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Like many young kids growing up in Atlanta in the mid-to-late '90s, Benton viewed OutKast as local heroes. But he found that, aside from his undying love for Andre 3000 and Big Boi, he was more into East and West coast artists. The second album Benton ever purchased was Redman's Whut? Thee Album. The combination of the New Jersey MC's in-your-face delivery and ridiculous visuals (Benton cites the video for "Time 4 Sum Aksion" as huge inspiration) had the Southern boy's attention. By the time he got to Stone Mountain High School, Benton and friends were making tracks to rap on by looping eight seconds of their favorite songs with a Gemini sampler.
Before any album titles with outlandish names were conceived, reality set in for Benton when his first child was born in 2004. He spent time "in the streets," he says, getting hired and fired from jobs in the same week, and ultimately found himself depressed, far from the kid who'd walked, talked, and dressed like his favorite rappers since elementary school.
"I think when I had my first child life just kicked me in the fucking face, and I got scared," he says, adding that both his and his wife's families were skeptical about his potential to be anything but a statistic.
He started questioning whether or not being a rapper was worth the stress he was bringing his loved ones. "My worst fear was to chase something and it not happen and you look back like, 'Where did the time go?'" he says.
Then Benton met Pryor, known around town as Slow. Pryor, along with a few others, started managing Benton and introduced him to the industry side of music, eventually landing him deal on DJ Eddie F's (Heavy D. & the Boyz) Untouchable Entertainment imprint, where he would spend the next couple of years stagnant.
"Their whole thing was, 'Let's make a smash [hit] and image,'" he says of management. "They would always put that in my head so much that it kind of took away the fun of it."
All the fun came to an abrupt halt when Benton's team brought him to the Def Jam offices for that failed audition. After that, Benton was on his own.
The first in a series of breaks for Benton came in the form of a production partner. Funk Volume's in-house producer Kato says he can't quite remember the first time he met Benton, but the MC had already been a fan of Kato's production work with rapper Elz Jenkins. Benton and Elz had been friends and collaborators for years so linking with Kato was a natural progression. Eventually, Benton started recording for fun in the north Atlanta townhome of Kato's father.
Benton seemed to have found a musical soulmate in Kato, who is still his go-to producer. "Dude was clearly talented, that's why I started working him in the first place," Kato says.
Soon after, Benton reunited with Pryor, after two years of not saying a word to each other.
The next big break came in the form of Aleon Craft's "Back to the D.E.C.," originally featured on the first installment of Solar Hop Chronicles. Benton was recruited for the extended version and joined by Playboy Tre, Grip Plyaz, and Tom P. The 808 Blake-produced track was Benton's intro to production and artist development house SMKA and co-founder Mike Walbert, who convinced the MC to join forces with 808 Blake for the EP Huffing Glue with Hasselhoff.
Released in 2011, Huffing Glue with Hasselhoff was probably best known for spawning Benton's "Justin Bieber" single. Riding his aggressive flow over a bouncy Southern bassline, the chorus — "I got hos on my dick so they call me Justin Bieber" — though catchy, was easy to write off as another in the wave of Lil B-inspired celebrity-named records.
Around 2012, Benton dropped the follow-up, Freebasing with Kevin Bacon, which proved to be sharper and more coherent than its predecessor. For the folks perhaps put off by the lack of lyrical prowess on "Justin Bieber," Benton's "Skitzo" was like a rap revelation.
"I'm so extraordinary, sleep in the mortuary,
Wake inside the cemetery, dig up every corpse that's buried,
This is so unnecessary, voices inside my head, they're scary
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