Beanie Sigel’s [Streetz Is Watching]. Of course, Jeezy’s [Trap Or Die]. The Dedications, of course -- the Lil Wayne joints. It’s a lot in that series.
It’s really exciting to see you, specifically, find a way to be a part of that legacy as well.
Yeah. What I'm happy about is that the people are excited about it. The people are excited about it. And if they’re excited about it, then I am. It feels good to bring something to the street that people are anticipating.
I know you explained in a video that BSF came up while you were in Elmira Facilities. I was just wondering when that was?
That was, like 2011.
Was that your last stint?
Yeah, that was the last one. Actually you know what, I ended up going back after that. That was my second last one.
I hear rappers talking about when they go to prison, when they get out it just makes them focus on rap more. So can you talk to me about how that experience shaped part of your hustle?
It made me hungrier. It definitely played a part in me going harder. You know, when your back's against the wall you fight harder. It was tough. It was tough but it was important to me. I tell everybody, this Black Soprano thing is personal to me. It's not on me, it's in me. I wanted to make sure that I did everything the right way so I just came home and put everything in play and got my people to believe in me and stand behind me. They see when I'm moving a certain way, they gon’ follow me. It's like that. It’s tough doing it when you’re in and out of jail. You can’t do both. You heard Jeezy say it -- you can’t be in the streets and do this music shit at the same time, no matter what these rappers try to lie and say. It's a battle.
I was watching an interview with you where you were talking about how Buffalo Police are still treating BSF as if it's a gang. With all the success that you’ve seen in the past 6, 7 months alone, have you seen that attitude towards you guys change at all?
I have to be honest with you. It's good you asked that question because I have. It's like, they smile when they see me and shit. They nice to me I’m not gonna lie. A couple times I was doing video shoots and they pulled up and turned the sirens on; hold the video shoot down so everything runs smooth when I'm back home. You know, they didn’t forget about the other shit, though. I can’t forget about the other shit let them fool me [laughs]. Liike if I fucked up, they won’t get with me. But they’re cool. I know they gon’ do they job if they have to but they’re taking it easy.
It feels like you’re applying everything you’ve learned from Westside Gunn and Conway to bring your own people up. I know you mentioned a couple members of BSF had their own legal issues that they’re dealing with. You’re using your own platform to help other people get out of bad situations of their own. As somebody who’s running a label, how does their legal issues affect your vision for them as artists?
Uh, man, it affects it a lot. My boy Dufflebag Hottie, that’s actually my friend. And he’s been my friend for so long and he came in doing this Black Soprano shit. He was actually the very, very first artist who was screaming Black Soprano and saying it with me. And now, he’s fighting a case right now. So, we’re just keeping him in our prayers and I know he doesn't want the streets to forget about him. He was really just warming up before he left. He was continuing to do tours, you know what I’m saying? He’s been around the interviews and he’s family with the whole Griselda family just like he’s family with the whole BSF. So you know, I’ma take what we got, you know what I’m saying? I put him in an album that we’re doing with Harry Fraud. His voice is in there. We’re trying to keep his name alive. But it's very tough. That’s why this opportunity is serious. When I was presented with this opportunity from Westside Gunn, I took it serious. And made sure I did what I had to do. And those things I was tellin’ him before we had that situation. But it's hard to tell somebody who’s making a lot of money to fall back from the streets. And he really didn’t take heed to it like he should and he found himself in this position. So, it's about decision making and trusting your friends around you, you know? But shit, people be programmed to do one thing and that was his thing. But you know, we showing him different shit. He’s hungry to come back and have an opportunity to get in the fold.
You’ve experienced another side of life beyond the streets and brought your people with you. Do you see their own attitudes toward the street shift as they get to experience things like the tour life or being in the studio?
Yeah, for sure. They see that it's obtainable. It feels reachable to them. The things that we doing now is shit that we dreamed about and imagined and it almost didn’t seem real. Yeah, we wanted to achieve, but we wanted millions so it’s like, “How do we get there?” So, to see someone you know actually get there and then want to help you get there. It changed the way they look at shit. You know, they just want to change everything they’re doing and get busy with this shit the way I did. I been saying this for years -- when I was given this opportunity, I put everything down because I knew how important it was and I trusted West and Conway. And I knew when they said they had the situation, they had the situation and they shared it with me. So, I put everything down, I knew nothing was more important than being out here for my family ten years from now. 20 years from now. However long it takes so I could be taking care of my kids. And I knew I was gonna last longer out here doing music than doing what I was doing so I was serious.
As someone who’s part of this school of rappers who put their efforts towards speaking to the streets directly and keeping real rap alive, how are you feeling now that you’re able to feed your family and reap your successes without compromising your artistry?
Man, it feels good. It definitely feels a sense of accomplishing something because a lot of dudes are being kind of a cookie-cutter image and doing all that. And you know, we’re independent. Well, I’m independent as far as my Griselda contract. You know, Griselda is a great independent label. It’s a successful independent label. And people are inspired off that. It's a whole new renaissance of artists coming up that rap over the same beats. Who dress the same way, talk the way we do. From the middle of nowhere, the same places that we from and they been inspired off the Griselda movement. So, it feel good. Not that I feel alone that I could make a hit, but just to show people a different way to do something that's never been done before. Shit crazy.
Nah absolutely. I love that collab with you and Freddie Gibbs like that shit has been, “Frank Lucas” has been on repeat for me, like one of my favorite cuts off the album.
That’s my brother right there.
How did that relationship develop? Freddie Gibbs is one of those artists cut from that same type of cloth, musically.
Man, Gibbs, we was working with the same people. We was working with the same people then we had the opportunity to work together. He told me it’s all love, you know what i’m saying? Just crossing each other’s path, we went on tour together. And by that time, it was already knew that we’d work on something. That's my boy right there. That’s a real friend so it's only right.
How was Miami? I saw you guys were shooting the video out there.
Ah man, that shit was legendary. I promise you it was legendary, on the boat. I had my girl with me, you know what I’m saying? It served as just more as a video shoot. We went out. We had fun. I met new people. Honestly, it was dope. I can’t wait for people to see the video cause I know they enjoyed the song so I know they’ll enjoy the video, too. It's gonna go crazy, I need to call him and ask him when it's coming out cause I'm getting anxious my damn self.
After I saw the first video you just dropped with Ross, I got excited to see how you guys continue that story off from there.
Yo man. I seen the video that he put out with Rick Ross and we creatives. I was in the video he shot with Conway so we was down there putting shit together, working. I admire Freddie. That's my boy.
I'm definitely excited for that. Just touching on what we were talking about earlier, especially that you guys are in your 30s. Looking back on your earlier tapes, you weren’t necessarily working with the same type of production you’re working with now. Was there any point that you doubted the Griselda sound being able to reach a wide enough audience?
Hmm. That’s a good question. So you’re asking me, was I doubting the sound that I have now. You asking me, like, if there was a point in time that I doubted the sound?
I mean, there’s a lot more music that emphasizes melodies over bars these days, especially over the type of production you guys choose. It's still alive but it isn't as prominent as the trap production or the drill production.
So basically, we was young, man. We was influenced by the music around us and the songs we took in. But I had conversations like this with people. I can trap rap, I can do all of that shit. People would be surprised to hear some shit. I'm not singing no autotune or some crazy shit like that. I know how to rap over a trap beat. I realized that I'm way better over other beats. I realized that, you know what I’m saying? So you gotta go with your strong point. That makes the most sense. So, it's not always about what's the most popular, it's always about what makes the most sense. And rapping this way, that I know I'm better at, it makes the most sense. I told myself if I can stick to rapping this way for three straight years, I wonder where it’s gonna take me. And I did it. It's been three years and this is where I'm at.
Nah definitely. ‘Cause I remember I was watching the video you guys shared after you got that BET nomination. You were pretty much explaining to your fans that you don’t have to conform to get into the game.
Nah, you don't gotta conform to do that. You don’t gotta conform to do that, you know what I'm saying? You could just be you and find your chance and blow up. Music is like -- people have taste palettes of music. Everybody don’t like one thing. The same people that listen to fucking Justin Bieber, will fucking probably listen to fucking Prince or listen to Griselda. So there are people out there that’ll like you. You gotta trust and believe that. Just make sure that it’s quality, though. Make sure it’s quality. Make sure if you record, that it's quality and good and get it out there to them.
Just like on that point of quality, you guys are also known for your prolific output. How do you balance having a quantity of music on deck while still maintaining a high level of sonic quality?
That's hard. I think that, and people say this all the time but it's true. The way people consume music is different. People wanna hear new shit. Like right now, my favorite artist. I love hearing some new motherfuckin’ Meek Mill. I love hearing some new Jay-Z. Some new fuckin Fab. Kiss. I know they got other shit out right now, they probably just dropped a video last week. I know I understand that but shit, it's better than some new shit and that's how people feel right now. The music’s at your fingertips. You used to have to go get the music. Now it's right in your phone, you just gotta press a couple buttons. So when you used to have to literally go to a place to find music and pick it up and bring it back and listen to it. That time was different, you know what I'm saying? You really couldn’t put that much out. But now the music is right in the phone, you know what I mean, so it's different.
I know you said Raekwon is a mentor of sorts.
This week actually marks the 25th anniversary of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Could you talk to me about that album and its impact on you?
Man, the first time I listened to that album I was on Montana and the older dudes was listening to it and I was hearing it. It just sounded crazy. It sounded different. It sounded addictive. You know the beats that was on it. It sounded addictive and that type of music used to pull us in back in the 90s. You know, that was that shit. You know, you got motherfuckin’ Rae and Ghost in their bag on that album. You can still pop that in and listen to that today. So, congratulations to Rae for that. That’s an OG for real, that’s a real one.
Do you find that that album kind of shaped in a way, not necessarily rap but your artistic approach to making music?
I’m not sure. But I think people kind of think that. Maybe I do subconsciously because that shit is embedded in my brain, you know what i’m saying? I am them. I’m Rae. I came up on that shit so you know, maybe, you know what I’m saying? I’m a student.
I wanted to touch on your relationship with Jay-Z really quickly. I remember you mentioned playing “Crown For Kings” through your iPhone speaker to Jay-Z in an interview before. Can you just tell me about that experience? Because I could imagine Jay doesn’t typically listen to anyone’s track off of a phone speaker.
Man, it was crazy, man. Honestly man, actually Hip Hop. I played the song for Hip Hop and I believe we was at Hov’s house with Hip Hop and shit. And he was like “Yo, play Hov that joint, play it off your phone!” And I was like, “I’m not playing it off my phone for Hov.” It was kind of weird to me. He was vibing to it.
Okay but that's crazy though. And that was before The Plugs I Met dropped too, right?
Yeah, that’s way before, hell yeah. You know, I did that song first, that’s why its the intro so that’s probably like my only half bad song. So, yeah thats dope.
That’s crazy. So when you get that Jay-Z co-sign, did that like let you know that you were about to strike gold?
[Laughs] Hell yeah. I can’t even lie, I knew that opportunities was gonna get bigger. I knew people were gonna look at me a different way. You know, shit come with that. So, when you do business with a person like that, obvious shit come with that. I knew that was gonna happen. I was ready for it and looking forward to it.
There was some controversy last month on Twitter surrounding your involvement in the DaBlock365 mixtape series. I was wondering if you would just clear the air on that situation regarding your involvement?
Yo, I’m happy. I’m so fucking happy you asked me that because I am involved in that and we do mixtapes. And I put out a series of mixtapes for artists to get on. And I seen in blogs they was talkin’ about it and saying negative shit about it, but I’ma tell you like this. I heard they was talking about it at the Joe Budden Podcast, too. But I’ma tell you like this, though. It’s pay-to-play. To do anything you wanna do, you gotta invest in yourself. It's not for everybody. It's not. Somebody can be like, “I dont wanna pay you for this and that.” Don’t do it, then. We do business with people and people are happy and thankful that I do that for them. So if it's not for you, it's not for you. And, just the simple fact that this is HotNewHipHop. We having an interview and you brought that up. Trust me, a lot of people that’s gonna get on these tapes have never even been on HotNewHipHop, you feel what I’m sayin’? So just for the fact that they bring it up on the Joe Budden Podcast, they bring it up on HotNewHipHop, it's worth the money just for that, if you ask me.
It's to help artists, you know what I’m saying? Give them a spin because people will listen to a clip if they hear my name on it. And it’s a way to find diamonds in the rough ‘cause I listen to shit and I might find something. And people really don’t like it, ‘cause I guess they feel like I’m profiting off of it. But I’m profiting off a lot of shit so I don’t really know what to tell people.
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Have you found any artists like through this series that you want on the BSF team?
You know what, I haven’t found one from the mixtape series yet, but why I did it is because I did a competition. I did the competition when I did a thing called Verse. And $howly54 won that. And he’s definitely somebody I’m looking forward to signing. I just did an interview telling him I wanted to sign him. And he won the competition, he paid his money for the competition and he won because when I heard that shit I’m like, “who the fuck this is?” And I wanna do business with him, nah mean?
I’m sure you could expect that there would be one question about Drake in this interview. So, I’m wondering if you’d be able to let me know who produced the song?
That’s a good question. That’s a secret, though. It's top secret.
So, this is what I speculate. I know you got Burden of Proof coming in September and Hit-Boy and Boi-1Da did preview some new music. Am I on the right track with my assumption that it could be either one of them?
You might be. You might be. You gotta wait and see.
Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to say before we end the interview?
I just wanna say everybody stay safe, you know. The COVID thing is real. Keep sanitizing. Keep masked. Take care of your loved ones. Check on them. And man, Da Respected Sopranos. It's a classic. We worked hard on that. Shout out to everybody who helped me bring the album to life. Jake, Cat, Sean, Trey, Angel, Harlem everybody. You know, BSF. Griselda.