Rolling Stone


- By Will "ill Will" Lavin

Persistenc­e is an essential trait for anyone chasing their dreams, especially those trying to break through in today's wildly oversatura­ted music industry. "I was so close to giving up chasing a career in music so many times;' reveals North London singer, songwriter, and producer Benji-Flow. The 26-yearold is one of three artists BACARDI has partnered with for its latest Music Liberates Music program, an initiative created to amplify rising musical talent. "Things can get tough and feel like they're never gonna happen for you, but you've got to stay the course:'

It also helps to have talent, which Benji possesses in spades. Born into a musical family, his father, a Pentecosta­l pastor at an East London church, performed in gospel groups alongside Benji's mother, who he met during the latter part of their teens. Benji's sisters and cousins would often sing background vocals at the church and his mother's side of the family was comprised of saxophone players, drummers and keyboardis­ts. "When I look back on it now, it was incredible;' Benji tells Rolling Stone.

The young crooner, who grew up in Edmonton, a small town in the London borough of Enfield, is grateful for his family's rich musical lineage and his jamaican roots. "If my parents weren't playing gospel music, they were listening to Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, and loads of other reggae greats," he says.

As he moved into his teenage years, Benji's musical tastes broadened. When he wasn't listening to the popular grime artists of the day - Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Chip, and others - he was exploring the sounds of Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Norahjones,joni Mitchell, and even the Spice Girls. "'2 Become 1' is a slapper;' he says ofthe girl group's 1996 chart-topping hit. But his favorite artists, and the ones who would ultimately go on to become his biggest influences, were Kanye West, Pharrell, and Skepta, the Tottenham grime MC that Benji calls his "UK hero:'

It wasn't long before Benji decided to try his hand at rapping. "I wasn't that good;' he says of his early lyrical capabiliti­es. During this time, he met Ragz Originale, his longtime friend and collaborat­or and the producer responsibl­e for some of the tracks on Skepta's Mercury Prize-winning 2016 album, Konnichiwa. Eventually, Benji and Ragz, along with rapper Oscar WorldPeace and singer Cartae, joined forces to form the Minikingz collective.

"We weren't super close at first, but we were the ones who carried on making music after everyone else stopped," Benji says of Ragz. Their bond grew tighter once Benji, who had turned his attention to producing, returned from college where he studied music technology. "We met up and I played him some of my beats;' explains Benji. "He said I had some good ideas but that my drums needed work."

Ragz offered to help Benji with his beats and returned the following day with a hard drive full of drum kits. "That's when I think we knew we would be really, really good friends;' he says.

From there, Benji dedicated his time to developing as a producer while trying to get some high-profile placements; however, the goal proved elusive. "I faced a lot of rejection," Benji explains. "People were telling me my stuff was too left or that we should try something another producer was doing:' It wasn't until Benji decided to start producing for himself that the tide began to tum in the right direction. "I would record reference tracks with me singing on them," he recalls. "One day, I was playing one of them in the studio, and a guy I was producing at the time walked in and heard it. He loved it.


It was only a rough demo, but he asked if I could burn him a copy so he could take it home with him. That's the moment I decided to pursue singing:'

Taking a risk, which is something Benji and the rest of the Minikingz collective openly promote, he quit his day job and put his faith in the music. "I did it to put absolute focus into the craft and to give myself the best chance, rather than going about it halfhearte­dly;' he says. "I didn't expect the music to go anywhere; I just wanted to make something really good to give to the world:'

And that's exactly what he did when he released his breakthrou­gh single, the infectious­ly incandesce­nt "Deep End;' back in late 2018. Underscore­d by a mesmerizin­g Afro-Cuban rhythm, the Benji and Ragz-produced track served as the lead single for his debut EP BENERGY, which also delivered the sun-kissed, guitar-led single "Can't Lose."

But with so many new artists coming out each week, how did Benji separate himself from the pack? "Whenever I release something, I want there to be an experience behind the music;' he says, expressing a desire for something more tangible. "I want someone to feel something when they hear it:'

This tactic aligns with BACARDI's mission to promote a more inclusive and creative environmen­t through its Music Liberates Music program. Powered by the collaborat­ion between promising up-andcomers and industry heavyweigh­ts, part of the initiative sees Grammy-winning producer Boi-lda team up with three musicians from different parts of the world to create original tracks. "It's crazy that I'm going to be making a track with him, but I'm very ready for the moment. I can't wait to see where his mind goes when we get in the studio and what he thinks my next step should be musically:'

And just like Boi-lda is doing with him, Benji hopes that one day he'll be able to help bolster future generation­s of artists. "I want to be a part of guiding the best talent as they come up;' he says. "I just want to help artists become their own moguls:' As Benji sees it, musical liberation is something to be paid forward.

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