Jarren Benton is a livewire. Full of energy and capable of jolting your body into flailing motions with his brazen shock raps, the Atlanta-bred MC has built a buzzing career by channeling high-octane tunes from a personality that appears boisterous as can be. Yet, Funk Volume fans might be surprised to know that there’s much more to the man behind projects like Huffing Glue With Hasselhoff and Freebasing With Kevin Bacon.
During a recent conversation with TSS Crew’s BEWARE, Benton broke down his new My Grandma’s Basement debut, then gave some insight into what brings about the character driving his brand of rowdy rap and how the split-personalities end up affecting his life beyond the mic more than you ever could imagine.
TSS: After a few highly-regarded mixtapes, your debut album is finally out. What are your feelings about the response the project’s gotten so far?
Jarren: I’ve been completely satisfied with response, man. A lot of people been showing a lot of love. When I put it out I was kind of like ehhh, actually, it was moreso more when I was in the process of making it, because it was a little different than Freebasing From Kevin Bacon. It’s not completely different, but I tried to take a different approach. As an artist, you’re always worried how fans or newcomers are going to perceive new material you put out. But, so far, it’s been dope and I appreciate all the love.
TSS: How did you approach this project differently than Freebasing With Kevin Bacon and Huffing Glue With Hasselhoff?
Jarren: When I first approached Huffing Glue…a lot of people aren’t familiar with it, but I had put out a project before called Jarren Benton The Mixtape. That project was a little bit of everywhere, but it was mainly on the hip-hop side of things. Just the sound, the typical hip-hop sound. So, when I did Huffing Glue, I wanted to do something not as tame as my last one. But, it was only an EP. So, I did Freebasing, wanting to do another Huffing Glue, but f*cking on steroids. So, basically Freebasing was basically Huffing Glue on steroids. I was in a space where I didn’t feel like making anything meaningful. I just wanted to fucking turn up.
So, with this project I just wanted to find the balance. I would read the responses from certain fans and certain people who think that was all I was about, not knowing I’m really not. So, with this approach, I wanted a dope balance with the diverse sh*t, the turn up sh*t, your hip-hop sh*t, your retrospective sh*t and your hardcore MC sh*t. I just tried to add all the elements of myself into this one project and it’s a diverse project. I wanted to make it more than a one-track project.
TSS: You can tell. Certain songs on the album are straight up offensive shock rap – like “Razor Blades & Steak Knives,” while others – “Dreams” and “Life In The Jungle” – portray you as much more humane artist, who has a by all means necessary sense of survival. When writing, when do you draw the line between such extremes?
Jarren: You know, it depends on the beat. I usually let the beat bring it out of me. I’ll listen to the track and if the track just bring some beastly sh*t, I’m gonna’ go beast mode. If the track takes a more serious route, I’m going to take a more serious approach. I let the track speak to me really. I never try to limit myself and say ‘this is too much’ or ‘that is too much.’ If the track is calling for some retrospective sh*t, I’ll bring that out. If the track is calling for me to murder some f*cking women or cut off some legs, then that’s what’s going to come out. I let the track determine my mood.
TSS: How much did your affiliation with Funk Volume influence and affect the final product?
Jarren: Funk Volume, man, when I came in the gate with them, they already had such a strong fan base. And their fans are tough ass critics. They’ll eat you alive. So, that was the main influence, their fans. Being over at Funk Volume, the pressure was for me not to dilute what they had built. They had built such a strong platform. So, I didn’t want to be a newcomer that got on that platform and give their fans some bullsh*t. That was the main thing. As far as them influencing the actual music, that was all me. And that’s the dope thing about being with Funk Volume is that they let you do what they f*ck you want to do. But, the main pressure comes from just not disappointing the fans. And, from the response, I didn’t. So, that’s dope a thing.
TSS: Yeah, without a doubt. Fans are pretty fickle these days. So, if you can appease a fanbase that narrowed-in and critical, that’s excellent. Still, is there anything you would’ve changed in hindsight?
Jarren: Ahhh….the main thing, I was gonna’ do a double CD project. But, I think I put a sh*t load of songs…ah, you know what? I wouldn’t even change nothing, man. I take that back. I wouldn’t change sh*t.
TSS: You live and you learn, right? You takes those critiques to the next project.
Jarren: That’s that sh*t, man. When you sit there and think too hard on sh*t. Really, once you put it out, you just let the world and the fans determine. You make something out of nothing, but they’re the ones who take it to the next level for you.
TSS: Getting back to the content. A lot of your content is going to offend certain demographics almost inevitably and it’s part of the schtick. It what it is. But at a certain point, some rappers grow out of their character and end up projecting their music through a completely different set of ideals. Think Snoop or Andre 3000. They grow up. Their music grows with them. Do you ever see yourself growing out of rapping about certain risque topics?
Jarren: Ah, hell yeah man. For sure. That side of my music just comes from my influences over the years, Em, Andre 3000 and Redman. A lot of off the wall MCs. Just following those MCs and studying those MCs. It’s sort of like that sh*t was embedded in me. But, as a music connoisseur, you can look at the sh*t on my iTunes and you’ll see some crazy sh*t. You got Arcade Fire to Broken Social Scene to Radiohead. I been listening to that kind of sh*t ever since I been listening to hip-hop. I just wasn’t blessed with the type of talent to be able to pull that type of music off. So, I got so many other influences, I definitely see a lot of growth.
You know, this may sound like a shock. But, I say a lot of crazy sh*t and it matches my personality too, because of jokes that I might say randomly to my friends. But, the core of Jarren Benton is a pretty enlightened and kind-hearted person. So, that’s some sh*t that is definitely always on my mind. I can phase out of it, but I would do it in a dope way. I wouldn’t phase out of it, unless what I’m phasing into is f*cking dope.
TSS: It says a lot about you as an artist to be able to pull back when necessary and really only use the extreme content as a platform for lyricism.
Jarren: Yeah man. It comes from that core of an MC. Just listening to that sh*t. Like I said, Chino XL or even a f*cking Canibus. You want to say the most absurd…even if it comes across as ridiculous, you want to paint a picture. Like if he say, ‘I’m going to hit you in the head with a f*cking brick.’ You want to say some sh*t like, ‘I’m going to throw a f*ckin car on you.’ You want to take it to the extreme. So, a lot of times that’s where that comes from. The beast mode of an MC. F*ck it. If you do this, well I’ma do this. Consistently taking sh*t to the f*cking extreme.
TSS: When you say that, I think of Relapse, by Eminem. The content on that album was so extreme, but it allowed him to raise the bar lyrically – something most people can’t debate. Being able to expand that horizon is key in being able to offer more as an MC, but having the high-level sense of self to pull back when necessary is key to being able to move forward. And, I think you have that.
Jarren: Yeah, appreciate that man. Thanks. And, you know what’s crazy? If people go back and listen to my oldest sh*t…I’ve always kind of been on the sh*t I’ve been on now, but there was a time where I making so much thought-provoking music. I was one of those rappers who want to make a change and speak to the hopeless people and be some sort of inspiration to them. And, to be honest, what happened was, in Atlanta…when I was doing that and going around performing that, putting that out there and not getting the love and respect that I wanted…it kind of pissed me off.
Then, I would see other cats come in the game, doing the same sh*t and they would get the opportunity to shine. So, I said ‘f*ck it, I’ma take a whole different approach.’ You know how with superheroes, all super-villains start off as nice guys trying to change some sh*t? That’s exactly what happened.
TSS: [Laughs] That’s a great analogy. You’re right. That’s how it always happens. Regarding the album, the bulk of the project was produced by Kato, as is the majority of your catalogue. How did your working relationship come about?
Jarren: Yo, it’s crazy, I been knowing Kato for a minute, man. I started out producing myself and I just got tired of the way my sh*t sounded. Sometimes it would be aggravating, as a producer trying to create a certain sound. It was too much. So, I started working with another producer named Spitswell. And, Spitswell was in a group with another producer named Alias and Alais was friends with Kato.
What’s crazy is that Kato was a rapper back then. That’s the crazy sh*t is that back then I was a producer and he was a f*cking rapper. He sounded like Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park. Underground hip-hop as you can be. That’s how Kato was. I know he got frustrated with rapping, so he just said ‘f*ck it, I’m gonna’ stick to production.’ He would always shoot me beats. He was always was producing, but he completely stopped rapping and concentrated on production and he shot me some of his beats, and I would never rap on them, because I was so used to the other producer, Spitswell.
So, Kato, and another friend of mine, LS Jenkins, he’s actually on a couple of songs with me, they did a project together. That was at a time where I was having writer’s block, trying to create sh*t. And the beats that were on that project and the energy that LS was giving on the project, that shit was so f*cking dope. So, I reached out to Kato. I was like, ‘Man, let’s just do a project together.’
After that, it just spawned into a good chemistry and working relationship. So, the person that’s responsible for Kato producing for me is LS Jenkins. Kato would always throw me beats. Even “Skitzo” and “Razorblades & Steak Knives,” I had those beats damn near three, maybe four years ago. I just never did sh*t to them, until now. But, when I heard that project with LS, I was like, ‘Man, I need some of this sh*t.” So, I reached out and it’s been on ever since then.
TSS: What are the benefits of having a go-to producer?
Jarren: Anybody that produce their own sh*t, I commend them. It’s an extra stress. Producing myself, it would be me sitting in front of the piano – because I play keys too – and my equipment, thinking of an idea. Then, trying to see this idea in my head come to life. It’s like, as a rapper, I can make any idea come to life. But, as a producer, you can’t.
Certain sounds you might hear…you might hear some crazy ass guitars, but then you get frustrated, like ‘I don’t play the f*cking guitar. But, I could have someone come over who plays the guitar.’ But, I couldn’t always get that sound out of my head. Then, when you stressed because you can’t that sound out your head, it stresses you out as a rapper and when you try to go back and rap, you’re like ‘f*ck it, I’m done for the day.’
Having an on-the-spot producer, you can just have them send you a sh*tload of beats until you find the beat that matches the idea in your head and pulls something out you. So, it’s a less stressful situation.
TSS: That makes sense. Do you see any downfalls to the situation? You ever feel pigeonholed?
Jarren: The dope thing about working with Kato and a couple of the other producers I work with is that they don’t have a one-track sound. The downfall would be if you just a had a producer that only has one sound and nothing they did was different.
TSS: We could name a few names.
Jarren: Oh, hell yeah! But, the dope thing about working with Kato is that if I want some ignorant ratchet sh*t, so i can get rowdy, I can get that. If I want some super hip-hop sh*t, I can get that too. That’s the dope thing. If he was one of those one-track-mind producers, aw man, we would be f*cked.
TSS: Big Rube offers an interlude on your album. Coming from Georgia, how did it feel having the Dungeon Family OG lacing your project?
Jarren: Yo, that sh*t was like a dream come true. Shout out to Big Rube, because he comes from that…one of my big influences is Outkast and the Dungeon Family and he comes from that school. Being from Atlanta…a lot of people that aren’t from here wouldn’t understand….being from Atlanta, and sometimes it’s still like this, radio stations were just closed-minded as sh*t. And, when Outkast came out, they kicked the f*cking door down for different. Having Big Rube be a part of that project was sick.
And what’s crazy is that I knew Ray Murray from Organized Noize and he reached out and threw me some beats, for another project. I was reaching out to get Big Boi on this project too, but unfortunately I think he was on tour at the time. But, he couldn’t get to the track in time. The next sh*t I’ll definitely have to get him on deck. But, just working with them dudes is…I get starstruck working with people I came up with and had an influence on me. So, having Big Rube on there is like having a legend on there to me.
TSS: Say you did get Big on the next project, would you feel pressure in the studio with him or straight on point?
Jarren: You know, that wouldn’t really be an issue. I think more so, the fact that I’m the lab and working with someone I respect would be more fun. So, I’d be so geeked from doing it, it’d take away from the pressure.
TSS: Aside from Outkast, is there anyone else you want work with, next project or beyond?
Jarren: A lot of the new dudes is dope as f*ck. This dude I’ve been following before he got the fame he got now is Action Bronson. I’m a huge Action Bronson fan. And I think I like Action Bronson so much, and I’m about to say some cliche sh*t, but I’m a huge Wu-Tang head. You can’t name one Wu-Tang song and I don’t know that sh*t front to back. He brings back the essence of that New York sh*t. I think that’s why I like Action. I just got onto Danny Brown, too. People always used to shoot Twitters to me, saying I should do a song with Danny Brown. So, I was like, ‘Lemmie check this n*gga out.’ I been digging the f*ck out of this XXX CD he got. Who else I f*ck with?
You know, of course I’m gonna’ say the legends, like Em, Redman, um…I would even like to f*ck with a lot of the indie rock artists. Neon Indian, I’d love to work with him. I’d love to do some stuff with Broken Social Scene. I would kill to do some sh*t with Portishead! If I could do some sh*t with Portishead and their whole production family and have the vocalist on there, oh my God. We’d come up with some sick f*cking sh*t.
TSS: Right on. Well the more you keep grinding, the more opportunities arise. So, hopefully we get to some of those materialize. That’d be dope.
Jarren: Yeah, man. Appreciate that.
TSS: One of my favorite songs by you is “Shut Up Bitch” and that goes for my whole household, because my girl loves that track…which is really ironic, because she’ll come in the house rapping all loud and what not.
TSS: You’ve mentioned in numerous songs that you got a significant other. How does she feel about a song like “Shut Up Bitch”?
Jarren: Yo, she hate that sh*t really. But, she don’t trip too much. You know, the dope thing about it is that she don’t trip and give me these speeches and lectures…she just says, ‘I don’t f*ck with it.” That’s it. That’s the good thing. But, she knows the sh*t jamming. She can’t deny it’s jamming.
TSS: Hell yeah. You let off steam listening to that track. Off rip.
Jarren: [Laughs] Hell yeah! Yeah, but she don’t trip too hard. She could. I do say some…you know what crazy? I had to tighten my lyrics and I had her type out my lyrics, because my typing game is bullsh*t. Having her type my lyrics was the most embarrassing…(“Stop!”) *Yells at kids in the backseat of car* How’s this for an interview? Hold on one second.
So, yeah, I having her type those lyrics and hearing me say the lyrics…I didn’t rap them, I said them. It was like….’uhhhh, man.’
TSS: [Laughs] Oh man. She had the magnifying glass to that sh*t.
Jarren: (Laugh) Yeah. I had an epiphany because of that sh*t. Like, ‘Jarren, you really need to get your sh*t together.’
TSS: [Laughs] Whew. I bet the music video didn’t help either.
Jarren: You know what’s crazy about making that video? There were some things, I can’t front, I felt hella’ uncomfortable doing. I ain’t never seen no sh*t like that in a music video. So, me and my homies were trying to go to the extreme. And, in doing that, certain scenes…
Hold on one second, let me get my kids out of the car. Please forgive me.
TSS: No, no. Handle your business. Please.
Jarren: Sorry about that, man. Yeah man, certain scenes in that video…like the opening scene, where I’m choking the chick….the director was coaching the f*cking feeling. Yo, it was the most uncomfortable video to make. I was like, ‘Damn, I know when people see this sh*t, they gonna’ hate me.’
Like my family to this day, my aunt…this is a true story. And, I mean all respect to her with this sh*t, too. First, I let all my homies see the video and they were like ‘what the f*ck.’ So, I got another dude that helps manage me and he was like, ‘I know you’re not going to put this sh*t out. You choking a white woman in there! Then, you stabbing a black woman.You can’t put this sh*t out!’ So, I was like, ‘F*ck it, I’m gonna’ put this sh*t out.’ And my aunt saw it.
I get a call, she’s like, ‘Jarren. I’m so disappointed in you would put something out like that. You know, I don’t think you know this, but i was a battered women. I got beaten and had someone try to kill me and rape me.’ It was the craziest sh*t. I was like, ‘Oh NO.’
TSS: I can only imagine. Your heart probably sank.
Jarren: I was f*cked up, like ‘Ohhhhhhh nooooooo!’ But, luckily, nobody got hurt on the set of that. It was all fun.
TSS: Well, it well-received from the people who understand where you’re coming from. Beyond that, you were in the car with your kids. How many you got?
Jarren: I got two kids. One boy and one girl. And, piggybacking on “Shut Up Bitch.” My son loves “Shut Up Bitch” and I had to stop playing that song around him, because he was just like – *kid voice* – “Shut up bitch! Shut up!” He’s still in preschool. So, at the time, he would go to school and say “shut up bitch.” Teachers would talk to me and I would be like “I don’t know where he’s getting it from….I think it’s from his mom.”
TSS: [Laughs] You just turning your head…’I have no idea.’
Jarren: [Laughs] Hell yeah. True story. He just loves that f*cking song. Having kids, you really do got to watch what you play in front of them.
TSS: You seem like a playful person. You make rowdy music. Does that rub off on them?
Jarren: What’s crazy, is that my daughter is older, she’s like nine. She don’t give no f*cks. She’s in her own world. She’s an artist. So, her drawing game is insane. She’s in her own world, drawing. She don’t even really like rap music that much man.
My son, on other hand, he’s wild as SH*T. My son is one of those kids I can’t even…it’s hard to take him out in public, because he’s going to WILD the f*ck out. But, I can definitely see with the music, he’s more affected by it than my daughter is. It don’t phase her at all. Like I said, she don’t even f*ck with my sh*t. But, my son, awwww man, it’s going to be a problem.
TSS: Well, uhhh….good luck with that! [Laughs]
Jarren: Thanks, man! [Laughs]
TSS: One thing I’ve always wondered, since the first time i saw you performing at A3C about three years ago. When and why did you start wearing a Davy Crockett coonskin cap? Where the hell did that come from?
Jarren: You know what, homie, everyone’s always reaching back to the old school. And, I love the old school, even to this day I love the – and when I say old school, I mean the ’80s – I love the fat chains, I love the Adidas tracksuits, I love the buckets, love the Gazelles. That sh*t to me is still fly.
But, if you look back…and this is one of those things that kind of under the radar, not a lot of people was into this sh*t…but, if you look back, you’ll see a lot of MCs (wearing them). That was the style, to wear those coonskin caps. From the Fat Boys, LL Cool J, Prince Markie Dee wore the f*ck out of it. I think he ran with more than I did. I was like, ‘I wanna’ bring that shit back. Everybody got these Gazelles and bucket hats, f*ck it, I’m bringing the racoon hat out.’ That’s where it came from.
TSS: You just took me to school with that.
Jarren: Yo, go watch Krush Groove! Go watch Krush Groove or Beat Street. Or, just look at a bunch of the ’80s hip-hop sh*t, from the start. That racoon hat, that was they sh*t!
TSS: Yeah and it works. You see someone on stage, spitting rapid-fire and going all out in a racoon hat, you’re just like, ‘That guy is out there!’ You warrant the attention.
Jarren: Thanks man. You know, the thing about that hat though. I got to retire it. Performing with it on, it’s like ‘Oh man God.’ It’s so f*cking hot. It’s like I got a real animal fur on my head. That sh*t is ridiculous.
TSS: Don’t doubt it, man. Lastly, with the album on shelves and a lot of weight off your shoulders, where does do you go from here? What’s next for Jarren Benton?
Jarren: You know what, I always tell people this sh*t. I do a project, thinking I’ll chill for a while before I start working on my next one and my team will just be like, ‘Yo, you gotta’ be doing music. You gotta’ be doing music.’ The reason that I chill, is because if I go right back to doing music like right now, it’s going to be a similar vice. So, I’m going to give myself a minute to chill.
Something is going to hit me. Something is going to hit me. I’ll tell you this, I know I want it to be a tad darker. And, when I say dark, I don’t mean crazy, I mean the overall sound and the content. Sinister and a little more serious.
I know for a fact I want it to be more musical. It’s not going to be 100% live instrumentation, but dark and have that heavy 808 feel to it. But, you know, I might change my mind. Six months from now, I might feel different. I’m not going to start working on anything new, until maybe late Fall, maybe the Winter. I know it’s crazy for new artist to be saying that, because new artists are supposed to put out new artists every five minutes, but damn, I just hate forcing that sh*t. It’s like you don’t even get room to breathe.
TSS: Quantity over quality, right?
Jarren Benton: Hell yeah.
For more from the always lively Jarren Benton, follow him on Twitter at @JarrenBenton, then download his latest album ‘My Grandma’s Basement’ on iTunes.