ALBUM REVIEW: Benny The Butcher - Burden of Proof
The Best Butchers Use Every Part of the Buffalo
With Burden of Proof, Buffalo native Benny The Butcher presents the latest album in what has become a particularly busy year for Griselda Records. With projects from Conway the Machine, Boldy James, Armani Caesar and label founder Westside Gunn in the last few months alone, this newest album reflects a growth for both Benny and Griselda.
Expanding from the east-coast revival underground into one of the most exciting movements in hip-hop today, combining classic boom-bap New York rap with luxuriously eerie instrumentals sourced from Daringer, The Alchemist and more - beneath their coke rap bars Griselda Records' rap roster has proved appealing to all of hip-hop's wider sub-genres.
After signing to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation in 2019, Benny is leading the way. His first solo project since the impressive The Plugs I Met tape from 2019 is a BIG switch up in style, entirely produced by none other than Hit-Boy, who will most certainly be in producer of the year conversations after expanding a shining discography that somehow contains all of 'Sicko Mode', 'Racks in the Middle' and that one song about Paris. Hit-Boy doesn't try to emulate the style of beats Benny is used to rapping over, instead giving him beats the producer wants to hear Benny rap over, and it’s safe to say that the Butcher proved comfortable outside of his comfort zone.
With loud, in-your-face horns over a booming drumbeat, Benny shows his hand immediately with the opening line
last year was ‘bout branding, this one about expandin’
Benny delivers a typical verse from himself, with sarcastic advice for other drug dealers and cleverly acerbic bars about his previous life as a drug dealer in NYC. We also get a skit from Pain in da Ass, a shoutout to the recognisable skits of Benny’s hip-hop forefather Jay-Z. The skit does however become grating and even irritating after a first listen, although the classic “Okay, I’m Reloaded!” Carlito’s Way reference remains appreciated.
The following track 'Where Would I Go' is a nice transition, with a slow, luxurious beat underneath Benny providing an insight into his history of chronic asthma afflictions, despite a mediocre Rick Ross feature outstaying its welcome. With 'Sly Green' (named as a nod to the currently incarcerated Buffalo based gangster) Benny provides some of the best deliveries and rhyme schemes on the whole project:
I'm a Christian Dior shirt rocker
two glock wearer
only rapper that would’ve thrived in the 2pac era
However, the track features the worst hook on the project, with Benny sounding off and his delivery coming across as awkward and forced, indicating room for improvement around the quality of the artist's verses.
The crown jewel of Burden of Proof, however, emerges in 'One Way Flight (feat. Freddie Gibbs)'. Unreal. Hit-Boy produces one of the most exquisite instrumentals of the year, with flipped vocal samples layered over a stunning violin loop. Hearing that beat come in for the first time is like stepping off a plane when the heat hits you. The instrumental brings such a perfect emotional vibe and Benny matches it with poetic rapping, really flexing his penmanship:
What’s a stage with no mic and no voice of a poet?
What’s more important, the flower or the soil that grow it?”
The track teases you after the chorus, before Freddie Gibbs points out that he wasn’t going to do a verse, before launching into a 30 second one just as funny as it is tough, proving why he’s one of the most consistent rappers right now.
With 'Famous', Hit-Boy's ethereally distant vocal loops formulate an atmosphere matching Benny’s rapping perfectly. Demonstrating a clarity of awareness, the track makes clear that no matter how successful he is with his art, he will remain judged entirely by his life in the streets. But it is never an aspect of the artist's history that his music will shy away from. Describing his music making process on the track, to the Butcher his composition is explained: “get in the booth, I recall it then record it”, and this truly summarises the essence of his (and his Griselda contemporaries) work. This really is the life they’ve lived, and these really are the things they’ve done. It's not a mission of glorification, it's an expression of tales and realities that make for successful music.
Hit-Boy tweeted recently that only two artists have cried in the studio with him in the last couple of years:
On 'Thank God I Made It', in which the artist mentions how it is too painful to look at his nephew for the pain of his resemblance to Benny's late brother, the honesty and openness of Burden of Proof proves not only a testament to an artist's growth, but also to Hit-Boy’s ability to provide a beat that brings the best out of the musicians he works with. It's clear though, that Griselda Records’ three core rappers (Benny, Westside Gunn and Conway The Machine) work best when they work together. With their rise to success largely indebted to the energetic chemistry of their collaboration a Griselda project wouldn’t be entirely incomplete without a track with all three combining, but intriguingly 'War Paint' sees Hit-Boy handing the trio a beat outside of their comfort zone. More the kind of understated, lo-fi instrumental that we’d expect to hear in a sLUms collective project from MIKE, fractured guitar riffs coalesce with a wailing vocal sample, but with the addition of what are possibly the best sounding drums on the entire album. Westside adds a flair to the track with a supremely catchy hook - something he’s often drafted in to do for these Griselda super-tracks - whilst Conway delivers one of the best verses on the project altogether.
But nothing takes away from Benny and Hit-Boy as the central success story of Burden of Proof. Hardly the rapper/producer combo that listeners might have expected, Benny The Butcher and Hitboy proved nevertheless to be the one we needed on this album. Bringing his Griselda cousins along with him, this rapper continues to carve a spot for himself in hip-hop's contemporary underground. Do I prefer this style for Benny when compared to the sounds of previous project The Plugs I Met? Probably not. Is it a flawless album? Definitely not. But it's a risk. It's a development. I might not be able to call it perfect, but I certainly can call it very good. It will be in both mine and many other’s selections for hip-hop album of the year, and I cannot wait to watch the Griselda winning streak to continue.
- 7.6 -
One Way Flight, Thank God..., New Streets
Joe Davis is a Cardiff University graduate currently doing a panic masters in Public Policy. He procrastinates religiously via music, politics and football. Find him on insta.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford.
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