Jarren Benton :: My Grandmas Basement
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
The XXL Freshmen Class is an annual tradition of selecting rappers who
are "The Next Big Thing" and celebrating them with a magazine cover and
accompanying feature articles. If we're being frank about it this
practice is just as much about the magazine as the emcees. They are
young and hungry and undoubtedly deserve the honor - but the debate
about who was and who WASN'T included sells out the newsstand
and creates viral buzz for XXL. As social media has increasingly part
of our daily life over the years, we've watched
Facebook and Twitter blow up every year around this time. This year's point
of controversy was the inclusion of August Alsina and Ty Dolla $ign, who to some are seen
as singers rather than rappers, but considering the current prominence
of Future that's a non-starter for
me. For better or worse hip-hop has embraced the singing rapper and
the rapping singer - the line between the two now an obsolete notion.
Lost in the debate about whether or not singers and rappers should
share the same cover was the fact that upstart rap label
found one of their artists on the cover for a third straight year.
That's impressive given the L.A. based imprint has only been in
existence since 2009 - they've come up from small and unknown to
a large buzz in an unusually short amount of time. Co-founder Hopsin
can be handed a large part of the credit, but it also goes to their
careful selection of like-minded artists who are unconventional and
original compared to the cookie cutter mold of the bigger imprints.
Dizzy Wright, SwizZz and 2014 XXL inductee Jarren Benton all fit
that bill. Benton was a little surprised when Funk Volume opened
the door for him in 2012 given he was an underground rapper from
Atlanta and the label's best known artists were from Nevada and
California but his artistic creativity was a perfect match.
At a future date we'll take a Back to the Lab
look at the mixtapes that generated the buzz to get him signed, but
for now let's talk about "My Grandmas Basement" - and yes the album
lacks the hyphenation you'd expect after "Grandma." I'm okay with that.
Some websites try to insert it back in but when you look it up at
retail none exists and given there is none on the cover art or binding
the choice is intentional, as is putting Benton's actual
grandmother on the cover. From his coonskin cap to his macabre cinematic
raps, everything Benton does as an artist is on purpose and for a
purpose - even if that purpose is not obvious on the first listen.
That's led many people to compare him to Tyler, the Creator - one which he dismisses on the single "Razor
Blades & Steak Knives" but one that's also unavoidable
given the way he purposefully stirs the pot.
"Yeah! Razor blades and steak knives
I've been tweaking off of this meth, been up for 8 nights
My producer is Asian - so he ate rice
and practice kung-fu and meditate in the daylight
You a bitch - you probably picket for gay rights
I crack the fuckin jaw with a spinning kick in a cage fight
'So negative' - give a fuck what 'Ye like!
Y'all a bunch of wussies, a bushy puss of a crazy dyke"
If you're already offended hit pause and step off right now -
otherwise you'll get that he's in on the joke when he plays his
own interview and asks "Do you have anything to say that's sort
of positive?" His answer: "Yup! Suck a dick, suck a dick/suck
a dick and by the way - suck a dick." If you're not laughing
then you probably don't like Eminem either, another rapper Jarren is frequently compared
to. Jarren Benton is to being politically correct as Don Rickles
is to being nice to his audience - you either get it or you don't.
He's not going to apologize if you get upset by it and he
shouldn't. Long-time friend and collaborator Kato produces 50%
of "My Grandmas Basement" (if you throw out the two skits) and
understands just what matches up with Benton's torrid verbal
torrent. The big booming beat and electronic swang of "I
Deserve It" match well with JB's high powered flow, while
"My Adidas" slowly builds up to the machine gun scratching of
DJ Hoppa, and as a throwback myself I appreciate the
Run-D.M.C. samples found within.
"My homeboy went to jail in them; next day he made bail in them
Got a pair of 'das so damn cold with the leopard print and the tail in them
Get pissed off when I scuff 'em up, I toss them out when I fuck 'em up
and get a fresh pair the next day with 4 straps that buckle up
This the brand that I represent, put that on a testament
This Eastside, these 3 stripes, I step out so elegant
Made hip-hop in these sneakers, for that a pledge of allegiance
It's me against the world, middle finger to my foes in my Adidas"
Signing to Funk Volume expanded both his production and guest star
opportunities and Mr. Benton has taken advantage of both. The
Spittzwell produced "Dreams" is the kind of song that transcends his
shock value reputation and is an anthem where JB vows to "wish
upon a ghetto star, clutchin on my hopes and dreams" and rise above
the meager Decatur/Atlanta circumstances he came from. Anybody who
tries to pigeonhole Jarren Benton as a shock theater rapper will
have this song test their narrow definitions to the limit. He
also tests your expectations he'd only work with either Funk Volume
or Southern-based rappers by teaming with Philly's gruff voiced
Vinnie Paz on the heavy hitting "Bully." Pazienza's cameos can be
scene stealing, but Benton shows he can hang when he spits lines
like "All I need is one mic, three syringes and two rocks/I rap
like I got 'Pac's dead corpse in a shoebox."
Speaking of unconventional team-ups, J.B. pulls in the sinister
minister of anti-mainstream rap R.A. the Rugged Man for the song
"Smells Like" along with Mic Buddah - another excellent Spittzwell
track. There's not a lot to complain about on "My Grandmas Basement,"
but if you try really hard you can "PBR & Reefer" is trying
too hard and ends up sounding like a parody of Memphis hip-hop.
It's a rare miss. One can go either way on the title track as well -
it's an experimental beat from Oh that Benton rips to shreds like
any other that's put in front of him but some listeners will feel
that it lacks a head nodding factor. Neither one takes away from
songs like "We On (My Own Dick)" featuring Dizzy Wright & Pounds
or the twisted "Cadillacs & Chevys." There are times that lines
like "My girl say her period is really late/I got a home abortion
kit, we fin' ta get it straight" will push your taste limits to
the edge and perhaps over - but the fact Benton relishes pushing
buttons is what makes him worthy of being in XXL's Freshmen Class
in the first place. "My Grandmas Basement" confirms they got it right.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: May 27th, 2014