Written by Brittany Shawnté
Another spotlight and more on the way! As always, if you are or represent an upcoming artist, designer, writer, dancer, etc., and would like a feature on The Spotlight, please visit our Features/Submissions page for more information!
In The Spotlight, we have hip hop artist Tony Benefit! Hailing from Chicago, Tony began freestyling around the age of 14. He was found one day rapping on the corner by Carlos Polk, a member of legendary Chicago underground group, Eratick Statik. Carlos brought Tony to the group’s shows and studio sessions, where Tony started at the bottom, throwing water and t-shirts to the crowd. Eventually though, the artist was able to spit his own rhymes at the shows. “Once the crowd was receptive to what I was doing, it just kind of built from there,” Tony said. “I became a bigger part of the show, and, once I went on the road with them, I started building my own following.”
The rapper admitted that his hometown plays a huge role in his sound. “Chicago, I always say, is a melting pot of talent where you can line up 10 rapper and no two of them sound the same,” Tony stated. The city itself, he noted, is made up of diverse and creative music and art scenes that is inspirational. “It gave me a well-rounded sound where I can blend in with the underground, but also [I] know how to transition and write radio material,” the artist added. In addition to his city, Tony is inspired by hip hop artists like Nas, Busta Rhymes, Planet Asia, Sean Price, and more, but also Ozzy Osbourne, Ryan Leslie, and Chris Martin of Coldplay. “I’m really into the artistry,” Tony said of his influences. “I consider myself a songwriter first, and an MC second.”
With Tony being raised in and inspired by the 90s golden era of hip hop, we spoke briefly his opinion of the state of hip hop today. “I don’t feel like it’s as powerful as it was when I was coming of age. I feel like the messages were stronger back then,” he admitted. “There’s always been good and bad [but] there was a good balance. Now, it’s like 90% bad and you got to search for the good.” However, he feels like the artists that he may not necessarily listen to are necessary to still have fun music in the genre, balancing out the more serious lyricists. “I think the two biggest differences between then and now is, back then, you couldn’t just say anything on record. Somebody had to vouch for it. Somebody was going to do their research and dig up some history. Now everybody just gets a pass,” Tony said. “Two, there was a lot more pressure to be original back then. Now, you can sound like whoever just came before you.”
In terms of what he brings to the table that makes him stand out, Tony believes that he is a complete MC. “I have the voice, the cadence, the delivery, the timing, the concepts.” the artist confidently said. “You have to have all of that. You can’t have a good voice with bad lyrics. You can’t have a catchy song with no message.” The artist also added that he brings great songwriting to the game, something that is rare in hip hop. “My songs are really conceptual. They’re more like movies or plays,” Tony said.
Having built a good following through his music and performances, Tony was recently signed to a record deal to LuJon Records/IMG Recordings after working closely with PR company Lions Vision. “That was the missing ingredient,” he disclosed. “I had done so much on my own, and had taken it pretty much as far as I could go. When they came into the picture, publications started jumping off. It just kind of came about like that.” The company sent over some of Tony’s material that was unmixed, and liked what they heard. Once the label heard a mastered mix of his work, they officially made the decision to sign, and now Tony’s building an even bigger buzz!
Most recently, the artist released his track, “Lite It Up.” The beat, which was produced by Atlanta’s Jay Nasty, caught Tony’s ear on SoundClick. “I heard the chorus and the concept was kind of already there,” he said. “All I had to do was kind of fill in the blanks and just create the full picture.” It features vocals from R&B singer Cory Jones and a guitar solo from Phil Absurd. Check out the official video for the track below!
Currently, Tony is finalizing his full-length mixtape, City Boyz Presents: Order out of Chaos, which goes back to our conversation about the state of the music industry today. “I feel like it’s chaotic. Everybody’s sounding the same. There’s no guidance.” he said. “I feel like I’m making it okay to not only be original and be yourself, but [that] you can still be talented and dope, and sell records.” He’s literally creating order out of chaos with his music!
In addition to the tape, he’s working on new music videos as well as other music features and collaborations. Also, as an actor, he has an upcoming role in a project that is a play off of Ghostbusters, which will begin filming in April. He also has a few other acting projects, including a role in a new webseries called Kingdom Come, as well as a new upcoming NBC sitcom called Love is a Four Letter Word with Rockmond Dunbarand Cynthia McWilliams.
In the future, Tony wants to be considered one of the best hip hop songwriters of all time. “That’s my number one goal. I’m not concerned about money or accolades or anything like that,” he said. “I just want people to be like ‘That dude was a great songwriter. He made it happen.’” He gave a wise piece of advice to upcoming artists who want to make names for themselves in the music world. “I would tell them to do THEIR music. Do not follow the sound of the moment. That’s the best advice that I could give.”