A Bittersweet Night with Jarren Benton
A listening party is the music industry’s equivalent to a graduation bash: everyone shows up to applaud a moment of significant accomplishment – just swap the drunken uncle for a Hennessy-happy entourage.
This listening party, held at the Skee Lodge in Hollywood for Jarren Benton’s latest EP, Slow Motion, played to that same tune. It was nothing short of a celebration, high in energy and chock-full of industry “scenies.” You know the crowd: the one that can easily mistake a CEO for an intern, and a green journalist for an Editor-in-Chief.
I was just about sucked into the industry hoopla when my attention shifted to the entrance. Benton had just arrived and, surprisingly, wasn’t wearing his token raccoon hat.
Headwear aside, I couldn’t help but notice an air about him. In all fairness, I had never met the Atlanta rapper before, and I didn’t exactly have a frame of reference to judge my first impression off of. But, his demeanor was composed, resembling the calm content that follows trying circumstances.
Knowing that I would be sitting with Jarren for a quick Q&A, I tried to remain observant. Then I remembered something I had recently learned: The night would be a bittersweet one for Jarren, for it would be spent missing the late Jahmal “Slow Motion” Pryor, a dear friend to Jarren and also the namesake of his album, the one we are all there to listen to.
This is when my “human” kicked in. I started to lose track of my journalistic intention: “Should I ask about Slow Motion? He must’ve known that people would.”
When it came time to chat, my concerns were eased and my questions were met with a receptive willingness to explain. Actually, a large portion of our interview was spent discussing Slow’s influence on Benton’s music.
It’s weird, because he was such a strong part of the process. It was always me, this guy right here Kato and Slow Mo. He was such an integral part of making the music with us. He never was hands on, but as far as always critiquing shit, he would say ‘I’m telling you man, put some of the crazy shit to the wayside for a minute. You know not too much of the in your face crazy shit.’ And he was all like, ‘Yo, I’m telling you, get to the point and say some shit and you gonna be that n****.’ So this is the start of me trying to be that dude. I’m trying to make something with substance.
To choose a title is also to set a theme, and in this case, the name was interpreted literally with unanticipated and decelerated BPMs. While there are still traces of the “outlandish” and “in-your-face” delivery which we’ve become accustomed to from Jarren’s past mixtapes, such as Huffing Glue With Hasselhoff, Freebasing with Kevin Bacon, and My Grandma’s Basement, the tempo has noticeably coasted, and the lyric content took high priority.
But, of course, it’s no Jarren Benton project without a little ‘skitzo’ behavior.
“I’m still gonna have some crazy shit to say. But, I’m just gettin’ to the point where I don’t want to rely on that. I feel like I got a lot more shit to say,” Jarren said referring to the stark contrast between the more expected, trap-heavy songs off of the 8-track EP, like “Hallelujah” and “W.H.W.,” and the slowed down cuts, like “You Don’t Know Me” and “Diamonds and Fur.”
Even while highlighting Jarren’s versatility–particularly noticeable in “Silence,” which narrates his emotional battle with loss– his outlandish reputation proceeds him.
I understand that with albums like Freebase with Kevin Bacon, 9 times out of 10 you’re going to think I just sit around and f***ing do crack and snort coke all day. So, then you got the fans that fucking want to smoke meth with you, or they wanna smoke crack, or they wanna do coke. And it’s like, no! EVEN IF I SMOKED METH, I don’t want to randomly sit down with someone I don’t know like that.
In the midst of jestingly explaining his fan do’s and don’ts, he assured me that at the end of the day, their approval was a major motivation. Although he often spoke in interviews of making it to the “mainstream,” during our chat, he implied that widespread popularity is taking a backseat at the moment.
I’m just trying to concentrate on hoping that I don’t disappoint the people that f*** with me–like the fans. So I hope that this is an album that the fans can appreciate, and that I can gain more fans. So, I would still love to be considered one of those mainstream dudes and be in that league, but I know that it happens when it happens. And now I’m more so just thinking about the fans and creating some quality shit. But honestly what I used to say to myself is that ‘making it’ is if I’m making music full time. So in a sense I’ve made it. I’m not working a 9-5. I’m doing what I love 24/7.
Around this time in our interview, the sound of the festivities started to flood into the quiet space we had reserved for our discussion: his reminder that a party was underway to recognize his 24/7 workflow and my cue that we’d soon be wrapping up.
So, as the interview came to a close, I had one last question to ask–WHERE WAS THE HAT?!?
I should’ve brought the raccoon hat, man! It’s just hot. I wasn’t the innovator of the raccoon hat. I took it from 80’s b-boys. Like, that was their shit. In the 80’s–believe it or not–it wasn’t just Kangols and gazelles. There was coon hats. But then it just got lost so I was like I’m bringing it back. So Usher and all those n***** you see now with raccoon hats on…it started here. This era of raccoon hat wearers started from f***in’ me.
You can catch Jarren rocking the infamous racoon hat on the cover of his EP Slow Motion out now on iTunes.