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You Know What They Say, You Can Take The Boy Out Of Buffalo, But…

Benny the Butcher or simply Benny, is an American rapper and song writer. He came to prominence in 2018 following the release of his debut album Tana Talk 3. Along with his cousins and fellow rappers Westside Gunn and Conway The Machine, with which he forms the collective Griselda, he is known for his 90’s inspired rap songs and is often credited with leading a revival of so called ‘grimy’ and ‘gritty’ hip hop music, influenced by mafioso and drug dealing themes.

Pennick was born on November 27, 1984 and was the second-eldest of eight siblings, raised by a single mother. he spent his childhood growing up in Montana Avenue in the city of Buffalo, New York. Due to the prevelant youth poverty rate in the area, Pennick started dealing heroin at the age of 14, despite witnessing his mother struggle with addiction.

Despite being signed at the age of 15, he continued to engage in drug dealing activities for a significant portion of his early life. Following the death of his brother, Machine Gun Blak, Pennick released numerous mixtapes and collaboration albums. His notable and most cited works are the albums Butcher on Steroids, Tana Talk 3, Burden of Proof, Tana Talk 4 and the EP The Plugs I Met.

Pennick music often centres on his experiences as a young drug dealer in Buffalo, New York and the obstacles and experiences encountered. He has been praised by peers and critics for his story telling and choice of sound.

Early in his career Pennick started to work with local Buffalo hip hop stalwart DJ Shay and started to record songs regularly. Pennick released his first mixtape titled Tana Talk in 2004. Pennick notes he printed 5,000 copies of his mixtape and handed them out for free to gain fans. Tana Talk 1 is considered a piece of lost media, of which Pennick himself initially commented that he does not have a copy. However, in an interview promoting Tana Talk 3, Pennick hinted that he does have the source files for the mixtape, and would release the mixtape should he feel inclined to in the future. He released the follow up, Tana Talk 2, in 2005.

On October 3, 2006, Pennick’s older brother Marchello Lowery, also known as Machine Gun Blak, was shot in a drive by shooting on Montana Block, in Buffalo New York. Pennick was in jail for violating his parole at the time. The death of Lowery impacted Pennick and his cousins profoundly, and has a major influence on the content of their music and lyrics.

Motivated by the legacy and work ethic of Lowery, Pennick started to record songs and compile mixtapes at an increased rate, releasing 12 between 2007 and 2013. During this time he was still an active drug dealer, being caught numerous times by the police and serving multiple sentences in prison.

Anyone thinking Benny the Butcher signing to Def Jam would inspire him to be more “mainstream” or “pop” is underestimating his intelligence. Steady, talented, 39 years old and relatively unknown until he was in his early thirties, he’s already a voice of reason and maturity for his fans in a world of hype. He doesn’t have to crack the mainstream; signing to Def Jam is proof that all this gritty, soul-sampling, old-school stuff might still have a place in the mainstream after all. Highlights on this Alchemist- and Hit-Boy-produced album include “TMVTL” (threatening), “Pillow Talk & Slander” (celebratory), and a title track where he admittedly does open a little space for something like a “commercial” hook, courtesy of Kyle Banks. He’s safer and more up-the-middle than his Griselda affiliate Westside Gunn (note the passing reference to watching MSNBC), but in that quiet confidence lie the fruits of his fabled grind. And while he might be telling the truth when he says he’s thinking of leaving Buffalo for somewhere warm (“BRON”), you know what they say—you can take the boy out of Buffalo, but…

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In 2014, Westside Gunn founded Griselda Records, through which Benny, Conway and Westside Gunn would self-release their own projects. Pennick music would take a major shift from popular sounds and reused beats from existing artists, as was the trend in the 2000’s mixtape period, to more targeted in house production. He adopted the sound pioneered by his cousins Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine and developed by the in house producer Daringer. Pennick appeared on many releases by Griselda Records and started to gain popularity as a regular featured artist. Around the same time Pennick founded the Black Soprano Family, a collective of Buffalo rappers that he was affiliated with. They released the collective mixtape Black Soprano Family on May 11, 2015. He then released the mixtape My 1 on a 1 in 2016. The Black Soprano mixtape marked the end of his work as ‘Benny’, as future releases from this point would be under the moniker Benny the Butcher.

During 2016, Pennick began to work with the in house producer for Griselda Records, Daringer, and moulded his sound to match the sonic aesthetics of other Griselda imprint members. He released his first solo mixtape under Griselda, titled My First Brick, on October 8, 2016. This mixtape marked a change in Pennick style and choice of beats to rap over. The mixtape followed a more ‘boom bap’ aesthetic, incorporating live instruments instead of the more heavily 808s and synthesizers typical of his previous mixtape efforts, and showed more experimentation with sound. He then released the EP 17 Bullets, emphasizing his new artistic direction.

On March 3, 2017, Griselda (as a collective), as well as Pennick’s cousins Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine, signed a deal with Eminem’s Shady Records, a subsidiary of Interscope. In April 2017, Benny the Butcher and his collective Black Soprano Family signed a label deal with Entertainment One Music. While working on his next project and debut album, Following this, he released the EP Tommy Devitos Breakfast on October 28, 2017.

That same year, on November 17, 2017, Pennick, as Benny the Butcher, released the mixtape Butcher On Steroids, in collaboration with DJ Green Lantern. This was part of a series of mixtapes that DJ Green Lantern was creating with Griselda Records members, having made similar ‘Steroids’ mixtapes with Conway The Machine and Westside Gunn. The mixtape was received with critical acclaim and widely praised by fans and critics who noted Pennick progression and refined sonic Palette.

Capitalizing on the success of Butcher on Steroids, Pennick collaborated with his hometown friend and fellow rapper, 38 Spesh, to release the joint mixtape Stabbed and Shot, officially released on 18 February 2018.

On November 23, 2018, Pennick released his debut studio album Tana Talk 3, produced by The Alchemist and Griselda in house producer Daringer. This would be the third in the installments of Tana Talk projects, named after the block Pennick grew up on, Montana Avenue. The cover is a painting of his deceased older half-brother, MachineGun Black as a baby, and the lyrics to the album would focus heavily on Pennick feelings on the death of his brother. The album was developed by setting aside suitable songs and beats created during Westside Gunn’s Hitler Wears Hermes 6 recording sessions. Once those recording sessions were complete The Alchemist and Pennick completed recording other songs within two weeks. Critics praised the production and content of the album, saying “There’s a certain introspection that guides Benny’s lyrics on this song, as he touches on topics ranging from drug trafficking to police racism in the murder of Eric Garner”. HipHopDX claimed that “Benny the Butcher crafts his magnus opus with Tana Talk 3”, writing that “the project is all the things you love about everything Griselda ever drops, but with this extra layer of sonic consistency crafted by the two upper-echelon grimy beatsmiths”.

June 21, 2019 marked the release of his fourth extended play, The Plugs I Met, which included guest appearances from Black Thought, Pusha T, 38 Spesh, Jadakiss, and Conway the Machine. On August 6, it was announced that Pennick signed a management deal with Roc Nation. Writing about Benny the Butcher’s 2019 project, Dan-O of Freemusicempire said “Benny The Butcher did an EP with the greatest guest list of the year. Right after the intro skit you hear him next to Black Thought. Next song Jadakiss, and closing out the project with Pusha T’s second best guest appearance of 2019 on 18 Wheeler. No matter who was with him Benny blew like Sonny Rollins on the Sax, whether Conway or Eminem was coming on next…it didn’t matter. The Butcher has a gift and no fear.”

On August 27, 2020, Benny the Butcher announced in an interview with Adam22 for No Jumper that he would release an album under eOne called Burden of Proof between late September and early October. The album was eventually released on October 16 to rave reviews.

On March 19, 2021, Benny the Butcher released the sequel to The Plugs I Met EP, with a collaboration EP with Harry Fraud, named The Plugs I Met 2. This EP received widespread critical acclaim from various music critics.

On November 12, 2021, he officially signed a record deal with Def Jam Recordings for upcoming releases. The announcement was made by American rapper Snoop Dogg, a creative consultant for the label, on Joe Rogan’s podcast The Joe Rogan Experience a week after Benny the Butcher was featured on Snoop Dogg’s single “Murder Music” alongside Jadakiss and Busta Rhymes.

On January 28, 2022, Benny released the single, “Johnny P’s Caddy”, with rapper J. Cole. The song is the lead single from Benny’s album, Tana Talk 4, which he has labeled “album of the year”. Tana Talk 4 was eventually released on March 11 to generally favorable reviews.

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