It Won’t Be Over Till That Big Girl From Decatur Sang: An Interview With Jarren Benton

Y’all don’t know Jake Ewald cause he steady dipping Jarren Benton is 32 years old without a rebrand or a label deal. He’s finishing a tour with Tech N9ne and Freddie Gibbs, prepping to...
By    June 27, 2014


Y’all don’t know Jake Ewald cause he steady dipping

Jarren Benton is 32 years old without a rebrand or a label deal. He’s finishing a tour with Tech N9ne and Freddie Gibbs, prepping to play a show in New York with Ab-Soul and travelling to the Midwest for spot dates with label-mate Hopsin. Also, he just covered XXL, joining the Freshman class as the 12th, fan-voted member.

Benton grew up in Decatur, Georgia listening to Outkast, Ras Kass and Wu-Tang. He’s been rapping since he was a kid, dropping three mixtapes (a self-titled EP, Huffing Glue With Hasselhoff and Freebasing With Kevin Bacon) in the past four years and putting out his debut, My Grandma’s Basement, on indie-rap label Funk Volume last June. He admits that for a while he didn’t think this rap gig would work out, picking up odd jobs as an exterminator and dental assistant to keep food on the plates of his kids. Those kids and his wife now reside in Atlanta while Jarren tours America.

Benton approaches his tracks with a battle-axe, going after any rapper dropping the same-old, stale beats and rhymes. He’s over the tired Tyler comparisons and uninterested in catering to Atlanta rap radio sounds. His songs are all words, mouthfuls of syllables and rhymes that leave fairytale rappers playing catch-up. In a year of weak and awkward Freshman Freestyles, Benton rises above, verbally tossing Justin Beiber at your house.

Benton has room for improvement. He’s yet to put out a fully consistent tape, but there’s huge potential. Few recent rappers are forming such visceral, detailed jabs at rap foes. At times, he hits on word coasters that ride the line between Redman and Eminem. We talked over the phone about 80’s music, Kevin Bacon, and balancing touring and family.

How is the tour going? How are Tech N9ne and Freddie Gibbs?

So far, so good, everybody’s been rocking out pretty hard. Shit been going real dope man, lot of love, lot of fans.

What’s your average day like right now?

Wake up around 12, start getting drunk, little meet and greet at 3 until like damn near 4-something, come back on the bus and get more fucked up and then go do my set.

Where were you when you found out about the XXL Freshman List?

I think I might’ve been in my car. They called and told me to do the cover and shit cause at first I didn’t even know I was going to get it. I got voted, so I had no idea. You know, I knew I was leading the votes. I’m the only person on there, on the cover that’s not really connected to a major label, so I was like, they’re probably going to pull some bullshit to get some other dude that’s in all the fucking majors on there, regardless of if I got a lot of votes or not. They actually came through and fuckin’ chose me.

What was it like meeting the other Freshmen?

Everybody was cool. I knew a couple of them before. Jon Connor I knew for a while. Everybody else was cool, only people I really kind of clicked with and got a chance to kick it with was Jon Connor, Troy Ave, Rich Homie Quan, Ty Dolla $ign and Kevin Gates.

What’s your writing process like?

You know I got the dumbest writing process ever. Normally man I try to hear the beats. The most frustrating thing is that everyone sends the same fuckin’ beat. So I’ll sit there for hours until I hear something that’s sort of refreshing. I guess they kind of judge it from maybe past work that I’ve done. Every fuckin’ beat is the 808, fuckin’ snare, drum roll, the same old fuckin’ shit that everybody does, that’s all I get now, and it’s fuckin’ irritating, but normally what I do, is hear the beat and let the beat influence what I do. If there’s a beat that I really fuck with heavy, I let the beat determine the motion of the song. I’m not good with working with people in a group. A lot of producers want me to fly and work with them one-on-one. I hate doing that. I’d rather get the beat, come up with the song, and then we can meet. I hate sitting down with people and trying to collaborate with lyrics and shit like that.

Do you have a book where you write down lyrics?

I ain’t even have a book man. Sometimes I might just come up with some shit in my head and I’ll just record it on my phone or if I’m at the crib, I might have like whatever the fuck, the closest thing I can write on, I’m like writing on a paper towel. It’s ridiculous I got the stupidest fuckin’ writing process ever, sort of unorthodox.


What are you listening to now?

I’m still stuck on Atoms for Peace and fuckin’ listening to that and still listening to this dude, Neon Indian, you ever heard of him? Listening to that shit. I got this like crazy 80’s playlist I made. Still listening to a lot of David Bowie.

Would you want to play a show with any of these guys?

Hell yeah. I don’t how our sounds would mesh. It would be crazy.

How often are you back in Decatur?

When I go see my family I’m usually there, but I actually been out of Decatur for probably like four almost five years now, but all my family’s still on that side of town. I moved out more toward the suburbs. I’m usually there all the time, every single member of my family is there.

What’s the best spot for food?

Yo, the best spot for food. Oo, goddamn, there’s a spot in Decatur. I love Thai food, there’s a spot called Little Bangkok. I shouldn’t even be giving them a shout-out, cause they just not too long ago failed their health inspection. But the food, is amazing. It’s the best Thai food I’ve had in Atlanta. There’s another spot out in Atlanta if you ever want just lounge, cool shit. There’s a spot called Top Flr. It’s pretty good. But it’s more like a little cool-ass, little trendy-ass lounge-type shit man. It’s like a nice spot you might want to bring a nice little chick to, man.


Has Kevin Bacon or Hasselhoff hit you up at all?

You know what’s crazy, I swear to God. Kevin Bacon was at Top Flr. No bullshit. But I never got a chance to meet him. He’s in Atlanta all the time cause they do a lot of films and shit. They shoot a lot of movies in Atlanta there.

Do you have a favorite Kevin Bacon movie?

Favorite Kevin Bacon movie would probably be Footloose because of the dramatic fuckin’ breakdown he has. Classic right there.

Do you work on the concepts for your videos?

Yea, I usually try to sit down with the director. The last couple videos I put out, they just shot me the treatment. But, most of the time it’s just me and the homeboys and we just help out with the directing. Most of them are pretty much me and my friends.

You said you had some odd jobs before you started rapping, like exterminator, dental assistant, did that drive you to wanting to rap or influence anything for you lyrically?

I always wanted to rap before that. The only reason I was doing those jobs is because I was skeptical that rap would work out. I had kids and shit so I didn’t want to be that broke nigga trying to chase the fuckin’ dreams. I was scared, like I was like, ‘What if this shit don’t work out. I been chasin’ this dream and I don’t have any fuckin’ money.’ So, that shit just came from working the jobs and trying to take care of yourself. But I was rapping before any of those jobs. None of that shit inspired me. If anything it just added fuel to making it even more.

Do you have anything special on your rider at your shows?

Nah, most of my shit is always the same. It’s just a bottle of vodka and PBR’s and water. I ain’t one of the niggas that’s like give me green M&M’s. Hell nah, as long as they give me the bottle and the beer, I’m good.

You have this incredible energy on stage, how do you prepare to go on?

There was a point in my life where I never got drunk before I performed because I would forget my words. Now, the more shows I’ve done in my life, I’ve mastered being drunk and performing. So usually, I just gotta get pretty wasted. All of that comes from me just watching live shows. Something about people that don’t give a fuck I’m so infatuated by, like if I watch a live show, if I’m watching Iggy Pop show, I might go to YouTube and see him like ‘Damn, he really don’t give a fuck. He’s just really into his shit.’ Or I might watch an old school Marilyn Manson show or I’ll watch an old Prince show before he was even big. I want to say it’s the video to ‘Controversy.’ This motherfucker’s got a trench coat, a fuckin’ Speedo on and high heels and just rocking. Something about that energy is crazy. People like that, they inspire me. That’s what the inspiration for my live show comes from. Even the punk scene, like Joy Division and Sid [Sex Pistols]. Just the energy of not giving a fuck. I love that shit.

Do your kids listen to your music? Are they going into the musical world?

I tried to have my daughter learn violin, she wasn’t interested in that at all. They’re kind of in their own world. My son likes a little bit of my music. My shit may be a little too much for him to listen to, but he’s really into music. My daughter is too, but my daughter’s into actual art. Her drawing skills are ridiculous. I’ve got her in art classes. She’s really heavy into that.

Is it tough balancing these two lives, the rap life and the home life?

Yeah, it is man. The more shit I got going on; it gets real difficult. At first, it was kind of cool, it was a decent balance, but now more shit’s popping off, so it is kind of crazy. It’s crazy being away and still trying to maintain the connection. It’s hella difficult because your kids start to miss you and my son is younger so he probably has the hardest time out of us all.

What’s the plan for this new album? What’s your goal with it?

I don’t want to use the word experimental, but I kind of want to experiment on this. I don’t want to make this one outlandish. I don’t want it to go in a silly direction. I even told a lot of the video directors, I don’t want to do any more silly fuckin’ videos. What I want to do with this one is set a trend, like do some shit, I’m not gonna say that hasn’t been done, ‘cause everything in the world has been done, we’re just recycling shit and putting it in our own language. But, this is gonna be some new shit, probably the most different shit that Funk Volume has ever put out. In a dope way. I hate when people will do shit just for the sake of being different and it sounds wack. But, this is gonna be dope as fuck.

Are you bringing in guys from Funk Volume or people from Atlanta on it?

Yeah, I’m gonna try to get a couple of the homies on there. But mainly I’m trying to collaborate with a lot of different producers. I really want to fuck with the producers from Portishead. It’s gonna be on some other shit. It’s gonna be real dope.

Are you going to get beats from Kato or guys you’ve worked with before?

I told all the producers I used to fuck with like, none of that half-ass shit. Let’s stretch our capability as far as we can. Let’s go there. We make music. Let’s challenge ourselves to make the best shit we can make. Most of the producers I’ve been working with just on the same fuckin’ shit man, I feel like nobody really stretching their ability. They’re on this fuckin’ safe mode shit now. I probably won’t have a lot of producers that I used to fuck with.

When are you trying to put it out?

I probably won’t put it out until like real early Fall because I don’t want to rush it. I was gonna try to have it out in the Summer, but the way shit is shaping up, it’s probably gonna be a fall project.

Anything else you want to shout out to?

Yeah, I just want to tell everybody it’s the last leg of the tour. Look for the new shit man. The goal is, while I’m on earth, why not see how far I can go, you know with the creativity, making music, but still keeping it in the realm of good quality music. I don’t want to go too far to where I abandon people. Sometimes people will go too fuckin’ far with that, but basically I just want to stretch my creativity. I want to stretch my ability on everything. I just want to do the best shit I can do. That’s it. That’s all I can say.

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