Benny The Butcher breaks down the Hit-Boy-produced "Burden Of Proof," the Griselda dynamic, his dream collaborations, and more.
Based entirely on the title of Benny The Butcher's latest album, it might appear that the Griselda lyricist has something to prove. In reality, those who have been tracking Benny's ascension from the streets of Buffalo to a rap game elite understand exactly where he stands. His bars have long made his case abundantly clear. So much so that The Butcher has locked down collaborations with some of the game's most respected emcees -- from Eminem to Royce Da 5'9", Black Thought to Pusha T, Lil Wayne to Ghostface Killah. And that's not factoring in the incredible material he's laid down with Conway and Westside Gunn, the team he's been riding with since day one.
Burden Of Proof, an album produced in its entirety by Hit-Boy, has officially been released. Many have already placed it in the album of the year conversation. For The Butcher, it was all part of the plan. "Sometimes I feel like I don’t get credit, but at this point, this is how I’m taking the credit," he explains. "Burden Of Proof, I’m a legend now." A man who understands the impact of legacy, it's no wonder Benny has prioritized keeping his proverbial knives so sharp. "You only as good as the last person you killed in this shit," he later affirms, living up to his menacing moniker.
We had a chance to speak with Benny The Butcher following the release of Burden Of Proof. Check out the full conversation below.
Photo by Samuel Trotter
HNHH: Hey Benny, pleasure to meet you.
Benny: What’s going on Money Mitch, how you feelin’?
I’m feeling pretty good, can’t complain. I imagine you must be having quite the day yourself, congratulations on dropping the album.
Thank you, thank you, man. I worked hard on it, I just felt like getting it out to the people.
I can really tell. The writing on this album is great. You're probably seen a lot of the reactions -- I’m already hearing a lot of Album of the Year talk. How does that make you feel?
That makes me feel good. It’s right on par for what we wanted to do. Me, Hit-Boy, [DJ] Shay, you know what I’m saying, that’s what we wanted to do. We was cookin’ up in the studio for all those months. We deserve it.
When did you start working on the album?
I started working on this album sometime last year. I was in LA and Hit-Boy hit me up and we just did a track, and the first track we did was “Legend.” I was like, ‘Oh, shit,’ you know what I’m saying? After a song like that being the first song we knew what kind of energy we was gonna have. Then going in and doing more songs, we just kept that.
Yeah, makes sense. I mean, the chemistry was definitely there. So, right after making “Legend,” you guys felt that you had a whole album in you?
Yeah, he was like, ‘Oh, man, we should do some more.’ And then I went home but I kept coming back to do more, doing like one or two songs at a time and shit. And I looked up and we just had a dope project, you know what I mean. We had a situation on our hands.
Most definitely. As of right now, at this moment, is there one specific song that you’ve just been keeping in rotation, that you feel is a standout?
I like “Famous.”
Yeah, me too, me too. That’s actually my favorite track off these early listens. That song is really cool.
That’s my shit.
You know, one thing that struck me right when I first heard the album-- when I was growing up, one of my favorite albums was Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, and it immediately made me think of that project. Sonically, the vibe, the lyrics-- everything you were going for really took me back. There’s a nostalgic feel but it still sounds very much of-this-time. What kind of rap music did you grow up listening to that sparks that same type of nostalgia?
Definitely Reasonable Doubt, In My Lifetime, Illmatic, I Am..., Biggie’s Life After Death, The Lox’s We Are the Streets, Murda Muzik by Mobb Deep, HNIC Prodigy, that N.O.R.E. shit. Whole buncha shit, you know, just that era. Everything just felt different around that time, it felt different.
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Yeah, for sure. When you look back at that era especially, all the rap that was dominating the charts was very lyrical and gritty, you know? These albums all did such big numbers, it’s kind of different from today. But now, with all you guys are doing with the Griselda movement, you guys are bringing those bars back to the mainstream, without sacrificing any of the integrity.
Real shit, real shit. It’s just, man, trying to carry on tradition. The shit that stood the test of time, you know what I’m saying, we’re trying to follow that. Timeless music.
Benny The Butcher: "Famous"
You really paint pictures with your words, especially the way you capture your come-up in the streets. I was wondering-- how long did it take you to get all that world-building and those details? How long does it take you to write a song on average?
It pretty much depends. Depends on what kind of mood I'm in, what’s going on at the studio, if a lot of people are there or if I’m just in there by myself, not being entertained by the homies talking shit, laughing and joking. But, that’s how I design it -- I write like that, you know what I’m saying? My rhymes are all details, because I want people to know the truth. And the only way that I feel like I can let people know that I’m speaking some real shit that I’ve been through is that I give you the most definite details about it. So you know, like, ‘Okay, he was right there when it happened or he wouldn’t know that.’ I do that on purpose.
"My rhymes are all details, because I want people to know the truth. And the only way that I feel like I can let people know that I’m speaking some real shit that I’ve been through is that I give you the most definite details about it. So you know, like, ‘Okay, he was right there when it happened or he wouldn’t know that.’ I do that on purpose."
You’re hitting on all the senses too, you know what I mean? You can hear it, see it, smell it even sometimes. I really appreciate that side of your writing. Plus, the punchlines are crazy, obviously, that goes without saying. But, look, I gotta ask-- what made you decide to call yourself The Butcher? Where did that come from, that moniker?
As a matter of fact, like fifteen years ago, I was saying my shit. What did I say, I said, ‘Benny the Butcher thaw / really I’m cooking raw.’ I was just rhyming with that fifteen years ago. Like ten years after that, I brought it up again. I said, ‘Benny the Butcher,’ on some Westside Gunn shit. And the fans just loved that name and kept calling me that. So I changed my name to Benny The Butcher instead of just Benny. Plus when I put some music out on iTunes, everybody was looking for Benny The Butcher and not just Benny, so I had to switch it up.
It really captures a vibe, especially with “the butcher coming” too. It’s a great warning, for sure. I don’t know if you’ve seen this movie, but in the movie Gangs of New York, you got a character named Bill the Butcher, who’s like, the most badass man ever. It makes me think of that.
I definitely know Bill. I’m familiar with Bill The Butcher. All us butchers, everything relates back to us butchers, you know what I’m saying? We are the forefathers of butchery.
Would you call yourself a competitive emcee when you’re in the booth?
Yeah, I’m definitely competitive, but to be honest with you, I’m not as competitive as other n**gas. I’m not tryna think about what other n**gas is doing. I know a lot of rap n**gas do that, but I just be doing me. Of course I’m competitive, but I’m just relying on me. I’m not relying on trying to battle a n**ga on a song or no crazy shit like that. Like, secretly battle a n**** on his own song, or my song. I don’t do shit like that, I’m just tryna kill the verse regardless.
Yeah, for sure. I think that’s why the Griselda posse tracks are always such standouts. I love all three of you guys’ music, too, but whenever you and Conway go head-to-head it’s always a great track.
Yeah, man. And with that, it’s like I said, I just be doing me, Conway doing him, West be doing him, and that’s how it comes out.
When you were working on Burden If Proof with Hit-Boy, did you feel a sense of pressure when you were making the album?
Nah, I didn’t. To be honest with you, I didn’t. I felt something, though, but it wasn’t pressure. It was…I felt anxious. You know what I’m saying? Anxiety. Because I was ready for this moment right here. I was ready for it, and I trust my team, I trust my writing ability, so I didn’t really feel no pressure. But I’m not gonna lie, coming to the release date, that’s when I felt the pressure. But in the studio-- that’s the fun part, that’s the creative part. After the album is done, then the business part come on. So, that’s when I felt some pressure, like, ‘Okay, it’s a lot of high expectations for this album, I wonder what people gon’ think.’ But I was just in there having fun like I do with everything.
Is it hard to transition from the creative side to the business side at all for you?
Nah, it’s not. Cause you gotta go and sometimes, the lines are blurred-- sometimes I’m just in record mode, sometimes I’m in business mode, but sometimes the lines are blurred. But, it comes with it. Especially if you love it, you know what I’m saying? You’ll know what to do. But I love it, it’s part of the game.
Given the title, what were some things you were hoping to prove once this album came out?
That I’m a top-tier spitter. You know what I’m saying? That I’m a top-tier spitter and I belong here. That I got my city on my back, that I’m true to my city. That I’m gon’ hold it down. I just want everybody to know this. I kind of felt like, a lot of times, people look at me as an underdog, or the third wheel.
I think that if people didn’t already know you’re top tier, then they’re going to know that now. Anyone who’s been listening to the Griselda tapes and all the stuff you’ve been doing, I mean, I feel like people can’t sleep anymore at this point.
You’re right, they can’t sleep. I feel like after this point, they can’t sleep. But maybe after hearing Tana Talk, they’re like, ‘Okay.’ After Plugs, they’re like, ‘Okay.’ But once you do it three times in a row, you know, that talent is basically my characteristic. That’s just what I do and I just wanted to show people that. That they can always expect that from me. You only as good as the last person you killed. My name gets mixed up and tossed around and compared with a lot of other names. Sometimes I feel like I don’t get credit, but at this point this is how I’m taking the credit. Burden Of Proof, I’m a legend now.
That talent is basically my characteristic. That’s just what I do and I just wanted to show people that. That they can always expect that from me. You only as good as the last person you killed. My name gets mixed up and tossed around and compared with a lot of other names. Sometimes I feel like I don’t get credit, but at this point this is how I’m taking the credit. Burden Of Proof, I’m a legend now.
Definitely. Who else are some current rappers you consider to be top tier emcees?
Freddie Gibbs. Russ. Conway too, I feel like sometimes he don’t get the credit. Who else? There’s a lot of us, man, we be knocking on the door. There’s a bunch of us.
I noticed that you’ve worked with some of the best lyricists of all time, like, off the top of my head, you got tracks with Lil Wayne, you got tracks with Royce da 5’9”, Black Thought, Ghostface Killah, Eminem, the list goes on. I think that speaks to your pedigree as an emcee. Is there anyone on your bucket list that you’re still looking to collaborate with?
Of course, of course. Definitely Hov. Me and Nas got a record. I wanna do crazy records with Nas, put some shits out. Rihanna, Rih Rih. People like that.
I think you and Jay-Z would be a really good pairing for sure.
Hell yeah. I think you gotta be on a certain level to get that from Jay I’m still climbing that ladder.
You never know, I wouldn’t be surprised. He’s due to drop something soon, I would imagine.
I’m pretty sure a person like him, who thought of all those lines that we love and know, and muthfafuckin’ sold all those solo records, I’m pretty sure that this n**ga stopped [laughs]. Stopped making albums. But it’s still the same brain. He’s probably got a whole bunch of lines.
He’s probably got one of my greatest lyrics of all time: “Do you fools just listen to music, or do you just skim through it?” I feel like it’s the most relevant lyric, maybe, that I’ve ever heard. It captures so many problems with the way people listen to music, it that lyric always stuck with me.
Right. I feel you, ‘cause I feel like, people, they don’t take it for what it is, you know what I’m saying? It’s one thing to vibe to music, but certain music gives you a feeling, certain music comes from certain places. There’s a lot of good music out there that doesn’t get the attention it deserves because people are just stuck on this bullshit and they think numbers equals talent and shit. Shit’s crazy.
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I just saw KXNG Crooked was talking about how albums are consumed so fast these days, they’re almost forgotten in a week’s time. It’s crazy. So when you have an album like Burden Of Proof with so much lyricism to unpack, I feel like that’s gonna have a lot of longevity. Do you feel like longevity is something that’s important for an artist to strive for today?
I think so. I think so. If you enjoy doing it, ‘cause some people don’t enjoy doing this-- they have the talent to do it, but they don’t enjoy doing it. But if you enjoy doing it, and you see yourself around the business for years, you better build your machine to roam for the distance. That’s important. For me, I wanna be around this business for a certain amount of years. We making the moves today that can keep us here ten years from now.
Now that you’ve seen such success in the rap game, how does it make you feel to look back on coming up in the streets, in such a high-pressure and dangerous environment?
Man, I just feel like I escaped the belly of the beast, you know what I’m saying? I feel like I’m blessed, lucky, and smart. I had to be all three to get where I’m at. But I feel guilty. Just cause I made it here doesn’t mean all my friends made it here. You know, there’s n**gas in the streets doing what they’re doing every day. So it’s like, I also feel guilty, even though I shouldn’t.
So when you, Conway, and West were deciding to seriously pursue a rap career, can you paint a picture of that early dynamic and how it’s since changed?
Man, yeah, of course it changed, but I swear to you the dynamic has always been the same. West has always been more of a curator. Conway always been the general, spittin’ bars. And I always was like, somebody who was spittin’ like a muthafucka too, but nobody ever expected me to rap how I rap. It was always this way. I followed their lead, to record at the neighborhood studio, put little tapes out, the hood loved that shit. Conway used to battle everywhere, I used to battle at school, the lunch table and shit. We was always known for the music, we were just constantly putting tapes out. You know, sharpening our skills until it got to this point.
Amazing. So, what’s the next step?
I’m going to Disney World. [Laughs]
Well-earned, enjoy it.
I’m going to Disney World.
Manager: You know, if we had more time, you should’ve asked Benny if the Bills were gonna win the Superbowl -- and then you would’ve had another 15-minute conversation. [Laughs]
Oh, man. I’m more of a hockey fan myself, and I do appreciate some of the hockey references I have heard throughout some of your bars, Benny.
Yeah, you know, Patrick Kane is from Buffalo. You know, I had to throw Pat Kane in there, he’s a legend.
Oh yeah, I catch all the hockey references, man. That was awesome. Well look, congratulations on the album, I’ll let you go and enjoy your day.
Man, thank you, appreciate you.