Ever since the conclusion of the “Don’t Fu[n]k Up Our Beats” contest came to its conclusion, independent label Funk Volume have been building up the anticipation of the release of Jarren Benton‘s debut album “My Grandmas Basement“. With Benton being a different artist entirely to what FV fans are used to hearing from Dizzy Wright, Swizzz and Hopsin, this album will most likely be the decisive component as to whether Funk Volume fans welcome Jarren to their favourite label with open arms or razor blades and steaks knives…
The opening ‘track’ of the album is a skit entitled “Yaya“. The skit lasting a miniscule six seconds, sees Jarren’s Grandmother introducing the album and hoping “you like it”. Although it didn’t entirely hook me to listen to the album any more intently than I already was, it added a nice personal touch to an album and exposed a side of Jarren Benton I’m sure a lot of fans forgot existed. Letting his Grandmother open his album up goes to show Jarren’s love for her and probably his inspiration to make music.
The first actual track of the album, “Razor Blades & Steak Knives” is a track which Jarren released as a single leading up to the albums release. The track sounds far better when not accompanied by the awful music video which, to me, appeared like a rip off of early Hopsin videos. Kato’s instrumental is well produced much be all the rice he eats and the kung fu he practices. “Ever since I signed with Hopsin, suddenly everybody hates Jarren” shows Jarren is well aware of the pressure on his shoulders for this album to win-over Funk Volume fans and is one of the few lines without a horrorcore vibe to it. A style very much affiliated with the FV label. The repetitive “suck a dick” reference is unfortunately overshadowed by Royce Da 5’9’s use of repeating the term in “A Kiss” but apart from that all lyrics hit fast and hard.
Following on “Life In The Jungle” also produced by Kato, features one of the most overused Hip Hop clichés in recent history. From Professor Green’s “Jungle” to Jay-Z’s “Empire State Of Mine” and Plan B’s “Ill Manors” to The Thrones “Welcome To The Jungle” it seems like the jungle metaphor is one which looks set to over take illuminati for most over-used phrase in Hip Hop. Jarren Benton continues this trend in a song which opens with a instrumental not too dissimilar to that which is used in Beyonce’s “Bananas” track. The rhyme scheme and flow used in this track stands head and shoulders above the tracks previously mentioned but the speed Jarren spits takes away the impact of his lyricism could have with a better delivery. The track is less accessible to mainstream audience, despite a catchy chorus and beat.
four tracks in, and I am already sick of hearing “Kato production” tagged on the beat. Anyone listening to this album will already know Kato produced the majority of the tracks, there is absolutely no need for the tag on every single track he produces. “Don’t Act” opens with the line “don’t act like you ya’ll ain’t never heard of me” but in reality the majority of the worlds population, and even some Hip Hop heads wouldn’t be able to name a Jarren Benton song. Although I believe at least the second group are about to find out. This track however will not be the one to wake up people sleeping on Jarren. It isn’t awful, but isn’t great either. That is kind of the problem, it is purely average. No talking point to it. Just another track by an independent artist.
I find it a little odd that on a 19 track LP, the interlude is on the fifth track. “Big Rube Instrumental” isn’t on the same level as Trev Rich’s “Dreams Interlude” from Joe Budden’s “A Loose Quarter” mixtape but it probably my highlight of the album so far. No annoyingly predominant beat with Jarren’s same-same flowing multi-syllabic rhyme scheme spitting non-distinguishable lyrics. Instead a smooth voice over a relaxing instrumental. It is sad that after five songs, the interlude is the one which sounds a little different. Where as “Razor Blades & Steak Knives”, “Life In The Jungle” and “Don’t Act” are overly similar sonically from Jarren’s style to the production.
“Dreams” features the same production as Kato takes a step back to allow Spittzwell some time behind the production boards. Once an artist names their song “Dreams” I am 100% more likely to love it from The Game to Trev Rich and now Jarren Benton. The slower-tempo flow coupled with a lack of horrorcore lyrics allows listeners to actually process what Jarren Benton is saying and what he stands for. Rather than aggressively shout down the mic, Benton smoothly raps about his struggle to gain the success he has achieved so far and how he used to “wish upon ghetto stars”. “Hope you know I love you, even though I don’t express it much” might not be the most lyrical line from “My Grandmas Basement” but it is a stand out purely because it shows a different side to Jarren. A side which seems less forced to me in comparison to aggressively commanding someone to “suck a dick” repeatedly.
Track seven sees “My Grandma’s Basement”‘s first feature Planet VI, a duo who have ghost-written hits such as Beyonce’s “I Been On”, the hook on “Forever” by Drake, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Eminem and a number of Rihanna songs. Benton returns to his typical style, spitting shocking lyrics mentioning music legend Michael Jackson over the Reckless Dex instrumental. The Planet VI hook for “The Way It Goes” doesn’t quite fit with Benton’s style in my opinion, but the verse has lead me to become a fan of the Hip Hop alternative duo. Although I think the chemistry between Jarren Benton and Planet VI (formerly known as Rock City) is a little off, separately each part of the song is superb.
The eights track of the album, “Cadillacs & Chevys” was released as a single prior to the album. The song was the lesser of three pre-album singles in term of creating buzz. The “Roc & Mayne” produced instrumental lays the foundation for Jarren to spit about how great he is in self-hype fashion not typically associated with the Funk Volume label. As Jarren compares himself to Eminem twice, “Renegade like Em and Jay” / “They say I’m like Eminem”, I think its time for someone to tell Jarren he isn’t on Shady’s level. While they have similar themes, Eminem is a GOAT of rap, Jarren is only just releasing his first album on an independent label. It’s way too early to start drawing comparisons like that. Even Hopsin only just manages to get away with it.
“Heart Attack” is one of my favourite songs on the album, but after “Cadillacs & Chevys”, I can’t helping drawing comparisons to every single Eminem song about his relationship with Kim. Yet “Heart Attack” is a better song than “Kim” but more aggressive than “Crazy In Love”. The main thing that “Heart Attack” lacks in contrast with Em’s back catalogue of murdering his ex wife is the personal touch. If I had a name to put to the track, or had any vague idea as to who the song was about then Jarren might have had a classic on his hands, and a justification to compare him to Marshall Mathers. The actual song is genuinely great, so long as you can forget about the previous songs references. This should have been a single. Cut off the ending minute of Poodie The Byz monotonously screaming “yeah” though.
Listening to “My Adidas” produced by Kato had me feeling like “My Grandmas Basement” had finally kicked into the part of the album worth reviewing. A great beat, scratched superbly by DJ Hoppa, and even an amazingly consistent contribution from Jarren. Sonically everything fits in well and lyrically Jarren blends aggression with pathos perfectly. Jarrens shoe-orientated metaphors is up their with Macklemore’s “Wings” with a little-less meaningful message behind them, although there is no intelligence deficit. A highlight of the album. A second highlight in two tracks. Is “My Grandma’s Basement” starting to shape up into an album worth the hype Funk Volume gave it?
Yes. The R.A the Rugged Man and Mic Buddah featured, Spittzwell produced “Smells Like” maintains the great form of terrific tracks. “Smells Like” is a song which will please traditional Hip Hop fans from the features to the shocking lyrics to arguably the best beat of the album. I’ll let you decide the old Hip Hop debate of “Who killed it” between Jarren and R.A but I’m sticking my neck on the line and saying “I don’t recall eating a rapist” is the most surprising ending line of a bar of the last decade and will undoubtedly be quoted repeatedly by Funk Volume fans for years to come.
I worried for my growing to the album once I noticed a skit followed on. “Even More No Homo” however is genuinely the funniest skit I have ever heard, and the only skit I have ever laughed. I absolutely detest skits, but between “Yaya” and “Even More No Homo” Jarren has mastered the creation of skits. The mention of “two dicks touching” over Georgie Michael’s “Careless Whisper” is a comical touch of genius.
Track thirteen, the third track released as a single off of the album is “Bully” featuring Vinnie Paz. Probably my favourite track which was released as a single primarily due to the chemistry of Vinnie and Jarren over a complimenting Kato produced instrumental. The two rappers push each other to their limits of shock-rap, quotable, horrorcore lyrics. Apparently Benton can “sell shit to a toilet” which along with “Hop says he’s releasing his album right after Detox” is my favourite line of “Bully”. Vinny Paz definitely makes his best effort to steal the limelight on this track but Benton showcases just how good he can be on this track. I just wish he had have evidenced it from the start of the album.
“I Deserve It” produced by Kato consists of a more trap-like instrumental which I didn’t expect from Jarren prior to hearing the album. It is good to see Benton pushing his boundaries and expectations of underground, independent artists hating trap beats. However, because of the current stereotype of rappers like 2Chainz being ‘trap rappers’ it almost puts Jarren amongst that category to hear him make a song like this. I respect the concept of trying something new and unexpected, but I hope there is no more of this to come from Benton.
When I heard there was a Jarren Benton / Hopsin / Swizzz collaboration song on the album I anticipated greatly. “Go Off” however was a disappointment. As a massive fan of all three artists and particularly Swizzz, I was underwhelmed by the track. The chorus’ interrogration of “why should I give a fuck about what you believe?” was a question which built a hype none of the Funk Volume artists lived up to. I like the style switch from fast aggressive rap to more emo-rap exposing each artist’s but it felt forced and unnatural. Lyrically and technically each artist was as good as ever, but it didn’t sound right. The Funk Volume 2013 song sounded so much better, as did an array of freestyles I have heard from the collaborating trio.
“We On (My Own Dick)” features the final member of Funk Volume, Dizzy Wright and Pounds over another tagged “Kato production”. This track retains a ‘trap’ vibe but sounds much better than “I Deserve It”. I haven’t heard of Pounds before, but he impressed me most on this track while I think Dizzy didn’t live up to his potential which placed him on the XXL Freshmen of 2013. All of the verses are above average in comparison to Drake’s “No New Friends” collaboration with Rick Ross and Lil Wayne but the buzz around Dizzy means he has to deliver better than what he did. I just hope Jarren doesn’t consider this bloggers criticism’s the same way as he says he does A&R’s in his verse of this song.
Track seventeen “PBR & Reefer” produced by SKMA maintains the ‘trap’ vibe I hope to never hear from Jarren Benton again. As much as the horrorcore shock-rap Benton over-used become monotonous when over-played, it is by far, much better, in juxtaposion, than conforming to the ‘trap’ trend. It is bad enough every major label artist is giving their contribution to Hip Hop’s latest fad, without independent, credible artists getting caught up in the craze too.
Penultimate track “OJ” features Elz Jenkins over another Kato produced beat. The hook of “killing everything / locked up, like OJ” although not great, is passable purely for the verses delivered by Jarren and Jenkins respectively. In my opinion Jenkins outshines Jarren on the track but both bring their A games. Benton touches upon a “meeting with Def Jam and Interscope” which I hope he discusses further on a future project like Macklemore’s “Jimmy Iovine”. While Jenkins drops names from Mariah Carey to Rick Ross which rival any Benton lyric from the entire label on the shock-rap-o-meter. Very much one of the most enjoyable tracks of the album and arguably a stand out collaborative track.
Album closer and album title track, “My Grandmas Basement” offers a great summary of the album as it mixes a Funk Volume-typical beat produced by Oh with vulnerable lyrics from Jarren. The track sees Benton admit its a “nightmare” living in his “Grandmas Basement” and “some days he felt suicidal”. Arguably the best mixture of the best parts of the album has accumulated to the stand out of the album. There’s even the line about how he’s going to go to a bank and “spray it up” to please the horrorcore, shock-rap fans.
Overall, Jarren Benton‘s debut Funk Volume album is exactly what I didn’t expect. I like that. Jarren manages to mix and array of styles from ‘trap’ to ’emo-rap’ to his typical horrorcore shock-rap. Sometimes it may appear as though there is too much going on thematically in the album as in one song Jarren is killing an ex-lover and in the next he’s hyping his favourite brand of trainers. As far as features go, the out come of those were unexpected too. The Funk Volume collaborations didn’t work for me whereas I will definitely be checking out more of Planet VI, Elz Jenkins and Pounds. In truth, “My Grandma’s Basement” sounds more like a mixtape due to its inconsistency of themes and styles and over-consistency of Kato’s production. As a fan of Jarren this hasn’t put me off by any means, but it doesn’t have me calling for his induction to the 2014 XXL Freshmen list or the album as a contender for a Grammy Award either. I do agree with this tweet though:
Stand Out Song(s) – My Grandma’s Basement / Smells Like / OJ
Album Rating – 4/5
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