Benny Benassi: Hip-Hop's Unlikely DJ, Producer, and Remixer

From the outset of Benny Benassi’s professional journey, the spaces and places framing his musical landscape have grown smaller and smaller. In this new millennium, physical distance is no match against the technological forces driving the creativity between two or more collaborative bodies. The discography of Benassi is the perfect illustration - a kaleidoscope of genres crafted by an Italian GRAMMY Award-winning artist.

With the release of Electroman, Benassi substantiated his love of Hip-Hop, which is often overshadowed by his status and influence on the electronic dance music scene. In support of this effort, he squeezed some time out of his busy schedule and settled down for an interview with – reflecting on the global emergence of Hip-Hop, European club culture, and his musical partnership with his cousin, Alle Benassi. In your travels and experiences, as an Italian DJ, you have been able to witness the global emergence and dominance of Hip-Hop music. When you reflect on the past decade, in what interesting ways have you seen the genre expand and develop?

Benny Benassi: When Hip-Hop first came over to Italy, it was something really new. I grew up listening to disco music, but I also listened to the early hits and even played some as a deejay and started connecting with the sound. I didn’t understand a word they were saying, but I sensed it was important for Americans – an expression of rebellion. There was nothing comparable in Italy. Obviously, Hip-Hop has gotten bigger and bigger, and now there are Italian Hip-Hop artists rapping in Italian who are local superstars.

What has changed in the last decade is that barriers are breaking down. When I started out, you were either a trance deejay, a techno deejay or a house deejay. That’s all changed. And in those days, no one imagined that American Hip-Hop could be [mixed] with European club music. But that’s what’s happened, and it’s good. I believe in the message of cultural [combination]. Let’s listen to each other, respect each other, and make music together. At one level, you could see it coming because Hip-Hop and club music have always been experimental. They’re always looking for new sounds and new ideas, so it was inevitable that sooner or later they would find each other. Of your early remixes, “Ghetto Musick” is extremely significant, because of its inclusion on Outkast’s critically-acclaimed double album, which featured Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx and Andre 3000’s The Love Below. Does this remix serve as a particular benchmark in your career?

Benny Benassi: I have a simple answer for a complicated question! I work with my cousin, Alle Benassi, who’s my producer and studio partner. As provincial Italian boys, just having the opportunity to be able to remix Outkast was a dream come true. On the production level, we did what we always do! We applied our sounds – our grooves and bass – to the vocals. To us, it felt very natural; but looking back now, it was an important crossover success! Although you are well known in electronic and dance music circles, a close examination of your catalog reveals a strong connection to Hip-Hop. In fact, your first Grammy Award stemmed from a remix of Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise.” On a personal level, what does the original song, in addition to the 2007 remix, mean to you?

Benny Benassi: Ultra [Records] – our label – asked us to choose a Public Enemy track to remix. Since I was always a fan of P.E., “Bring the Noise” was a natural choice, because that was the track that made the most noise in Italy. I also thought it would connect with listeners outside the hardcore P.E. fanbase. At the time, my love of Public Enemy was very naïve. I just dug the music. It was great! I loved the sound – and it was amazing in clubs. There isn’t a house deejay in the world who hasn’t tried to sample P.E. at least once; isolated vocals used on a house beat. I didn’t fully understand the social and political message, and I didn’t read that much into it. I was just a resident deejay in northern Italy living in a very local reality. But now that I know a little bit more, I know that we share some values, too! And that’s the force of music! You were recently featured on "Beautiful People," which you produced for Chris Brown's latest album, F.A.M.E. What additional beauty have you found in the power of music?

Benny Benassi: The real beauty of music is that it connects with people across cultures and age groups. I just like taking people on a musical journey – one where everyone dances and has a good time. It’s a positive message; it’s simple and not political. I don’t have enough information and background to make political statements, but I stand for everybody when it comes to inclusion. No one should be excluded. “Beautiful People” is a great example of collaboration. Alle and I made a beat. Then we sent it to Jean Baptiste Kouame, who wrote the idea of the topline. Once he finished, the song was shared with Chris Brown, who liked it and killed it! He sent some ideas to us and we totally loved them. So here, you have Italian producers, an American singer, and universal lyrics creating a song that fuses electro-club music with R&B to crossover to pop worldwide. That’s a good thing! With your latest project, Electroman, what distinct evolution can you note?

Benny Benassi: For me and Alle, the idea was really just to experiment with combining our production sounds with a range of different vocal styles. We wanted to make songs, but we also wanted harder club tracks. We were amazed and honored by the responses we got from all the featured artists. Long before Hypnotica, and on the path to becoming a successful deejay, what life event – or series of events – do you credit for making you an “electroman?”

Benny Benassi: It’s a combination of different factors. Life is what happens to you! My earliest inspirations were eighties electro-pop. I started my career as a house deejay. Alle is a classically trained musician and when he started making music with me, he had a weak spot for techno music. We learned our craft in a small town in northern Italy, Reggio Emilia, which had an amazing output of Italian house productions, so there was already a scene present. “Satisfaction” was the watershed. On that track, Alle gets all the credit for the riff. At the time, he invented a unique way to use compressors in the studio, which gave the track that signature pumping sound. When we cut the track, we knew it would do fairly well in the clubs and become a favorite with niche deejays playing early electro-house music. When “Satisfaction” exploded, that is when I became an “electroman!”

For more information on Benny Benassi, visit his official website. Follow Clayton Perry via Twitter at @crperry84.