“When I Speak About These Things, I Don’t Talk About Them to Glorify It:” An Interview With Benny the Butcher

Jayson Buford speaks to the Griselda member about a time when he thought he'd never make it out of jail and coming up in East Buffalo.
By    September 15, 2020

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Benny the Butcher makes screwface rap. As soon as the bars begin, your nose scrunches up like the face LeBron makes after a dunk. It starts to look like the emoji with steam coming out of it. Benny teaches the rules of the street: how to work with the plug and take what you can get. He isn’t a rapper who wants to hide; everything about him is on the page.

With Benny, there is also a deceptive versatility. He hits with multiple flows and with a tone that attacks your arteries. It isn’t meant for the Bills Mafia in Orchard Park. The cousin of Griselda founders Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine, the trio bring you the grittiness of East Buffalo — the plugs you’ve met, the street hustlers, and the memory of his brothers, Machine Gun Black and DJ Shay.

Confidence and voice are the among most important parts of a rapper and Benny is peerless. He pauses after words to add tension. He’s the barber telling you stories while giving you a cut that looks like he was barely paying attention to your hair. There’s never a flow that doesn’t sound like Benny is sitting down and handing out some game. That’s why he says on the Westside Gunn deep cut, ‘’Lucha Bros, ‘’You getting game from them, it’s gon’ stagnate you, but with the shit you learn from me, it’s gon’ graduate you.’’ His music conveys the hard times and crime of kill or kill be killed, East Buffalo.

On last year’s The Plugs I Met, Benny upped the stakes and scope without compromising the tough talk. When you have guest features such as Black Thought, Jadakiss, and Pusha T, an album can sometimes feel like an event album full of popular emcees. It is, but Benny never lets you forget that he’s an integral part of Griselda Records, one of the grimiest labels in recent memory. Head to head with Push, he stakes his claim as one of the rap game’s premier rappers on ‘’18 Wheeler,’’ kicking bars about friends catching cases over the phone, laughing at the feds because they have nothing on him, and making OJ comparisons. All while stabbing the pot. ‘’Sunday School’’ has one of the best guest features of that year with 38 Spesh’s madcap verse, but Benny matches him. Talking about missing his daughter’s first birthday because he was locked up isn’t just a bar for him, it’s just regular life.

Benny, Rick Hyde, and Heem of Black Soprano Family, Benny’s own label, recently dropped The Respected Sopranos as a part of DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz series. Rick Hyde and Heem are solid rappers. Heem has a voice and bars that make your neck hurt from nodding too hard. He isn’t just the main attraction’s homie; he has his own voice. It’s one that’s more high than Benny’s while still keeping Benny’s themes of street life and sports references. On ‘’Da Mob’’ Heem reminisces about his life in the streets. There are bars about the Buffalo Bills and their past of weak quarterbacks. JP Lossman can only be said in a rap bar if you’re comparing him to some ‘’bad runs’’ you had, and rightfully so. Rick Hyde is much more similar to Benny in vocal reflection but has stories of his own as well. He raps about traveling to different states to hustle. Every hustler/rapper does that, but it is more a part of Benny and Rick Hyde in scope than most.

They have been everywhere. They’re letting you know how far they’ve traveled.

When Benny came home, Hyde was there. He’s seen it all with him. It is Benny who finishes with the best verse though because of his perfect language and direct emotions. He copped bricks in Miami and he wonders if your city is hood like his city. There is no rival according to Benny. He is disgusted that you’d even assume there were. The leader of the crew is still supreme. Everything is controlled. He never wastes a breath saying too much. In conversation over the phone, Benny is the same way. He speaks with confidence. He answers my questions with no hesitation. He’s efficient with his words. We discussed growing up in East Buffalo, steps he is taking to put his imprint on the city, how he feels about running a label, and the first time he met Prodigy of Mobb Deep. — Jayson Buford

Let’s get right into it. What was it like growing up in East Buffalo?

Benny the Butcher: Man, growing up in East Buffalo was like… As a kid, it was everything. Kids, you really don’t realize what’s going on around you. As I got into my adolescence, I realized what kind of neighborhood I was in, with drug dealers outside in front of my house. My mom is telling me, “Be in before the streetlights” , and a whole bunch of other shit going on around me. So, you know what I’m saying? You had to learn decision making real quick. Early. When you grow up in a hood like mine they respect you in two ways. We all want to be accepted, and they accept you in two ways. You either shoot people or you get money. You know what I’m saying? Being a city boy we would get money so we was accepted. My man, he was molded by the hood, you know what I’m saying? He was very influenced by it. You know what I mean?

That’s a fact. Are your parents from East Buffalo?

Benny the Butcher: Yes, they are, man. My mom’s, She’s from there. My pops, Johnny Pennick, he’s from there too.

Did your parents play music in the house growing up?

Benny the Butcher: Yes, and it was big, big influences on my career. I can’t even speak on it enough because my mom encouraged me to rap. When I was about six, seven years old, young … “What’s that rap you wrote?” She’d put me on the spot. Like you see in the movies when your mom calls you downstairs. She definitely did that. Anytime a song would come on she used to call me like, “Your song on.” When I was a young kid and my Pops he just… My pops was a DJ actually. He used to play all the music. I heard damn near every hip-hop song that came out. Every legendary hip-hop song before I wrote legendary just from writing with my pops in the late-80’s and the early-90’s. Played everything.

Did you end up rapping in school a little bit?

Benny the Butcher: Yeah. I had a talent show. I rapped at a talent show and was in third place.

What was so special about your brother, Machine Gun Black?

Benny the Butcher: He was the person who looked out for everybody who was around him. It didn’t matter if he knew you for two years or two days. If he felt like you was family, you was brought around him by family, he would look out for you. And he was just a … it wasn’t on him, it was in him. He was just a good, stand-up dude, and a person who looked out for people. And coming from where we come from, them dirty neighborhoods, we needed that. To be honest with you he was the type of person who was accepted in a couple circles that I wasn’t accepted in. He was three years older than me. And he got his hands dirty, jumped off the porch before I did. So a lot of times, I was known as his little brother for some years. He helped people out and took care of people.

What is, probably, the biggest thing you learned from him?

Benny the Butcher: Man, the biggest thing I learned from his is … is to be a firm individual. To stand on whatever you say, and look out for your people. And you’re responsible for your people in a sense. Especially when you got a certain type of power that people under you may not have that power. You got people under you that care for you. Man, it’s your responsibility to take care of them. Your responsibility to look out for them, and I learned that from my big brother.

You and Westside Gunn sometimes speak about how Black would have been here with you if he had not gotten shot. Do you get some of your style from him?

Benny the Butcher: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yo, he’d be right here. So, Westside Gunn and Machine Gun Black is close. I was the third wheel running behind them. Know what I’m saying? I got to do everything with them through default.

Machine was on the first tape that Gunn dropped, because he re-dropped it on streaming a couple months ago, right?

Benny the Butcher: Yes he did. Yup. That’s what’s crazy, man. Me, I was on there too. He did a song with me and Machine Gunn.

Uh-huh. Yeah. Absolutely. Yup.

Benny the Butcher: Hell yeah.

You, Westside, and Conway are the first rappers to make it big from Buffalo. Was there a local Buffalo scene when you were coming up, though?

Benny the Butcher: Definitely. Definitely. You had dudes that we looked up to. You got DJ Shay. DJ Shay, he signed us. Me and Conway, Westside Gunn, and Cutter before he made it here, he signed us. We learned from dudes like that, and they was already legends. Moody Krills, Adayan, Mallik, T. Brown, Raycell. These is all names of dudes in Buffalo who was doing they thing. I’m saying before we were. Brown. Know what I’m saying? This was the generation of people before us. We just took it to the next level, but these dudes performed at the Apollo, [played] shows, had they own tapes out, shooting their own videos and getting radio airplay. All when we was just in the trenches.

What steps are you trying to take locally to build your rap community even more?

Benny the Butcher: Just interact with the community, and give them access to us. When I do shows I tell everybody from Buffalo … you know Buffalo. It’s not that big. It’s not that small either, though. But I can tell people, “Yo, you know me. If you come with me man, come to this show. Come backstage to this show.” Or one of my homies who still trying to make that transition from doing music full time, “Man, come to this interview with me.” So they can see, and they can be inspired. You know what I’m saying? But they can see it’s like that. What I got going on is come stand close to that. You know what I’m saying? Come stand close to that. You ain’t got to be in the cameras. You ain’t got to be on the song for them to see. You can be behind the scenes and watch me make these moves to learn a lot. That’s what I do. I try to give them access to this, and try to show them. You know what I mean?

At the beginning did y’all feel overlooked because you didn’t come from the boroughs?

Benny the Butcher: Yeah. Most definitely. Most definitely. And still now. You know what I’m saying? New York City is the heavy cultural place, and it’s big on culture. It’s big on hip-hop. It’s big on influence and everything. Coming from where we come from, I believe we got the blessing of the boroughs for the most part. You know what I’m saying? We got the blessing of the boroughs, but just imagine if Westside Gunn, Benny, and Conway was from one of the boroughs. Know what I’m saying. Just imagine. And we doing what we doing right now. It’d be way more. You know what I’m saying? It’d be way more bigger that what it is, but it is what it is. And we’re proud of that, and we wear that on us. That’s why we named things after spots in Buffalo.

I know you dabbled in music here and there, but was there a specific moment in your life where you decided to dedicate yourself to rap?

Benny the Butcher: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I would say I’ve been a person who always is going way more than any other local artist. Anybody that compared to me, and at times I felt like I was doing everything. But to be totally honest with you, when I thought I was doing everything I could do — West came and told me that he had the situation I needed in Atlanta. It was back. Everything was music. Everything I’m saying was 24/7 music. I dropped everything.

I know that prison’s a lot of torture psychologically. Was there ever a moment you had inside where you wondered if you was going to get out?

Benny the Butcher: Man, yeah. When you young and fear when you catch them cases. Especially them big cases, man. It’s different sitting down there for months waiting on a court date. You know what I mean? Then you go to court then the charges they charge you, facing five or four years. Don’t know when the fuck you get out. If you ever going to get out. You know what I’m saying? So, it’s painful dealing with shit like that, and it plays with your mind. And I got homeboys going through that shit right now. So, yeah that shit fucks us up. I remember being in there and thinking, “I might never get out of here.” Shit crazy.

As a writer, I feel really uncomfortable when people ask artists about stuff in their past. As a street dude does it bother you when people ask you to talk about stuff in your past?

Benny the Butcher: I don’t. I don’t feel … I know with the kind of music I do, I know people are curious if that’s really me or if that’s what’s inside, and I write some music on my own. You know what I’m saying? And I don’t like the questions that people ask me. So, they probably feel they can get a little more truthful, or a little bit more insight, if they ask me a question they want to know. Like, how long you did or what you in jail for, da da da da. So, they just trying to check my stories, but when I speak about these things, I don’t talk about them to glorify it. I just speak about it, like a person like me who was in that situation. Make them hear something. It’s like a survival testimony type shit.

Yeah. I feel that. What are some memories you have of making the song “Sunday School” on The Plugs I Met?

Benny the Butcher: Man, I got the memory of doing the verse and doing the hook. Just knowing that shit sound crazy on that. And then getting it back to Spesh, and Spesh on his verse. And then me, I thinking in my head, “Yo, I could send this to ‘Kiss. I know that’ll take it to a whole other level.” Then I would do it again, and ‘Kiss verse back because we all did it at different times. I did mine first, then Spesh got it back from Spesh to ‘Kiss. I was going to give it to ‘Kiss and Spesh especially killed it so ‘Kiss went crazy. Like, “Yo, let me hear it.” Know what I’m saying? I know that.

Yeah. Yeah. Do you remember the first time you met Rick Hyde? For those who haven’t heard his music yet?

Benny the Butcher: To be honest with you, I can’t remember the first time I met him, but I can remember around that time. I can’t remember–

Y’all grew up together?

Benny the Butcher: Yeah. Yeah. Let me tell you. Let me tell you. And when I came home from jail one time he was just, around the studio. But we was like shay’s young boy talking around the studio working and cooking, and when I’m away the people that be with me every day they probably not coming to the studio as much as they would if I was home. So, they probably… You find a few artists to keep around, and when I came home Rick Hyde was one of them. I remember. You know what I’m saying? And that was years ago. Probably like 14 years ago.

Yeah. It’s a fact. Heem comes from a hustling family… What is it like working with people that come from the same mentality as you do?

Benny the Butcher: Man, it’s dope. We see eye to eye. On a different level. Know what I’m saying? It’s like a whole bunch of inside shit going on. So everything he sung to us that they don’t mean to anybody else, it’s like we in our own world. It’s like a brotherhood in some ways. We came from what we came from, we did what we did, and look up to the things we look up to. Think like us. Know what I’m saying? So, that’s dope.

The music y’all made, to, is tribal. A lot of people consume it, obviously, but it’s really only something you can get if you are from a certain place. And so you kind of have to have that synergy within yourselves, right?

Benny the Butcher: Man, yeah. Hell yeah. You know what I’m saying? This is something that when you talk like this, saying this is something that you got to have seen. So, folks emotions… People feel this shit for a reason. Know what I’m saying? Everything that we’ve been through. We rap about it, we open about it, and people can feel it. Man, they’ve been through the same shit too. It’s just so good to hear people talk about the things that they been through. Especially through this whole recession. Hell yeah.

You linked up with the label eOne. What does running BSF mean to you, personally?

Benny the Butcher: Man, it means everything because, man… You know I started just from the bottom. This started as an idea, and that shit progressed it was the main thing. Like being a team, and it felt good to be where we at now. We got so far to go, but… To see the progress, and be able to deliver a certain thing to my team and do good and take pride in how we working and what we do and what we bring to the game.

How did this collaboration with you and DJ Drama come together?

Benny the Butcher: Man, you know the Gangsta Grillz series is legendary. Everybody wanted to do one of those. The time is right, and me and Drama just had a couple years and established a relationship. So, it made sense. I was already getting unrelated to the situation with me and Drama. Camen was already sending me beats. Know what I’m saying? So, shit. Niggas jumped on that beat, and I just thought it was a good move. To the pressure to the eOne deal I felt this was a perfect way to roll off the BSF thing.

One of my favorite aspects about you is that you know your rap history. And you’ve studied the game in the past. So like you was saying how everybody got a Drama mixtape, is that something that you’re thinking about with the moves you make about how you shake up past history? Past legends?

Benny the Butcher: Oh, hell yeah, man. Hell yeah. I be taking them niggas there, man. I give them niggas that feeling, man. That’s why they love me, man. Shout out to all my old Gs. So many names to name, but the legends we grew up on, man, and some of the dudes that they grew up on. All packed in with me and they get that feeling, and that right there, that’s something that’s very important. Because the respect of your peers, man, is big when you’re in this type of business. It’s not anybody, especially dudes like the legendary cats. The fucking Mount Rushmore niggas. When those dudes salute you it means everything.

Yeah, I watched an interview one time where you said you met Prodigy. What was that like, and how did you meet him?

Benny the Butcher: Meeting P was dope man. The first time I met P we was at Conway’s show. He came too. Man, it was just dope because I know I had got some money for school clothes, and instead of getting school clothes I bought me a double up to sell in the hood. The hustle. And I motherfucking bought the Murda Muzik album. You know what I mean? That shit was crazy. I got to tell P that story. Know what I mean? It was crazy. I looked at that album and it kind of changed my life. That murder music shit. And it’s crazy to just be in the presence of a person who wrote it. You know what I mean? It was a big private ass show. Shout out P. Rest in peace. Shout out Hav too.


Benny the Butcher: And I’m learning from them niggas even from then. Because, like I said, this whole thing is crazy. Just to have to learn from these niggas. And so that’s dope.

I know you were inspired by Wu-Tang. Do you have a favorite Ghostface album?

Benny the Butcher: Man, that nigga just a sharp nigga. I can’t even pick one of his shits. And I’m learning from them niggas even from then. Because, like I said, this whole thing is crazy. Just used to have to learn from these niggas from the background now I can pick the phone up and call these niggas. And so that’s dope.

I peeped him on the– You went live one of these days during quarantine, and he commented. You said, “What’s up unc?” And I was like, facts. The rap fan in me, you feel me? I was like, “Ooooohh.”

Benny the Butcher: No, real shit. Real shit. Man, we been kicking it, man. We want people to look forward to that Benny/Ghostface.

I like the way that sounds. Yeah. What’s the best advice you’ve got from Raekwon?

Benny the Butcher: The best advice I got from Rae was don’t talk to people myself. Know what I’m saying? If it’s business let other people do the talking for me. We’ve been them niggas early. So, before all of this was happening, before I’m at where I’m at now, he is before I’m at where I’m at now. I was kicking it with big bro. So, during the transition of my business getting bigger, he’s basically telling me, “Don’t talk to nobody yourself.” And something as simple as that, know what I mean, it helped me a lot.

Me, I’m the type of person niggas call me to book shows, I’m doing it. Know what I’m saying? Especially two years ago it was nothing. After having a manager I didn’t handle business like that. So, I was doing it myself, and I wasn’t necessarily at the point where I needed somebody like that. Where I could afford to pay somebody 24/7 just to do everything all day. So, I was really doing it myself, and he told me, “Nah, man you don’t do that. Have somebody else do that.” Even when we talked before you don’t have to do that. You know what I mean? That helped me a lot. I seen the difference.

West has gone on to do some fashion a little bit too. Is that something you’re thinking about doing too? Getting involved in merch and getting clothes?

Benny the Butcher: Hell yeah, man. We do good merch numbers, man. We about to drop some shit, but I had to drop the plug shirt. I dropped a plug anniversary shirt.

I got West’s Paris hoodie too.

Benny the Butcher: Oh, nice. Nice. That shit’s gone crazy. Wes’s going stupid with the shit. And I got the It’s Over shirt coming out. I mean, I got a whole bunch of shit on sell, man. People love this shit.

Absolutely G. Absolutely. Now personally, for you, what’s next for Benny the Butcher, solo-wise?

Benny the Butcher: Burden of Proof. Dropping Burden of Proof in a couple months. Solely by Hit-Boy. Know what I’m saying? Coming out on Griselda Empire, man.

What’s it like being in the studio with Hit-Boy, man? He’s done so much hard joints in the 2010’s.

Benny the Butcher: Man, that’s what it is, man. He just… That’s what he’s doing. He’s just giving me a whole bunch of crazy fucking hard beats and I’m just like, “G Damn.” Making me shit, and I’m just eating on them shits, man. That’s what it’s like, man. It’s energy. It’s professionalism and we just working. I’m cooking this nostalgia because I know who else he’s sending beats to. Nothing like hold up I got such and such going, and hold up I got such and such walking in, and hold up, Benny, I need you to go in this room because I got such and such coming in this room. Man, it be people who live on the charts. Big platinum artists. So, I know the energy, and I know what he syncs to. So, I just want to bring that same quality and level of music, and I feel like I did and surprised with him.

To be honest with you, on this Burden of Proof, I mean it’s going to change the landscape of shit. I know a lot of these rap niggas say that, though. I haven’t dropped in over a year. And the anticipation for my shit is crazy, and I delivered on that. And I know I did. That’s what took me so long. The music’s been done, but the situation had to be right. The timing is everything.

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