2019 has been a bit of a strange year for hip hop. On the one hand there’s been a lot for the hip hop ‘purists’, if you will, to take in and appreciate whilst the commercial side hasn’t been as successful as previous years. No big releases from Kendrick, Drake or J. Cole (if you don’t include ROTD3) meant that whilst the spotlight wasn’t on them it gave a chance for others to shine.
A few names saw the opportunity and grabbed it with both hands; DaBaby had a standout year, Freddie Gibbs’ 2nd joint project with Madlib blew people’s minds and YBN Cordae was able to prove his worth as one of the best newcomers in the game. While all of this is good and well, and frankly quite impressive, one rapper has managed to stand head and shoulders above the rest this year and become 2019’s rapper of the year. That artist is none other than Buffalo’s own Benny the Butcher.
Whilst he may not be the most recognisable name to a lot of people, he is undoubtedly one of the most promising talents around right now. A part of the Griselda faction that is taking over the hip hop game, alongside his cousins Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine. The three of them have carved out their own path and are making waves with every week that passes it seems, and 2019 was a marquee year for them.
All three have dropped more than one project, be them single or collaborative efforts, and they’ve each shown why they’re up there with the best. But none moreso than Benny. His 7 track EP titled The Plugs I Met was a harsh, brash and cold jumping off point for a lot of people with him, and forced a lot of people to delve deeper into his work. As a rapper who has been in the game for years already at this point and not reached the success he’s due, it’s impressive he kept this work ethic up and didn’t quit.
The EP features a host of big names, from Black Thought to Jadakiss to Pusha T, but the main takeaway is that Benny does not get out rapped at all. The opening track Crowns for Kings with Black Thought tells you everything you need to know about the Butcher, “Shoeboxes stacked with racks sitting vertically in ‘em, I’m fresh out of luck I’m here ‘cause I deserve to be”. The EP is full of quotables and serves as a perfect start for many new fans.
The Plugs I Met saw Benny rap 11.96 words per bar, according to Hip Hop by the Numbers. It’s an incredible stat and one that shows he’s not just playing about with his raps but really going for it, delivering literate and descriptive raps that many other rappers couldn’t even fathom thinking about.
He has been untouchable on guest verses too, his verse on Sensational Sherri with Westside Gunn is nothing short of remarkable. The sheer audacity to be able to rap about such cold real life incidents is amazing let alone being able to make comprehensible and impressive rhymes from them. His aura on any track he has touched brings with it such a cool, unshaken and dominant presence. From the time you hear “the butcher comin’ n***a” you know you’re in for a treat.
His Griselda cohorts both seemingly broke ahead of him in the last few years, somewhat taking prominence over him for whatever reason that may be. Deals with Shady records were signed and people were thinking he was signed too, but no. Something else loomed for him. Step forward a management deal with Roc Nation. It stands as a testament to his rapping ability, potential and promise that arguably the biggest rapper of all time Jay Z personally selected him for his label. It really was a way for him to round off a stellar year.
Except that wasn’t it, instead of cooling off and bringing it full force in 2020 (which I’m sure will happen anyway), Griselda decided to release a joint album. Westside Gunn, Conway, Benny and Daringer came together to put out WWCD – What Would Chinegun Do? – on November 29th. It encapsulated the Griselda sound perfectly and everybody brought their all. It has solidified their spot in the game, and when looking at Benny’s verses you can see how impressive he is and how he manages to steal the spotlight on several tracks.
He paints vivid street tales, that many people can’t even begin to appreciate but does it with such luxury flowing through it. In such a way that it makes that lifestyle appealing somehow, he does it like nobody else out right now, for example on Freddie Hotspot he raps “They play sports, I race the Porsche through the streets with choppers”. That bar is as outlandish as it is a slap in the face to everybody else trying to be in the same lane as the butcher.
“I remember listening to Wu in ’95, got my first strap from Conway in ‘99”. “Eating with snakes probably getting him killed, cause trust me every family got a Henry Hill”. “I’m 5’8 but 6’11 if I stand on my bricks”. These are just an example of some of the lines he stole the show with on this album, and it’s a testament to him being able to steal it whilst rapping next to two more of the top 5 right now.
2019 has, to me at least, undoubtedly been Benny’s year. His potent rhymes, ability to ride a beat, storytelling and overall charisma on the track matched with props from multiple rappers including Styles P & Pusha T as well as signing with Roc Nation mean that he’s starting the new decade on top. There’s a lot more to come from him and Griselda as a whole, so for everybody sleeping, the butcher’s here.
Words by Rohan Parmar