Punning Clan member Benny Diction, who is also the co-host of London’s premier hip-hop night Fat Gold Chain, is a tireless promoter of an underground scene lurking in the deepst depths of the UK rap undergrowth. His latest album, released earlier this year, is a varied résumé of tracks recorded and compiled over the last few years. Shot through with a myriad of distinctive musical and linguistic elements, the album is a million miles away from both the low-brow machismo and the faddy pop-rap sentiments that have become the scourge of the hip-hop scene.
Each track on ‘Hard Graft’ is essentially a showcase of Benny’s own unique musical personality, and he’s the sort of artist who praises originality over the traditional hustler mentality and does his best to avoid the stale trappings of ephemeral trends. Indeed, the album is a refreshingly easy-going affair which gently bobs and weaves between relatable themes such as women, the human condition, life in the Capital and the day-to-day struggles that go with it. The slightly kooky, indie-rap aesthetic may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think most listeners who come across it will welcome the softer, varicoloured image.
Benny himself shares a vaguely similar stylistic slant to that of indie UK rap contemporaries Mowgli and The Ruby Kid, particularly in his reverence for evocative and well crafted lyricism, as well as in his refusal to conform to preconceived notions of what constitutes ‘real hip-hop’. His complex, but laid-back sound runs counter to mainstream influences and boldly displays his unique penchant for philosophising about the ordinary. He transmits an honest and raw essence which speaks to the tangible maturity of his sound.
Stylistically, Benny D achieves a wonderful balance of old and new school, and sums himself up perfectly in his lyrics as a “purist on a progressive tip“. Indeed, his new album plays like a welcome piece of vintage hip-hop for the jaded modern listener, and has with enough creative nous to elevate it beyond being yet another meta piece of UK rap miscellany.
Each song on ‘Hard Graft’ segues nicely to the next and there are some truly beautiful flourishes which help attenuate the percussion prominence and put a nice dip in the boom bap. Some unexpected elements are thrown into the mix like the eccentric accordion loop in ‘World on a Plate’, the edgy, screw-face vibe of ‘Grey Britain’, and the didgeridoo spun, percussion fueled acoustic noodling in ‘The Woods’. Some songs are a bit too predictable in their structure and cadence, but overall the album’s wide range of textures and lyricism make it a consistently listenable effort. This is in part due to its excellent harmonic shifts, which are further bolstered by both the soulful vocal talents of renowned Nottingham artist Liam Bailey and the folksy vibes of Scottish-Sudanese singer Eliza Shaddad who grace their tracks with some beautifully earthy and swooning vocal flourishes.
Overall, ‘Hard Graft’ is a fine album with high-quality production and craft from start to finish, and is easily Benny D’s most interesting and versatile project to date. However, the album strongly hints that he still has plenty more to say, and serves, not so much as an isolated statement, but as another chapter in a saga still being penned.
Purchase ‘Hard Graft, Arts & Crafts and Hearty Laughs’ from Benny Diction’s Bandcamp Page.