Jarren Benton Calls Winning 2014’s Fan-Voted Freshman 10th Spot a Blessing
Last year's XXL Freshman Class was unique for a few reasons; for one, with 12 Freshmen on the cover, we had more artists than ever before; and it was the first time we'd included R&B singers as part of the Freshman class. But one thing hadn't changed from the 2013 edition; an artist from indie label Funk Volume's roster won the fan-voted 10th spot competition, earning a spot to call their own as part of the leaders of the new school. In 2013 it was Las Vegas rapper Dizzy Wright who won the honor; last year it was labelmate Jarren Benton, Atlanta's explosive, rapid-tongued MC blazing an individual trail separate from his city's recognized trap-inspired movement.
This year, Kidd Kidd becomes the fourth winner of the fan-voted 10th spot since we first introduced the competition in 2012, when Iggy Azalea rode a wave of fan support straight onto the cover. Earlier today, XXL presented Kidd Kidd's 2015 XXL Freshman freestyle and profile, which you can check out right here, and yesterday we hopped on the phone with Jarren Benton to talk about his experience being last year's 10th spot winner, the importance of his fans' unwavering support and the heat he's cookin' up in the kitchen right now. —Dan Rys
XXL: You won last year's fan-voted 10th spot. What did that mean to you at the time?
Jarren Benton: Man, the 10th spot, I would say, is one of the illest ways to get it. The 10th spot, that's the fans, it ain't the politics it's the fans. So the 10th spot, that shows you that your fuckin' fans really fuck with you heavy if they go hard like that. And not even just fans, maybe it's the people who aren't accustomed to you who went out and voted. So I'd say the 10th spot is the greatest accomplishment as well, 'cause you can gauge where you at and know that the people ride hard for you, so you gotta go hard for them.
How does it feel to have the fans' support like that?
That shit is crazy, man. You know, when I was up for the 10th spot, at first—I'm pretty sure like every artist—you never know if you're gonna get it, and I don't think anyone would want to seem confident. But then I started seeing the numbers I was like, "Oh, shit, they really wanna go hard." It made me feel good, man. I would say the whole Funk Volume, our camp got something special with our fans. If they fuck with you, bro, they gonna go hard. It's a blessing man, to be honest with you. 'Cause I remember, shit, like having 80 people liking your shit to having thousands of people digging your shit. It's a blessing, man. That's how I look at it, really.
Did you feel that love on tour? I know you spent a lot of the year touring.
Oh hell yeah, man. You know, there's still some spots where I still feel I gotta get the fans to get me. But yeah, I felt that love even before going out on my own tour, going out on Funk Volume 2012 and all the other tours I did before that, man. That's when I was really like, "Damn, these muthafuckas really rock with me, this ain't no made up shit, they really fuckin' with me."
Have you kept in touch with anyone from the shoot?
Yeah, the only person I keep in contact with, bro, is Jon Connor. I tried to reach out to Kevin Gates but I think his shit got too, you know, Kevin Gates' shit poppin' real heavy now. But yeah, Jon Connor is the only one I really keep in contact with. I've seen everybody else here and there, at festivals or we might do a couple shows together, I might see them then, but just Jon Connor, bro.
What were some of the highlights for you from the past year since being on the cover?
Ah man, I gotta say the cover, I was on the road with Tech and Freddie Gibbs, that was ill, man. I dropped my own project, the Slow Motion Vol. 1 project, and that was well-received by the people. And I'm working on some new shit and going on my own tour was dope as well. The BET cypher. It opened up a lot of dope doors and there's a lot of highlights; the BET cypher, the Power 106 shit we did this year, the tour, my own shit. It's been a great year to be honest with you, man.
What are you working on now?
Oh man, I'm working on some dope shit right now. I always said this and this is the first time I'm doin' it; Slow Motion was gonna be like heavy samples, but this shit is really gonna throw niggas for a loop right here, I don't think nobody else could go in on shit like this. I don't even wanna call it no... Ah, man, this is just really some hip-hop shit. There's not one single trap beat on here. If you a rapper's rapper and you fuckin' love rap and just some dope shit, this is the project for you right here. I ain't even got a name for it yet, but I'm working with some producers by the name of Dirty Art Club, so it's like a little side project we doin' together. So far this shit is comin' out... I ain't even just sayin' this shit, this shit comin' out dope, this the shit I always wanted to do my nigga. I'm real happy with this shit, I'm killin' this shit bar for bar. This gonna let niggas know you can't fuck with me. Jay can't even fuck with me when he hear this shit. I'm feelin' really confident, bar for bar on this shit, I'm gonna fuck niggas up.
You said this is something you always wanted to do; why is now that time?
What happened, man, I look at it like this. I think with my music I've always tried to incorporate a sort of mainstream sound with it and I always cared about coming up with witty rhymes; I always cared about the lyrics. And I also cared about the sound, and I would still think, "Well, maybe if we add this shit mainstream will fuck with it, radio will fuck with it." And it's like, I've been doing it and it's still, like, it ain't like I got no Top 10 hits spinnin' on the radio. I'm in Atlanta and I ain't on Atlanta radio, I don't fit in with Atlanta niggas. So I'm like, okay, fuck it then, nigga, just do what the fuck you want to do, fuck that shit. So I'm just doin' what I love, man. I love the South shit too, man, but I also love that hardcore, that dope hip-hop shit, that boom bap shit, that Nas It Was Written and Mobb Deep, that type of shit. J. Dilla. So this shit, I'm predicting I'm gonna get a lot of respect after this shit.