An innovator, a maverick, a true original; Beni ‘Benga’ Adejumo is one of the most fascinating and forward-thinking creators working in music today. His critical credibility and pioneering accomplishments as a DJ, producer, remixer and genre-shifter are irrefutable; from the days of Dubstep’s dawn to its latter-day global invasion, Benga has been at the forefront of the UK’s most progressive and transgressive musical movement. With his second solo album Chapter 2 in the works, Benga is about to be propelled from the club to the charts with an incredible album that features great collaborations including newcomer Marlene Strand.
Early reactions to the set-up track, I Will Never Change, have been overwhelming. Despite being only a teaser of what’s to come from the album, this wobblesome slice of meaty bass has received rave reviews. Anointed Zane Lowe’s Hottest Record of the Week (played twice in a row as Zane sensed “the mood of the nation”), the song has had 500,000 views on YouTube and 50,000 plays on Soundcloud in just six days. “That track means a lot to me,” nods Benga. “I spent days and days mixing it until I got the punch exactly right. It might send me mental but ultimately it’s about the weight, the fatness and the punch. I spend days finding new and clever ways to get that balance.”
Already in his fifteenth year of making music, Beni made his first track on Fruity Loops at the age of 9 before taking up DJing at 11 years-old. Three years later he wondered into Croydon’s eponymous Big Apple record shop with his rude boy mates and announced, “I can DJ better than him.” The ‘him’ was Hatcha, who, alongside Artwork and DMZ are widely credited with conceiving Dubstep. Artwork and Hatcha were amused; they gave the cocky teenager a shot at spinning in the shop, and seeing his prodigious talents, signed him on the spot to Big Apple Records. Over the next few years, Benga and his friend Oliver ‘Skream’ Jones’s creations could be heard during Hatcha’s sets at seminal night FWD>>. Benga Beats: Volume 1 and Newstep established him as a serious soundscaper, though it was 2008’s Night, with DMZ’s Coki that became one of Dubstep’s definitive anthems.
Since Night and his acclaimed 2008 album Diary Of An Afro Warrior, Benga has propelled club music in many directions. There’s always bass – plenty of it – but he refuses to be limited by a sound or scene. Benga has done big business with subterranean basslines, evocative instrumentation and undeniable choruses, placing him in the upper echelons of producer/ remixers working right now. “They can call it whatever they wanna call it, I’m not afraid to say that my music’s Dubstep.” he insists. “I’ve always made this mental music and I made music that’s accessible. I love to use hooks because I grew up listening to Michael Jackson, real music. That’s why I made music in the first place.”
26 Basslines, Skank/ Dose, Crunked Up, Baltimore Clap and Katy B’s On A Mission form an incredible cannon of music that has emerged from the mind of this musical genius. Since those early days of Big Apple and FWD>>, Benga has worked with everyone from Kelis to Katy B, remixed Example and The Prodigy and DJ’d quite literally all over the world; his stagediving antics helping to propel Dubstep from the domain of bedroom DJ’s to the most in-demand sound in clubs from Sydenham to Sydney. It’s pretty much actual fact that you need to book a day off life after experiencing a Benga set. Follow his Retweeted timeline of 70k Twitter followers as proof, were it needed. “Crowdsurfing in the London Eye, that was a good one,” he laughs of his exuberant, energetic approach to DJing. “It was nothing we ever planned to do. It was just natural for me and Skream to get smashed before a show; I was turning up to places and people were telling me I was more rock and roll than rock and rollers!” Funny, bright, charismatic, and like all genius musicians, a bit mad, Benga’s enigmatic personality shines both behind the decks and within his music.
In 2010, alongside Artwork and Skream, Benga formed Magnetic Man and signed to Sony/ Columbia. Their self-titled debut featured an eclectic roster of vocalists including Ms. Dynamite, P Money and John Legend and won the trio fans from the NME to Pop Matters. Now signed as a solo artist to Sony/ Columbia, Benga is ready to take his sound even further.
“I don’t see myself as a producer anymore,” he states. “I see myself as a scientist.”
At its core, Chapter 2 is electronic music with emotion. Making the skeleton of a beat in around an hour, Benga might be inspired by everything from moving house to taking over the world. “It all ends up in there somehow,” he nods. He describes Open Your Eyes as “Benga from the 2007 but in 2020. It’s really hard… really, really hard. I’m trying to push it, to see what people make of me doing a major label record with some edgy, raw sounds. Some of the record is pop, but I’ve also done some really hard, mental songs.” Pour Your Love is one of the formers with a bit of the latter mixed in; featuring the vocals of Swedish songwriter Marlene Strand, it’s a huge hands in the air, hairs on the neck, festival destroying, chart smash in waiting. The electro-tinged Yellow is a 170BPM menacing monster of an instrumental that was created, like many of Benga’s compositions, by singing a rough idea into his iPhone after a night out. Elsewhere, the huge Higher, a ‘90s rave styled collaboration, is sure to propel the two back into the Top 5.
In some ways this is vintage Benga, but with a fully forward twist. Pushing his sound far into the future while keeping half an ear on the pop charts, it’s thoughtfully produced, excellently executed, properly brilliant music. As Dubstep has spread around the world, so ears have become more accepting to experimental sounds. With the likes of Skrillex winning big at the Grammy’s, Benga is perfectly placed to push the sound into sitting rooms all over the world.
“Looking at Skrillex, this is the beginning of where we can take it. Where he’s taken it, we can better that. We’ve brought it to this stage, to a place not many people thought possible and what Skrillex has done, people didn’t see that as possible. It’s like, what’s next? Massive stadium shows? If we wanna do that, we can take it there.” He’s creative, yes, but ambitious too. “I want to do private jet living,” he laughs. “And I want awards. I want to do things that producers don’t normally do. I just have to prove to people that I can do it. That’s it.”