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How Benny the Butcher Channeled Survivor’s Guilt on ‘The Plugs I Met 2’

Buffalo MC talks about his new album and building longevity

Recording artist Benny the Butcher backstage at S.O.B.'s on July 2, 2019 in New York City.

Johnny Nunez/WireImage

Benny the Butcher has survivor’s remorse. When you make it out of your East Buffalo hood despite facing the same odds that brought others down, it inevitably comes with a twinge of guilt. The eighth track on his new EP The Plugs I Met 2, aptly titled “Survivor’s Remorse,” says as much. He raps: “This supposed to be success / so why the fuck do I feel stressed out and guilty?” Born Jeremie Pennick, Benny has seen his fair share of tragedy. His brother, Machine Gun Blak, was a big-time hustler before he was killed in a 2006 drive-by shooting. Westside Gunn, Benny’s cousin, was also in the streets. For Benny the Butcher, making it out is more complicated than it sounds. 

If 2019’s The Plugs I Met is a brash young hustler entering the game and showing you the weight of his words, and 2020’s Burden of Proof shows Benny at the top of the rap game, then The Plugs I Met 2 is a seasoned veteran who doesn’t enjoy bragging about any of that anymore. For one, there’s more self-reflection. Not just about Benny having survivor’s remorse, but also about how monotonous the game is to him now. The narrative has changed; he is no longer a young buck. Benny and his Griselda associates have carved out a lane for themselves in the rap game, straddling the line between old and new, between seasoned vet and industry newcomer. Still, Benny knows how close to calamity he’s been. In November, he was shot outside a Walmart in Houston. After enduring tough sessions of physical therapy to learn how to walk again, Benny is back on his feet. Assailants tried to end all the hard work that he put in to get here, Rolling Stone spoke to him over the phone about The Plugs I Met 2 and why he isn’t letting what happened in Houston get to him. 

What was your mindset on this record compared to Burden of Proof?
Honestly, on Burden of Proof, I was talking to the world. Letting everybody know that I’m here.  With the kind of music we make, people almost see us as stars or top-tier people in a gang because they felt we was in a box. So I’m just letting people know that I could appeal to a broader audience. The lyrical assault still will be there on Burden of Proof. With this one, I’m talking to the streets, even though everybody else is going to listen to it and everybody else more tapped in and still enjoy it the same way the street do, I’m really talking to the streets with this. I t’s a sequel, so it’s a continuation from shit that I dropped in 2019 when I wasn’t as big as an artist, I was just talking to the streets. I wasn’t even thinking about making anything outside of that. So, I’m back talking to them, letting them know I ain’t going anywhere.

Is having a narrative to your music important?
Yes, it is. I think so. I was watching some dude today and some of them, they really just say anything, not everybody, but people really do get on their songs and say anything. There’s no point. They just yelling out random shit. I think it’s important to have a narrative and to have a point with your music and to be going somewhere with it.

What’s the benefit of collaborating with one producer for the entire album? You’ve sort of always done that.
Less is more and these guys are my personal producers. So they’re taking more responsibility for my project than just making a beat and sending me the beat. They are taking more responsibility. They are doing everything. They helped me pick the order of the songs. They helped me pick the Feng Shui of the whole album. So it’s just more hands-on with them. They got a lot more invested in the project when they work that close to you.

You said, “When they said they needed less trappers and more poets, I kept talking to hustlers that’s more heroic,” what does that line mean to you?
The whole reason why I named this album, The Plugs I Met 2 is because on the Plugs I Met, I was receiving criticism about always talking about the same shit I talk about. And I was just letting people know that this was my lane. And I’m comfortable in my lane and you should be comfortable that I’m in my lane too. So when I said, “They need less trappers and more poets.” People’s like, “You should switch up what you rap about, you rap about the same thing. You should try to make this kind of song or this kind of song.” I felt like they was kind of not realizing that Coke rap is a real rap genre right now. I kept talking to the streets. I felt like that was more honorable than the streets helping me get here. And then as soon as I get here, just running off on them. I felt it was more honorable, more heroic just to be who I was for the streets and continue to do the same thing I’ve been doing.

Does life now feel easier because of what you’ve been through in your past?
Not to make light of my situation, but yeah, I do feel like that. I feel like the hardest parts of my life is over already. The most trying parts of my life is over already. No matter what you seen me going through in the past couple of years, it’s nothing to what I was going through before like 1984 to 2016, even from these labels, me getting shot, that’s almost rich problems. That’s nothing.

What did DJ Shay mean to you as a person?
He was everything. He taught me my work ethic. He helped me make that transition. Before I got to this point. He helped train me when it was no reason to wake up and go to the studio every day. He was waking me up, bringing me to the studio every day. Sometimes I was watching my daughter. I used to have to bring her. And after my work ethic, I still can’t stop working that’s because he built that in me. “What you doing asleep at nine o’clock? You supposed to be up, come to the studio.” Sometimes we’ll wake up and go to the studio, smoke a blunt and sometimes Shay’s old ass will go to sleep. But it was about being in the work environment and not being at home and not being in the streets and not being around the dumb shit. He was always like, “Be in the work environment, be in the work environment.” And that helped me a lot. He just taught me a lot of things. Everything you see me through like business-wise and shit like that. I went through a lot of that through Shay. I just took it to the next level. So rest in peace, DJ Shay, he was like a brother, uncle, father. He was everything. Even outside of music. He was telling me ways I should learn how to treat women or how to talk to women. He was giving me relationship advice. I’m 36 and I met Shay when I was 19. I met him when I was a boy. He helped turn me into a man.

You’ve got Jim Jones and you got French on this song. That’s pretty historic.  Another big Griselda collab — y’all are full of big collabs with legends.
We’re here because of these dudes. And now, these dudes passed us the torch. They literally passed us the torch. When you see us in pictures with these guys, it’s the passing of the torch going on. It’s not just a flick, not just a photo op. When you hear these dudes praise us and give us some inspirational words. You hear how they talk to us; that’s the passing of the torch. So, we’d rather do songs with the legends, from the golden era of hip hop. Even if it’s not like right now, these kids can’t say that my era of hip hop is theirs. Because they wasn’t raised on the early nineties to early 2000’s hip hop. But guess what? The guys who inspired them to rap were raised by that. So that’s the golden age of hip hop and that’s one of the things I feel most proud about is being able to jump on songs with a legend and get that right back to them.

Even though Griselda is a very classic rap crew, y’all are able to still relate to the younger generation. Griselda has helped bridge a generational gap.
Yeah. I think you’re definitely right. And I agree with that. And I tried to pinpoint that, where that comes from. This is what I came up with; the style and bravado and cockiness and shit like that. The personalities and characteristics of all three of us combined. West with the flashiness, the cars and how he talk and shit like that, Conway with the same thing. Me being a little younger, you might see us tap into trap producers or trap artists will even want to do songs with us. We’re like old East coast hip hop.

It’s a revival of sorts.
Exactly, so we like the old East coast hip hop thing, but we don’t dress like them backpack dudes. We don’t act like those backpack dudes. People might try to classify us as backpack dudes. There’s nothing wrong with that, I love backpack rappers. every great lyricist in the game right now was considered a backpack rapper or rapped over those types of beats, from Hov to Em to Drake. That category, there’s nothing wrong with that. But we didn’t necessarily dress like those dudes and our come-up wasn’t like those.

So what’s next for the Black Soprano Family? What’s next for BSF? Because you have Rick Hyde on this album too.
Yes, I do. I got Rick Hyde on this and this is going to be Rick Hyde’s break-out year. He was raised by us, he’s been under our wing for a long time. It’s going to show his flow and it’s going to show on everything. My boy, Young Royal, we just finalized the deal at Empire, he’s about to do an album over there. He’s a young talented dude, who can sing, who can rap, he can dance. He’s about to get his shot. So just more things like that. Just more pushing the envelope, getting the artists seen and heard more. And getting them in the flow of things more. Just running the table.

So your rise kind of happened very slowly. Do you think that your job is to cut that in half for your artists? Or are you also saying to Rick Hyde, “It’s going to be a slow grind, a steady grind?”
Definitely. It’s both. It’s going to be a slow grind, it’s going to be a steady grind. I tell him that. And it’s not going to be like… Rick Hyde, won’t have to go through the shit that I went through. Some things he will have to go through. But when I was brought into the game by West and Conway, they wasn’t as big an artist as I am now. And, it’s a lot of things that I had to do. With Rick Hyde, I’m a bigger artist than West and Conway was at that time. So, he got an advantage on that, and I let him know that. But it’s certain things that you got to work around too. And he’s going to have to still work hard and he can’t just hang his hat on that. So it’s going to be advantages and there’s definitely going to be disadvantages.

All right. I’m going to ask this question very lightly. And very gently. A few months ago, something happened to you. How are you feeling mentally and physically?
I’m feeling great. Just worried about getting my strength back, worried about getting my business back together. I’m back traveling. I’m good. I’m a soldier. I hate when people say stuff like this, because we can never decipher who is and who not. But I’m a real gangster for real. So I’m not sitting over here crying about any of that shit that happened. I’m not about to let those dudes kick me off the streets about no bull shit that happened. Shit happens. Sometimes I’m the person it happened to. It’s about me moving differently and moving better and being more Benny the Butcher and less Jeremie.

From Rolling Stone US