Benji., a Pittsburgh-based member of the acclaimed hip-hop collective Spillage Village, recently released an exuberant full-length called Smile, You’re Alive!.
Benji.’s rapping style blends soulful melody (think Chance if his voice had less squawk and more velvet) with dense, narrative flows (Big Sean-esque, but more sincere) ; his instrumentals–often complemented by the artist’s own bass playing–pull from jazz, funk, and off-kilter trap alike. Smile, You’re Alive! sees Benji. plumbing the depths and scaling the peaks of his psyche, laying down on wax the best and worst experiences of his life. “Elevate,” one of the album’s leading singles, finds its center of gravity in Benji.’s koan-like repetition, “Oooh, elevate,” backed by misty piano and percussion strewn with faint rattles and clicks. The phrase punctuates bars that touch on work, stress, love, and trust, carrying Benji. upward even as forces both external and internal seek to drag him down. The track ends in catharsis, with Benji. proclaiming, “Ain’t gonna hide my tongue/Ain’t gonna hide my love/Ain’t gonna stop my buzz/Thankful for my life/Thank the skies above/It’s just me and my n****s, there ain’t no stopping us.” The album’s dark moments make victorious ones like this feel even sweeter by contrast.