I was in high school when I walked into “the Layup” Benny E’s grimey rap boutique on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. Although it was short-lived, it served a few of us miscreants as a bench, whether we were comparing blackbooks, looking at records or talking rap smack. Once upon a time Weez-L was employed there and I, with all of about a year’s experience, laced Benny E a beat CD. Even though our album never materialized, I did frequent the spot regularly; I saw a number of the city’s greats freestyle (in fact this is where I probably met Max Prime for the first time) and met a number of dope grafitti artists. Benny and I got together over Christmas to do a long awaited interview.
You’re Benny E the professor of Edmonton rap…
I was born here, pretty much raised in Victoria. I usually like to get out of here during winter.
How’s the rap scene in Victoria?
Before I left when I was 17 or 18 it was crazy good out there, now I think it’s better out here [in Edmonton].
How long have you been here in Edmonton?
I moved here 7 years ago, but I’ve been holding it down for a good 5 years now.
How did you link up with a rap label from Saskatoon?
That was through Vizion. He heard my music and linked me up with Factor. Ever since then, it’s been on, probably since 2003.
For people who don’t know or haven’t heard your music, what can they expect to hear?
Just the truth, I don’t know. I talk some shit sometimes, I’m not one of them pretty rappers, you know? I still wear my clothes big and all that. I’ll be conscious as well though. I really focus on my word play, my flow; you’ll never hear a flow like mine ever. I worked hard to create an original flow. I try very hard to stay original.
You opened up for Nas recently; I know some shit went down at that show, what happened in your eyes?
There were too many openers that night. By the time we were on, I didn’t really want to go on because I wanted to see Nas. I still got love, but I think even if Tupac were resurrected from the grave, he would’ve got booed off right there. It was a pretty tough crowd that night. Who ever that was who got booed off stage–I was pretty smashed at that point–I guess people weren’t really feeling them.
Did a chair hit you?
I was coolin’ having a drink, I watched it all go down, it was pretty funny.
Are you and Advokit working on some shit?
For sure, that’s my boy. “Non Status” I’m pretty much a member of that now too. We’re just kind of pluckin’ away at it. I’ve got a mix tape coming out pretty soon…
What’s that called?
Shit, I don’t even know yet!
It’s that new!
Yeah, yeah…I’m a few songs deep in it right now. I’m working on an album with Zes Nomis from Victoria, he’s in Vancouver now; it’s going to be called “The Co-Defenders.” Expect something serious from that, dude’s one of the most talented in Canada, easily.
With being part of that Saskatoon rap unit, do you find you do lots of shows out there?
I’ve done a few and damn, every time I’m out there it’s just love. It’s my favorite spot for sure. Last time I was out there, I got a little twisted – and I never do this – but I started fucking up my lyrics and that, but it was crazy there was people in the crowd holding me down, they knew all my lyrics. There were a few people who were going word for word, the crowd knew my hooks, it was crazy…I felt like an ass though for not knowing it myself.
What’s the rap scene like out there?
There’s a lot of talent out there. They still get the shows…back in the late ‘90s it used to be crazy, it was awesome. That was when underground hip hop was marketable – or whatever they want to call it.
Why do you think Canadian rap doesn’t get any love?
I don’t know man. I think marketing has a lot to do with it; like the media, Muchmusic…it doesn’t give rap music much love. And the love that it does is just questionable. Canada’s pretty small still right? The states it’s easier to get a buzz going and sell records or whatever.
Do you think depending on record sales is an option these days?
No, I don’t depend on record sales, I don’t even try to make money off of rap. It’s strictly love. The next projects I’m going to do are going to be free downloads, ‘cause I got my own money. I’m not dependent on it for a future; I just love to make music.
Do you ever get hate?
No, never! I get a lotta love from different people. Thugs love my shit, backpackers, underground cats respect my skill.
How did you get into this rap shit?
When I was 10 or 11 my brother put me on to Public Enemy and then I just started writing. Wrote my first song, recorded with my pops; the hook was like ‘fuck the KKK!’ For a couple of years after that I was listening to my reggae, a bit of metal…then got back into rap when I was 16. Started rapping when I was 17 and then I started recording when I was about 20 or 21.
When was your first release?
My first release was [“Glorified Murder” on Factor’s] Con-Soul Confessions. Actually, I was on a CD-R too before that, R.I.P. the R.I.P. Clik out of Victoria, west coast KGB…it was like Anonymous on the beat, Emotionz and all that.
Do you ever get that ‘you’re a white person, why are you doing rap?’
Oh yeah. It’s kind of sad, it kind of hurts because they don’t know where I’m coming from. I got my people that hold me down; real recognize real, so real people know what I’m doing. I got kids from the Rez telling me I’m getting them through a bunch of problems. For a white person, that’s pretty huge. I get a lot of love from a lot of different people, so that’s what keeps me going.
You opened up a store in Edmonton a while ago…what would you tell someone who wants to open up a store specializing in rap culture?
Have money to back it up. If I had the proper money, I would have made that spot pop off. It was fun, I don’t regret it. [It was open for about] 3 years. It was this grimey little underground spot, after hours we’d be blazing weed, drinking down there. I was just a young thug trying to do my thing.
Is there a problem with conscious vs. ‘street’ rap? Is there a problem with fake thugs making thug music?
Yeah, that’s not cool. I don’t respect that one bit. That’s a situation that people go through and it’s painful and these people are trying to capitalize on some bubble gum shit. You’ll get called out; if you’re out on the street trying to be that person that you’re not, then you’ll get called out; I’ve seen dudes get dropped for that.
Zes, My boys in Victoria, Side Road, Stressed Street, Advo