Griselda Records — which stars Westside Gunn, Conway, and Benny the Butcher — has spent the past couple of years rising from the bleak blocks of Buffalo to partners with Shady Records. The grind doesn’t stop: All three have been steadfast with working on solo material. The latest is Benny the Butcher’s Plugs I Met, which features some of east coast hip-hop’s most treasured OGs.
Their inclusions aren’t simple idolatry; they’re sensible collabs, the right fit for the project. “18 Wheeler” finds Pusha-T firmly in his crime rap pocket, and “Crowns for Kings” — a Billboard premiere — captures Black Thought’s trademark mix of grit and urgency. Their biographies contain stories of drugs and urban ruin, and they’re expressed in the concrete imagery they pride themselves on.
There’s a number of tracks that can contend for the Best Benny the Butcher Song list; one of his favorites is 2016’s “Prayer Hands,” the track that takes him back to the prison cell from where he wrote it.
Benny spoke to Billboard about drawing inspiration from hard living, working with some of his favorite artists, and what makes top-tier artists, top-tier artists. Read the interview, edited and condensed for clarity, below.
How did you and Pusha-T link up for “18 Wheeler”?
I hit Push up on Instagram because I heard he was familiar with the music, and I know from a third party that he’s tapped in. So I’m like, “Yo, lemme just hit him up.” He replied right back, so we just got to work.
Were you surprised he hit you back?
Hell yeah I was surprised. I didn’t expect him to hit me back, but I’m a fan of music. Some guys that I’m a fan of, I don’t mind reaching out trying to work with them. I don’t go into this with ego. It’s all music first with me.
How’d you react when you got Pusha’s verse back? A lot of people liked that “Why would I ever 50/50? You ain’t half of me” line.
Sometimes, when you get features from other dudes, they don’t give you what you’re looking for. When I heard him say, “The only drug dealer out at Fashion Week,” I was like, “OK, he gave me that Daytona Push.” And I was fucking with it. I was thankful he took his time and put his effort into it. Because you know how some of these other dudes don’t, so I appreciate him for that.
What’s your favorite Pusha-T release?
It was definitely Hell Hath No Fury until Daytona. Daytona is just, like — man, I call music gospel music when I get a certain feeling from it. You get chills. “Come Back Baby,” “Santeria.” His tone of voice and how he gets his point across is just different. He’s a person who don’t really gotta do the ad-libs and shit like that. Pusha a 20-year veteran, so that comes with that type of shit.
You’re kind of the same way with not relying on the ad-libs too much.
Yeah, because I don’t want to drown the passion out of the song. The passion is in my voice and I don’t want to drown that out and put a whole bunch of layers over it. I want you to hear that one line, that one layer of my voice just fucking spewing out passion, just spewing out my pain that I’m saying in these words.
Pusha-T told a story about “Drug Dealers Anonymous,” about how Jay-Z said it was putting him back in a dark place. How do you deal with rapping about trauma?
This is the thing about me: Maybe I will get to that point, but I’m fresh out the gutter. I get jail calls from my homeboys every day, who’re wrapped up in a case that I could’ve been wrapped up in. I still see it. I’m not still living in the hood or living in the projects, but I just moved out the projects two years ago. I still got fresh wounds from the streets, so I’m still going off of that.
You, Pusha-T, and Black Thought use a lot of imagery in your rhymes. Does that emphasis make it easier to work with them?
Philly is a rough place, man. I know that’s where Thought gets it from. That’s a tool. These other artists get on here and are like, “Oooo, fuck on my bitch/ Oooo, get on that lean.” There’s no passion there; there’s no conviction in your voice. When you choose to do it the way we do, it’s a cheat code, because you’ll hear passion and emphasis in our words that you’re no going to hear from other artists.
How did you and Black Thought link?
The same way: I hit him up. I know from mutual parties that these dudes are tapped in and aware of the music, so it’s not like I’m shooting in the dark. The top-tier artists of the game are always tapped in. That’s why you can see a dude like Drake do a song with a BlocBoy JB. So I tapped in with him and he hit me right back. The joint was fire and the chemistry was crazy.
A lot of artists are fans of each other but sometimes act too cool to actually connect.
I’m not like that. I don’t go with ego: If I wanna work with a guy, I’m hitting him up. Because it’s for the greater good of the project. It could be because I’m fresh in the game, but I don’t think like that. I’m still music first. I came from the streets, so I don’t have the luxury to be egotistical or be on the diva s–t. I didn’t come in the game for that. I came in the game to give you the best work.
You’re working with OGs. Do they spot their influence in you?
Yeah. That’s why a lot them reach out and fuck with us — because they see themselves in me. They want to feed the culture so they get behind it.
Listen to Benny The Butcher’s “Crowns For Kings” featuring Black Thought below.