If I’m being honest, when I started writing for ABAD again this past Monday, I knew I was going to release a featured artist of the week on Sunday, and at first it wasn’t going to be Benji. Everyone who knows me already knows how much I enjoy and promote Benji. and his music, so I thought that would be predictable and biased. But then on Wednesday December 12th, Benji. showed up on the front page of PGH City Paper titled ‘Local hip-hop artist reminds listeners to Smile, You’re Alive! ‘ READ THE ARTICLE HERE and damn does Benji. deserve the feature. It’s an incredible story, so if you didn’t click to go read the article, go do that before the rest of this story!
I was so happy for the guy that he finally got the headline he deserved! So, I started to think about my own story of how I came across Benji. and how and why I started listening to his music so much.
I figured I’d finally explain why I tell everyone I meet to go listen to Benji. Why I’ve been shamelessly plugging Benji. on social media imploring people to listen to him. Why I’ve played his songs at every 6ycle class I teach. Why he’s my favorite artist of 2018.
As I started to think about how I was going to get into this story, I kept coming back to the same 3 questions:
- “When was the moment I knew Benji. was a special talent?”
- “What exactly was it that first got me hooked to listening to Benji.”
- “What activated me to keep listening to his music over and over again (besides the fact that it’s amazing music)”
As I started to think about the answer to those questions, it all started unraveling, and it’s clear to see that it started with his features on Mars Jackson’s G.D.N.L.F album. ‘Alright’ has all the energy and ‘Simple’ features Benji.’s rap and singing talents to where I thought to myself I need to hear more of this guy.
Question 1 answered.
And while those features definitely got me wanting to hear more (Shout Out Mars and Benji. for working together and making amazing music!) it’s not like I was hooked to listening to Benji. at this point.
Then came May 24th, 2018. With listening to G.D.N.L.F for some time now, I was going to hear what Benji. was all about on his debut album ‘Smile, You’re Alive.’
As I start to think about the answer to question 2 on this rainy Sunday, I play the album Smile You’re Alive with ‘Rain’ coming on as the first track on the album. I can hear the rain tapping on the roof, and it hits me. ‘Rain’ – the very first song on the album is what got me hooked to listening to Benji. It’s the emotion invoking voice of Benji. singing paired with a beautiful piano in the beginning of the song. It’s the loud yet soft beat drop that gets the song going. It’s the perfectly timed ‘Yeah, Yeah’ after every chorus lyric ‘Rain Down watch it Rain Down’ It’s the intrigue of Benji. starting the first verse of his first album with ‘I thought I gave my mom and dad a grandbaby.’ wanting you to find out more.
And finally, it’s verse 2 of ‘Rain’ combined with all the reasons above that gives the real answer to question 2:
It’s ok to be nervous, it’s ok to feel worthless
Cause then there’s people like us around who remind you you’re worth it.
Ain’t no need to be perfect, you just needed some searchin’
Feed your mind and your body, so that your soul can be nourished
Then we gon’ flourish til we drop out, swerving with the top down
All the praise is going up, watch the blessings fall down.
Feel like I’m just feet away
Don’t get in my way
On my shoulder frito lay
I eat a chip a day yeah yeah
Question 2 Answered.
3. “What activated me to keep listening to his music over and over again?”
Question 3 is one loaded question, and it’s been a journey.
The simple answer is Benji’s album ‘Smile, You’re Alive.’ From start to finish, it’s a complete album. Seriously, if you haven’t read the PGH City Paper article, go do it NOW
But the long answer is three-fold. It’s his album, it’s his singles, and it’s his multiple performances in 2018 with SlimthaDJ, Eddan Sparks Trio, and so many other amazing musicians and performers. All performances I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
FYI – Unless I specifically state that Benji. was playing with a band, you must know that Benji. and SlimThaDJ perform together. They are one hell of a performance both musically and comically. If you haven’t seen it first hand, this video sums it up perfectly:
A Timeline of My Experiences at Benji.’s 2018 Performances:
On June 21st, Third Thursdays @ WYEP in Bedford Square Southside was the first time I saw Benji. perform. It was a long time ago, but now that I’ve seen Benji. perform many times since then it’s easy to see his tremendous growth in just 6 months. He was comfortable on stage, but he had room to grow and amazingly enough probably still does. Nonetheless, it was an amazing show where he played songs off ‘Smile, You’re Alive’ and closed with you guessed it…Mimosa! He also gave a shout out to Mars Jackson and Clara Kent who were in attendance which is how I found out about Clara Kent – an amazing singer and artist worth listening to; Loner Type by Clara Kent ft. Benji. is everything to me. #tooblessedtobestressedwhywouldIevensecondguessmyhappiness
The very next day June 22nd, I went to Club Cafe to see Benji. again thinking this performance would be a more familiar environment for him versus a Third Thursday performance during the day at 6:00pm. So that night, Benji. performed with a band, and it was even better than the night before no doubt. I immediately noticed the potential in Benji. on this night, and even though his performance was fire…the ceiling, the bar, whatever you want to call it was still so high. Benji. was just getting started.
Fast forward to July 14th @ Spirit for The City Music Festival; Benji. had a huge crowd and performed exceptionally. Attending this event also gave me the opportunity to truly realize how talented the city of Pittsburgh really is. I either heard or learned about the following artists from that night, so for that, I am grateful:
Livefromthecity, Tairey, Brittney Chantele, Choo Jackson, Jonny Good, JM the Poet, Bill Waves, Sierra Sellers, NVSV, Linwood, My Favorite Color, PK Delay and more.
I kept listening to Benji. on Spotify, and I kept telling everyone I knew and ran into about the amazing Pittsburgh talent of Benji. both in person and via social media. I wanted to keep practicing what I preached, so I kept going to shows of Benji. whenever I could.
August 11th For the People @ Brillobox – This event was extra special for me because I had seen Uptowne Buddha a couple years back when I lived in Cleveland, and I immediately loved them and knew this event was going to be hype. It was ‘Written In the Stars.’ Other artists who performed at the show were JM the Poet, Brittney Chantele and of course Benji. & SlimThaDj.
Pictured: Kalie Williams and Dean Bogdanovic @ Brillobox For The People Show
Arguably my favorite concert of 2018 happened on September 3rd @ The Attic’s Backyard – The day was hot and sunny, but the vibes were nothing but positive. The drinks were flowing and the opening acts of Ben Barson (Afro Yaqui Music Collective), Mulu, and Sierra Sellers made everyone forget about the hot sun. As the sun started to fall behind the trees in the backyard, Benji. came on to play with band members who had played throughout the day. It was awesome to see Benji. rap and sing one of my favorite songs of his ‘Elevate’ while playing the drums. Just another showcase of why this dude is so talented.
Ace Hotel – Hound’s Year of the Dog Show on September 28th was an awesome venue and show case of art. Many notable performs including DJ Bamboo, PVKVSV, HEARISMATT, G.R. Zombie, Chris Allen, Benji., and Mars Jackson. I remember Benji. performing his hype song ‘Right On’ while climbing up and sitting on the ladder. From June to September, his stage presence, confidence, and overall performance had come so far.
With another performance at the Ace Hotel – The Glow Up happened on November 9th; If you missed this event, you truly missed out. An all POC Art & Music Showcase with art from around 40 artists and performances from Clara Kent, Jordan Montgomery, Jack Swing, Brittney Chantele, Black N Mild, DJ Jaybee, Livefromthecity, Ranch God & Prof Ooak and of course Benji. made this a night to remember. It’s up there for my 2018 show of the year no doubt.
For the latest show I went to, Benji. was the headliner – Benji. and Friends @ Cattivo on December 1st with opening acts Chloe Wiecz Collective and Back Alley Sound. This was the best performance I have seen from Benji. He and Slim played their new singles to start off their performance which lit the crowd up with songs like ‘M.I.A.’ and most notably my friend Kevin shouting and urging them to play ‘Tamale’ so many times that Slim dropped it on Benji. out of nowhere and they still slam dunked the performance. From there the Eddan Sparks trio made a special appearance and Benji. slapped the bass while Brandon Lehman shredded the guitar and Eddan Sparks brought it all together with the drums (Superstition was LIT). To wrap up the show, Benji. then brought on drummer Joey and pianist Jasmine while he played the bass for his ‘Smile, You’re Alive’ songs – Sanctuary, Rain, and Mimosa. This was a show which had undeniable, incredible, energy. The crowd was singing along, and everyone was letting loose, letting the music fill their soul – it was special for real.
I honestly might have missed some shows that I went to, and I definitely wasn’t able to go to all of Benji’s shows in 2018. But fortunately, I was able to see the Eddan Sparks Trio a few times where Benji. serves as the bassist. I also saw Tribe.Eternal play at light up night in Pittsburgh which was amazing as Clara Kent sang her heart out as Benji. played bass for the group that night too. Through all of these live performances it’s clear that Benji. isn’t just a singer, a rapper, a bass player…he’s a MUSICIAN and a PERFORMER.
My Pittsburgh music journey of 2018 has inspired me to start writing for A Beat A Day after taking a 2 year hiatus from doing so. The purpose of ABAD is to show case all of Pittsburgh’s talent with literally A Beat A Day. And don’t worry, I’ll throw in some top hits as well.
It’s been quite a ride getting to know Benji. as a musician, performer, and person in addition to ALL of Pittsburgh’s musicians and performers that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know in 2018. I think the ride is just getting started for this city and it’s musical talent. If you’re reading this, let’s come together and put Pittsburgh back on the music map!