Owen McCarthy ‘22, Editor-In-Chief
For those unfamiliar, Benny the Butcher is the self-proclaimed “star” of the Buffalo based hip-hop group Griselda who, over the last five years, have seen their notoriety and fandom grow exponentially, whilst garnering the respect of nearly every hip-hop giant imaginable. Since Benny’s breakout solo album Tana Talk 3 released in 2018, he has been hard to miss in the rap scene due to his larger than life track presence, immaculate beat selection abilities, and unapologetic lyrical depictions of street life.
However, Benny, despite his collection of notable albums, EPs, and features since Tana Talk 3, has struggled to consistently match the raw energy and sheer hunger which can be heard all throughout his breakthrough effort. Luckily for fans, however, his latest full-length release, Tana Talk 4—a sequel to his 2018 album—provides all of the makings of a second classic for the 37-year-old rapper.
Clocking in at just over 40 minutes, Tana Talk 4 is concise and compact, not wasting a single moment. This focused feel is due in large part to Benny’s critical understanding that an album’s merit is largely predicated on its sonic and stylistic consistency. To achieve this consistency, Benny employs legendary producer and frequent Griselda collaborator, The Alchemist, whose trademark style of unconventional sampling and laid back drums can be heard on the large majority of tracks on the album.
The mid-album standout “Tyson vs. Ali,” produced by The Alchemist, features a hypnotizing piano loop, and a slow, yet driving drum pattern over which Benny, along with his cousin and fellow Griselda member, Conway the Machine, addresses fans’ and critics’ constant debate over who, of the two, is the better rapper. Likening themselves to boxing greats, Mike Tyson and Muhhamad Ali, Benny and Conway put forth the apparently controversial opinion that two talented figures who occupy the same field should be allowed to coexist without being pitted against each other: “Tyson vs. Ali/They compare the legends to the legends, the icons to the greats/The crowd go crazy soon as they see my face.”
Another Alchemist-produced standout is “Weekends In The Perry’s” whose pitched up vocal sample sounds as if it would have fit in seamlessly in the tracklist of Kanye West’s The College Dropout. Although Benny’s verse on the front end of the track is a solid entry, he is later one-upped by Detroit rapper and Griselda Records signee, Boldy James, whose humble introspection provides for some of the most emotionally vulnerable moments on the album—“Had to quit blazin’ cigarettes/Was two-timin my dame, I’m a bigamist/But the gang half of the blame, I live with regret/My brain a bit of a wreck”
When other producers do pop up in the tracklist, they provide a refreshing sonic flavor that contrasts with The Alchemist’s stylings, while still managing to craft instrumentals which fall right in the center of Benny’s comfort zone. One example of this is the hard-hitting “10 More Commandments,” produced by Beat Butcha, which serves as a thematic sequel to Biggie Smalls’ iconic 1997 track “10 Crack Commandments.” Another is “Back 2x,” produced by resident Griselda contributor, Daringer, who provides a menacing boom-bap backdrop for Benny and featured artist Stove God Cooks to trade verses chock-filled with braggadocio.
Benny also provides a treat for his die-hard fans with the late album cut “Guerrero” featuring Griselda founder Westside Gunn, in which Benny’s one and only verse incorporates 21 total references to songs spanning his discography. Benny’s lyrical prowess is on full display here as he manages to craft a verse with flawless rhyme schemes and a logical structure, whilst simultaneously interweaving easter eggs for those who have faithfully followed his career.
Still, the album has a few flaws which may cause it to pale slightly in comparison to 2018’s Tana Talk 3. For one, a few of the hooks feel slightly cobbled together. For example, the hooks on “Super Plug” and “Billy Joe,” although functional within the context of the songs, lack the unforgettable quality and memorability of hooks on Tana Talk 3 such as “Rubber Bands and Weight” and “Scarface vs. Sosa Pt. 2,” which have been known to draw fervent chants from fans at live performances.
Furthermore, Tana Talk 4’s opening and closing tracks, while still definitely unworthy of being skipped, are arguably two of the weaker songs in the tracklist. The opener, “Johnny P’s Caddy,” features an infectious instrumental and a jaw-dropping, word-play filled verse from North Carolina rapper J. Cole (“Like Einstein on the brink of the theory of relativity, really no emcee equal,”) but, due to the track being released weeks prior to the release of the album as a single, the track lacks the impact that fans have come to expect from an album opener.
Additionally, the closing track, “Mr. Chow Hall,” lacks structure and contains an instrumental that is frankly too one-dimensional to compensate for its repetitiveness. In addition to the relatively bland instrumental, the track ends on an awkward note with Benny’s voice being abruptly censored. Fans have theorized that Benny may have been dissing Shady Records founders Paul Rosenberg and Eminem (whom the Griselda members have accused of offering inadequate support and promotion while they were signed to the label) in the lines that were censored. Regardless, the gaps in the lyrics feel odd and disruptive, and diminish the impact of what would have been an otherwise decent closing track.
Overall, Tana Talk 4 sees Benny the Butcher at his quintessential finest. There are impressive flows, lyricism which ranges from boastful to introspective, show-stopping features, and production which is equal parts raw and expensive-sounding. Benny, who is currently on tour, will be coming to Detroit’s Saint Andrew’s Hall on May 22.
Favorite Tracks: Back 2x (feat. Stove God Cooks), Weekends In The Perry’s (feat. Boldy James), Uncle Bun (feat. 38 Spesh), Guerrero (feat. Westside Gunn), Bust A Brick Nick