Jarren Benton Talks Funk Volume, Being a ‘Freshman’ and More [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
If you’re a rap fan, you care about XXL’s Freshmen cover — whether or not you care to admit that is another story. Chances are you took a peek at this year’s cover to congratulate, to hate or simply to see if your favorite up-and-comer made the cut. And while some faces were familiar because they’ve been talked about all over the ‘Net and covered by just about every publication (see: Chance the Rapper), others weren’t so recognizable.
Jarren Benton is one name that would rank high on a list of least widely-known 2014 Freshmen but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be on your radar. The Funk Volume rapper from Decatur, Ga., is one of the most polished and seasoned artists of this year’s Freshmen crop. So how did he react to news of his inclusion in the equally prestigious and controversial issue? “I was cool on it when they told me,” he says. “I thought it was dope. Plus, the fact that, you know, [Fellow Funk Volume artists] Hopsin was on there and Dizzy [Wright] was on there, it felt good.”
The newfound success and recognition are well deserved by Benton, whose life could’ve taken a different course. After experiencing a tumultuous youth, which included him getting expelled from the entire Decatur public school district “just for f—in’ around in school, doing dumb s—, fighting a lot [and] f—in’ around in the wrong crowd,” the troubled teen decided to pursue a career in rap. Breaking through with his ‘Freebasing With Kevin Bacon’ mixtape, Benton turned a strong homegrown following into commercial success when his debut album, ‘My Grandma’s Basement,’ cracked the Billboard 200 — not bad for an indie artist.
With a style that, in his own words is “hardcore — with some sort of sensitivity to it,” and armed with a rapid-fire flow, Benton has all of the tools to go from freshman to the top of his class.
Since 2014 is shaping up to be the year that Jarren Benton becomes a household name, we decided now would be the perfect time to get your “Jarren Benton 101.” Get familiar.
Jarren the Rapper
"I've always been into music, man, since I was a kid. I just felt the s--- hit me at a young age. Like watching Rap City, watching 'Yo! MTV Raps,' hearing all the s---. I was just infatuated by it. So, that's really what it was, man, like, right then I just knew, like that's what I wanna do. When I grow up, I'm gonna be a rapper. So, I guess it was just the events of being around the culture."
"Eminem, Redman, Sean Price ... everybody from that Golden Age era, man, they probably had the most influence on me. Snoop Dogg, Dre, Ice Cube. It wasn't just one [artist], it was a combination [of them]. I'm one of those dudes that's just into music, I'm just into a s--- load of music. It's never been just one particular artist or genre of music that just did it for me."
"Probably just trying to make it as an artist, man. That's probably it, making it as an artist. Just doing this, because music is a career that's not promising. You never know if you're gonna make it, you never know who's gonna support you and you're just putting your all out there. So, I think that's just been the biggest obstacle in general. Just approaching this and trying to accomplish it and make something of it. It takes a while, it's one of those things where it ain't gonna happen overnight. There's no formula to it, some people think it is a formula, and it's never a formula to it. You never know when it's your time, you never know how it's gonna happen. So, that's probably been the biggest obstacle, just trying to pursue this s---."
Being a 2014 Freshman
"My manager Dane hit me up, man. I didn't even know I got picked. I knew they were doing a voting process and I saw I was winning in the voting process -- I was definitely ahead of everybody. But, I didn't know XXL or none of the people like that, so I didn't know if it was some political s---. I was optimistic, but I was a tad bit pessimistic because I know how political s--- can be. So, I kind of had a smidgen of doubt that they would pick me, and then Dane hit me up and he said, 'F--- it, they said they wanna f--- with you, they picked you for the cover.' And that was it."
"Wildest tour story ... I saw somebody get decapitated. Like, no bulls---. We were driving on the [tour] bus and it was some dude standing outside, and I guess the motherf---er had a machete. And they were arguing and the motherf---er just, like, hit him in the f---in' neck with the f---in' machete. I didn't see his head completely fall off, but the s--- was gruesome. It was hella f---in' gruesome. But it was probably the wildest s---, some dude getting his neck cut by a f---in' machete.
It was in North Dakota. Some random s---. We got the hell out of there!"
"[The best part of being on Funk Volume is] the freedom. There's nobody micro-managing you as an artist. What I mean by that is they believe in you as an artist and they believe you know what the f--- you're doing as an artist, and they give us that freedom to continue to do what we're doing. So, that's the best thing."
"Soon as I get off the road, I'm working on a new album -- a second new album this year. Doing some more shows and then we're doing a Gathering of the Juggalos this year and a couple of other shows. The main thing is this album, man. I plan on making another dope, crazy project.
I don't have any titles in mind [for the album]. But, I'm teasing with some titles, I don't wanna put them out there though in case I don't use them. I think it's gonna come out later this year. Probably early fall."