The Come Up: Jarren Benton
On June 11, Jarren Benton will release his debut album My Grandma’s Basement through budding indie label Funk Volume. It’s been a long journey for the now 31-year-old Decatur native, who for years struggled to find his niche in a city that didn’t completely take to his frenetic, outside-the-box approach. “There were plenty of times where I felt like I really needed to take a step back and maybe hang this music shit up,” Benton admits. But before these thoughts could get the better of him, Jarren began to turn heads with the release of “Skitzo” in 2011, which has received over 1.3 million YouTube views to date and eventually led to his signing with Funk Volume. Weeks after the signing, he dropped his 2012 breakout mixtape Freebasing With Kevin Bacon. With My Grandma’s Basement less than a week away, we spoke with Jarren, who dished on his background, how he ended up at Funk Volume and what fans can expect from his debut LP.
On his roots:
"I was born and raised in Atlanta. East side of Atlanta, Decatur and Stone Mountain. Music started early, man. I was addicted to music as a child. My mom was kind of young when she had me, so she was kind of a hip mom and would bring home dope ass hip-hop shit. My mom would be bringing home Eric B & Rakim’s Paid in Full and Beastie Boys License to Ill, so I gravitated towards hip-hop at such an early age. Believe it or not, as soon as hip-hop grabbed a hold of me, that’s what I aspired to be. I didn’t want to be a fucking athlete. I just wanted to be a fucking rapper. With that, I started trying to rap pretty young and the shit was kind of whack and then I got a little older and I started going around Atlanta performing at certain showcases. I got a little name for myself, but it was kind of hard in Atlanta, just due to the type of music that comes from there, which is you know, typical down south shit."
On his first major looks:
"You know, my influences came from rappers like Redman and Eminem and fucking Ras Kass. From fucking rock shit like Nine Inch Nails, the Deftones, fucking Manson. So a lot of my shit was always kind of edgy. It was hard before this weird, different kind of shit was popular. It was hard as fuck. So I’d be at spots rocking it, not giving a fuck, and people would always notice the talent was there but the main issue I always had was that my sound never fit in with what was popping in Atlanta. But it grabbed the ear of certain people like [Don] Cannon, who lived in Atlanta even though he’s from Philly. Eric Sermon and a bunch of people I looked up to reached out and we ended up working together. And I guess with the climate changing in the music and different shit becoming popular people began paying attention and I appreciate it."
On his breakout mixtape, Freebasing With Kevin Bacon:
"I’d say that’s the project that did it for me, and actually I think that it helped that it had that down south fucking 808 element to it. But I I tried to throw a different twist on it with the lyrics. Coming from that school of you know, OutKast, I wanted to still put the lyricism over those fucking beats You got that down south shit but it’s fucking beast behind the mix. “Skitzo” was the one from that in particular that got a lot of attention."
On his fan base:
"You know what’s crazy? It started out as a local fan base in Atlanta because I came from the same crowd as a Rittz or a Yela, so a lot of shit we were doing was in our own scene. We created our own little fucking lane and our own spot in the scene, and a lot of people started gravitating towards that. But it’s a mix of local and online. Once I did “Skitzo,” a lot of Hopsin’s fans were fucking with it, and when I started going visual with shit and put shit on the internet, that’s when those fans took heed of me. Before the visuals it was local, but once I put the videos out it became straight up internet, man. I come from that generation of when people made crazy fucking videos. You might not even like the songs, but everyone was making a creative ass video. That’s what I wanted to do with my videos."
On signing with Hopsin’s Funk Volume label:
"I put out the “Skitzo” video in 2011 and a lot of people were fucking with it and a lot of blogs picked it up. Hopsin and I had a lot of mutual fans, and someone posted the video on Hopsin’s page and I guess he actually looked at the shit and started spreading it around to Dame [Rittier] and SwizZz and they were fucking with it. Dame shot me an email, but what’s crazy is that I didn’t even check that fucking email and when I saw it like two or three months later I was like “Oh shit.” So I called him and we talked for a minute and you know, at first I was still trying to get my own shit off the ground. We ended up doing SXSW and that’s when we first met up and I saw Hopsin live. Once I saw him, Dizzy and SwizZz – their show was just so fucking dope At the time, I had a couple of labels reaching out like Def Jam and Interscope. No I.D. flew me out to L.A. but shit didn’t really go down like how I wanted it to. I kept in contact with Dame and he flew me out to Arizona for a show. When I got there, I thought T.I. must’ve been there because the line was so fucking long. I was like “Damn, this is insane.” Hopsin and Dizzy killed it, and the chemistry with everybody was just natural. Everyone was cool as fuck and there was no egos and it was just the same type of dudes I fuck with as friends. After the show, Dame and I still kept in contact and he entertained the idea of coming over to Funk Volume. I was like ‘Fuck man, I’m digging this movement and everything they got that they’re fucking with is in line with the same things I want to fuck with.” So we made it happen."
On My Grandma’s Basement:
"I named it My Grandma’s Basement because that is where a lot of shit started from. And when I say that, I don’t necessarily mean hip-hop shit, but a lot of soul searching and life shit happened during the process of me losing my shit and having to go move back into my Grandma’s basement. I wanted to capture that and the reason that I wanted to is because a lot of other projects I was putting out was just crazy shit. A lot of crazy, in your face shit where nobody really got to know who Jarren is. This project has a mix. You got the music where if you want to turn up, you can turn up. If you want some introspective shit and want to get to know who I am and my struggle I display that too. Also, I display my background, my heart and where I come from and that’s just hardcore ass hip-hop. I got tracks with Vinnie Paz, R.A. the Rugged Man, Big Rube’s on there, the Funk Volume team and a couple of my homeboys as well. I feel it’s one of the dopest projects I’ve done, just because of the diversity in the project."