DeKalb County, Georgia has become an effective incubator of sound. Besides being home to some of the best high school marching bands in the country, the Atlanta area enclave has also produced top Hip Hop talent from Swizz Beatz to Gucci Mane to B.o.B.
Up next to wave the flag for the Eastside of the ATL is leading emcee Jarren Benton. Hailing from Decatur, Benton has been building buzz all across metro Atlanta ever since he began performing at local open mic events in the mid-2000’s.
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“At one show I performed this song called ‘Southern Man’ and the crowd really f*cked with it,” Benton tells AllHipHop.com “I saw the reaction and it was like, ‘I guess I am doing something right.’ Everybody always said I was a dope writer, a dope lyricist. It was different from the sh*t in Atlanta.”
Trap beats have become the most recognized soundscape to erupt from Atlanta over the last decade, but Benton represents a musical style that is wrapped in lively lines, threatening themes, and extreme escapism. The visuals for the track “Skitzo” personify Benton’s idgaf approach to creating art.
“Skitzo” hit the net in 2011, and the online rap community took notice. The drug-infused, blood-soaked clip introduced this crazy horror film character that was previously unknown to reside in Atlanta.
“I always said if I’m going to do a low budget video, we might as well make it look as outlandish as we can. Once we did that video, people just started f*cking with us,” explains Benton.
The 33-year-old rhymer’s turn towards crafting tunes traces back to his earliest days. In fact, Jarren cannot remember a time when he did not want to one day pick up a microphone. His household was filled with classic Hip Hop from the 1980’s, and cable shows dedicated to covering the culture became part of his TV viewing routine.
“My mom put me on to Hip Hop. She would bring home music like Beastie Boys and Run DMC when I was a baby. I was always captivated by the sound,” Benton recalls. “Seeing those images of the rappers on Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City – I felt like I related to it. I don’t know why. It was the only music that pulled me in.”
Those childhood learning experiences in Golden Era rap music would eventually lead to Benton’s own creations. The Beatgods Present… Jarren Benton: The Mixtape and Huffing Glue with Hasselhoff helped establish a connection with fans. Then his 2012 mixtape Freebasing with Kevin Bacon became his breakout project.
In addition, Freebasing was Benton’s first official release on Funk Volume, the indie label founded by Los Angeles artist Hopsin and Damien “Dame” Ritter. Benton took meetings with other labels like Def Jam, but FV secured the signature.
“In between all those times of trying to pursue music and meeting people, all the industry people all had the same type of vibe, the same type of attitude. This bullsh*t ass attitude,” states Benton. “It’s like they all read this one book called How To Be A Fake Ass P. Diddy In The City. It was just a whole bunch of bullsh*t. I started seeing through that sh*t.”
According to Jarren, it was the genuine approach of Funk Volume CEO Dame Ritter that convinced him the West Coast company was the best fit for his brand. Hometown industry insiders told Benton to focus on pushing a single, but his plan was more focused on raising a grassroots fan base. Funk Volume understood the mission.
Dame and Hopsin have constructed a well oiled machine with Funk Volume. The squad features Hop, Benton, Dizzy Wright, SwizZz, DJ Hoppa and Kato. The artists’ combined social media platforms exceed 5 million followers, and the label’s official YouTube channel has over 116 million views.
Even without radio play, the team at FV have managed to sell out arenas across the nation. Their supporters even bested other fandoms by voting Wright (2013) and Benton (2014) onto XXL’s Freshman Class cover as the “People’s Champ.” With Hopsin’s placement in 2012, a Funk Volume representative made the coveted list three consecutive years.
So what separates FV from other Hip Hop imprints? Benton says his faction is all about carving its own lane and pushing artistic boundaries.
“People think they gotta chase someone else’s success. Let’s say Soulja Boy comes out with a song called ‘Do The Soulja Boy’ and it becomes big. All of a sudden you got a bunch of people whose only advice is ‘Let’s do that. Let’s copy the exact same thing he did,’” conveys Benton. “Everybody [on Funk Volume] has a vision. Everybody believes in that vision. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you stay consistent with your vision. It’s gonna happen. It’s gonna build. It’s gonna grow.”
Benton planted his latest seed in January with a 34-minute project. The Slow Motion EP Volume 1 was dedicated to Jahmal “Slow Motion” Pryor. Benton’s close friend and former manager died in 2013.
The standout closing cut on Slow Motion has become a fan favorite. “Silence” served as a cathartic release for Jarren as he used the recording booth as a psychologist’s couch to deal with Pryor’s passing. The honest and heartfelt song has such a deep emotional connection that Benton refuses to perform it on tour or watch the video.
“The way he died was weird. It wasn’t like he was sick. Usually when you know someone is suffering with cancer, you can prep yourself for their passing. This sh*t happened out of the blue,” Benton expresses. “As soon as he died, like three weeks later I went back on the road and stayed on the road a whole year. I don’t think I really gave myself a chance to mourn the homie.”
On the opposite end of Slow Motion is the Kato-produced “You Don’t Know Me.” Benton does not hold back on the EP’s initial track. He breaks out the gate by spitting, “F*ck these lame n*ggas in my city.”
“I dig a lot of Trap sh*t coming out of the city. But I think the major brands in Atlanta – via radio or any popular outlets we have – only concentrate on that one side,” suggests Benton. “You got your major DJs – I ain’t saying no names – that say, ‘I’m so sick of the same old bullsh*t.’ But then these motherf*ckers turn around and play the same bullsh*t over and over. We don’t have somebody that’s putting their neck on the line that’s connected to a lot of these major avenues.”
He adds, “I f*ck with a lot of that sh*t. I’m a Young Thug fan. I have all that sh*t on my iTunes. I love the sound. I f*ck with Future. I have not stopped listening to DS2. I still have those elements in my music. Lyrically, I may not be saying the same sh*t, but it’s still has the same sound. I just want a balance. It would be nice to show both of those sides of Atlanta.”
Benton will continue to do his part in shining a light on A-town’s unheralded diverse sound. If the public is able to hear a second volume of Slow Motion, it will be in the form of a full-length follow-up to 2013’s My Grandma’s Basement studio album. But Benton is not sure he wants to release the already completed sequel.
“I got a Slow Motion part 2 done. I’m the dumbest, weirdest music maker. I sit on music. I’ll get in different moods. I might get where I want to make weird sh*t, then six months later I’ll be like, ‘I don’t like this sh*t,’” says Benton. “I don’t think I want to put it out, because I’m not in that place. I want to do something different.”
Listeners can be on the lookout for Benton to possibly let loose a 5-track EP of songs from his 2014 #BlackOctober series. Meanwhile, the Decatur rhymer is finishing 2015 by embarking on an international tour with his Funk Volume brethren. And by 2020, Benton sees himself as standing beside the rap game’s elite.
Jarren declares, “I plan on being on top in five years, but we don’t control the world. All I can do is keep putting forth that energy.”
Read other installments of AllHipHop’s #ATLRiseUp series here.
Stream Jarren Benton’s Slow Motion EP Volume 1 below and purchase the project on iTunes.