Since Buffalo, NY’s Griselda Records began gaining traction in the mid-to-late 2010s, its core has consisted of the label’s head-honcho Westside Gunn, his brother and self-proclaimed muscle Conway the Machine, and their cousin, Benny the Butcher. Through a near-constant output of material, it shortly became apparent that Benny was the star player. Similar to Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan, Benny never veers away from three topics: Drug connects, bricks, and the fruits of his criminalistic endeavors. However, Benny keeps it interesting with his propensity for multisyllabic rhyme schemes and his eye for details. He’s dropped over a dozen albums and EPs since his 2016 debut, gained a taste of commercial success with the single “Johnny P.’s Caddy”, and now has made the transition from indie artist to a major label. His latest album, “Everybody Can’t Go” is his Def Jam debut.
When prolific and skilled indie rappers sign to the majors, there’s a reasonable apprehension among fans and critics. Namely, a fear that the label’s input will result in an album being watered down, neutered, and sprinkled with sugar and spice. Frankly, I was surprised at just how much control Def Jam allowed Benny to have on his debut. Though working with a larger budget, he didn’t go overboard with producers. He kept it relegated to two he has working history with, Hit-Boy and The Alchemist. A production or two by Daringer would’ve made a complete cipher, but the former two will do. Benny hits the ground running with “Jermanie’s Graduation”, with Alchemist behind the boards. It utilizes piano samples for Benny’s drug dealing autobiographical narrative detailing how he arrived at where he is now. Considering the album’s commercial packaging, no hook is to be found on this opener.
Alchemist and Hit-Boy never work together on the same track here, but they share them instead. The latter makes his first appearance on “BRON”, incorporating horn samples which are prominent in the music. Benny makes use of basketball metaphors for moving bricks and shooting for success, and even does the hook. The title-track is also Hit-Boy’s and makes use of vintage soul sampling in the production. Kyle Banks sings the hook as Benny declares “Ima win like the election if Trump run again”, a line which one can only hope does not age well. The album’s lead single is the Alchemist-produced “Big Dog”. The music makes use of canine samples in the background as well as reversed sounds. Benny does the hook about being the “Big Dog”, but guest rapper Lil’ Wayne’s verse relates more to the title and the hook; not to mention that his raps stand out more than Benny’s:
“Back Again” isn’t a single, but it very well could be. It features Snoop Dogg and, while his inclusion shows at first glance just how deep Def Jam’s budget is, it’s also a nod to him being the label’s executive creative consultant. He and Benny employ playful commercial flows as Snoop drawls “Gangstas don’t dance, we bang to the boogie”. The sound reverts to “The Plugs I Met” era on “Buffalo Kitchen Club” with Armani Caesar. She raps the first verse and hook and, unlike many of her contemporaries, she doesn’t have to recite sex raps to get claps. Benny shows some versatility on “TMVTL”, where Alchemist creates a dark, moody, cinematic atmosphere for three storytelling verses which all end in betrayal or death. The second single, “One Foot In”, features Stove God Cooks. He’s the first guest rapper to appear who’s both similar to Benny and a longtime Griselda collaborator. The song’s concept? Standing in two worlds – The drug world and the legit world:
L.O.X. emcee Jadakiss brings his trademark raspy street talk on “Pillow Talk & Slander”, which also features Detroit rapper Babyface Ray and a polished 808 beat. “How to Rap” is interesting not only because it recounts Benny’s personal experience in coming up as a rapper, but also how he lampshades thoughts of it being his usual drug-dealing song when he raps “That’s how you rap, they probably thought this was a coke song / ‘Cause so far, I been the industry’s Omar, turned this shit into Snowfall / Go off every chance that I get, I guess I’m a showoff.” On the Alchemist-laced “Griselda Express”, Benny brings in Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine & Rick Hyde for a posse cut over a gritty beat comprised of a slowed string sample. Throughout, it’s Conway who has the best verse. Lastly, for “Big Tymers”, he brings in Peezy where, over a trap-sounding beat, they celebrate opulence while the Butcher maintains that he’s still Benny from Montana Ave.
“Everybody Can’t Go” is a solid listen, with about two skippable tracks. However, it doesn’t stand up to previous releases, particularly the “Tana Talk” and “The Plugs I Met” series. While Benny’s maintained many of the elements that contribute to his music, his Def Jam debut is ultimately a polishing of that sound. Additionally, in promoting the record, he claimed it would be Def Jam’s biggest album since DMX’s first album. I understand that an artist must grab the public’s attention, but this album doesn’t even compare to X’s debut at all. While “Everybody Can’t Go” is mostly good, Benny will need to push some boundaries if he’s ever going to top his classic albums.