July 10, 2010

Reader Review: Benzino - The Benzino Project (October 30, 2001)

(Today's Reader Review finds new contributor Sir Bonkers tackling an album that I honestly never thought would grace the HHID page: The Benzino Project, from the former co-owner of The Source, Benzino. I will admit that I never had any interest in listening to this shit, and the fact that it was released after September 11, 2001 might very well mean that the terrorists have won, but after reading through the review, the sheer number of wasted guest spots from established artists might make hip hop's answer to Steven Spielberg's 1942. Pour yourself something strong and enjoy! And I'm also expecting some commentary regarding the review's controversial ending, so now that's out there.)

Like you, Max’s other reader, I am a great fan of this blog. And it has inspired me to review some albums myself. Now, in order to actually contribute something worthwhile, I’d either have to offer some incredible insight that nobody has ever had about a particular album, or, failing that, I would have to find something that, while being interesting, is relatively unknown to most of the public.

The latter is the case with Boston rapper Raymond “Benzino” Scott's solo debut, The Benzino Project. This album was released in 2001 by Motown and Restless Records (a label owned by Dave Mays and Benzino himself ), and it featured some of the industry’s most prominent players (Diddy, Snoop Dogg, Scarface, Prodigy, Raekwon and Cormega), some surprising guest appearances by stars of yesteryear (Foxy Brown, Bobby Brown (no relation), Black Rob, Tha Outlawz, and Teddy Riley), and, of course, his own weed carriers (the Made Men/ Almighty R.S.O. and the Wiseguys). The fact that all these people probably showed up to appease Zino’s mighty ego, and to ensure their continued appearance in his magazine, is pretty obvious, but I'll get to that later on.

Most of the album was produced by the Hangmen 3, who are Ray Dog’s personal production crew (of which he is also a member, go figure), although there was room for a few tracks from the likes of Diddy, Teddy Riley, and the Trackmasters, hired almost exclusively for their ability to craft radio-friendly tracks.

Regardless of what you may believe, Benzino was far from a rookie when The Benzino Project came out. He had been rapping since 1988, releasing songs and albums with his groups The Almighty RSO, the Made Men (who were technically the same crew), and the Hangmen 3: he was just never what you could call successful. The Benzino Project was heavily plugged by Ray's homeboy Dave Mays, who just so happened to be the other co-owner of The Source (I can remember there being far too many advertisements for Ray's side projects within the pages of the magazine back when I still read the fucking thing) and, in doing so, Mays flushed the combined credibility of Benzino, The Source (once considered the hip hop Bible, it now continues to struggle on life support in its current Benzino-free incarnation) and himself down the toilet. The Benzino Project, appropriately went triple aluminum, as consumers are not as stupid as the industry would like to believe (the public generally believed that, if Benzino had to rely on his magazine-owning friend to generate hype for his album, then it must completely suck, why even bother?), and Benzino was dropped from Motown roughly four months after the album’s release.

Now, this wasn’t the first nor the last time Benzino generated controversy with practices like these, but it was his solo debut and the first time the public heard him by himself, rather than as a part of a crew.

Now let’s see what this actually sounds like, shall we?

1. 617 (INTRO)
On this rap album intro, Benz gives the requisite shout-outs to everybody in the Made Men and the Hangmen 3 over the same sample that Nas used on his “Just a Moment”, which came out four years later. This intro starts an annoying trend of using great beats for stupid skits.

This D-Dot/ Diddy production is actually quite dark and ominous in a good, surprising way, as Diddy is best known for producing club bangers. Benzino isn’t on par, though: as a matter of fact, he’s less of a rapper than Diddy himself. They have comparable amateurish flows, but at least Diddy often has good ghostwriters. Not on here, though, as Diddy doesn’t actually rhyme: he just provides his typical ab-libs , such as his tried-and-true “As we proceed to give you what you need”, and gives a shout-out to Dave Mays, which also helps to explain why Diddy is on this album in the first place.  As to why he's credited as a guest artist for a track on which he doesn't really perform, it's due to name brand recognition only.

This Hangmen 3-produced beat is fairly dramatic. The moody piano keys and strings almost make Benzo sound like he could be a good rapper if it wasn’t for his below-average lyrics, which sound worse than they actually are because Ray seems to believe that he’s spitting the smartest shit ever. Such a waste of good beat. (That’s actually a feeling I get from most of The Benzino Project and any other Benzino-featured songs, now that I think about it.)  Still, this sounds good, at least.

Well, those are some unexpected guests. Although I suppose Tha Outlawz, formerly best known as 2Pac's weed carriers, probably didn’t have much else to do at this point in their career. I guess this could technically be considered a “good look”, as The Benzino Project was a major label release (can someone explain how in the fuck a rapper like Benzino managed to get signed to fucking Motown? Anyone? Bueller?) and it probably at least got their name printed in The Source again. Anyway, the Asian-inspired beat, provided by the Hangmen 3, is quite good, but none of the featured rappers does it any justice.

This Hangmen beat is really, really nice. The funky guitars, organ, and the humming sped-up soul vocals make this rather mediocre crew sound far better than they have any right to on this posse cut.

Although this is labeled a skit, it features some original music and some rapping by a uncredited rapper. I believe it to be Mr. Gzuz of Made Men, which is why I credited him in this review.

This was obviously created as a club banger, and a strange one at that. I’m actually a fan of Teddy Riley’s older production work, but this song just sucks. This y be the first wack beat on The Benzino Project, but at least the guests turn in some good work. There is also a remix featuring Busta Rhymes, M.O.P. and some annoying shout-outs by DJ Clue: that version is a lot better than this one, as Busta performs in a weird chopped-up flow that actually makes the beat sound more interesting. Regardless, you'll probably want to avoid any version of this song.

Once again Benzino let’s a perfectly good beat go to waste.

Today we know Pink as an unconventional, thoughtful, feminist, interesting singer (regardless of if you actually like her music). Back in 2001, though, she was just another L.A. Reid doormat marketed as another generic R&B pop singer (the white version of Brandy, if you will). Which helps explain why she slavishly serenades Benzino on the hook, a redudnant effort as our host is serenading himself in an equally generic and witless fashion. The beat actually kind of saves this from being annoying.

Why does he keep lacing useless skits (or useless songs for that matter) with hot beats? Why?!?  And why are there so many of them?

Benzino + Foxy Brown + Trackmasters = bullshit. Moving on...

I guess Black Rob was a free gift with the purchase of Diddy. Over this ominous, piano-based Hangmen 3 creation, Ray-Dog actually manages to sound both menacing and not entirely useless. It’s Rob, however, who completely kills this shit. Fans of Black Rob should definitely track this down.

On this track, fellow Bostonian Bobby Brown, who was busy beating on Whitney Houston while they both were on cocaine somewhere in the city when Ray spotted them, provides both a hook and a verse, and he actually does quite a good job. His coked-up vocals contrast nicely with Prodigy, who drops a decent verse while sounding both menacing and calm like only he can. (Wait, so he turns in a better performance on here than he has in the past fucking decade? Weird.) I really liked this interesting, up-tempo guitar and percussion-based beat: it’s too bad the Hangmen rarely produce for more worthy artists. Fans of Bobby and/or Mobb Deep should check this out, but Benzino stans should pass, as his contribution is easily ignored.

Well, at least they didn’t waste an instrumental on this.  Perhaps this could be considered as informative, but I wouldn't get into a vehicle driven by Bobby Brown anyway.

And when Bobby’s high finally came down, he recorded this. The calm but funky beat forms a nice contrast with Bobby’s gruff vocals. Mr. Gzuz returns to drop a verse, but our host is nowhere to be found (is this a good or a bad thing? Discuss below). Fans of Bobby Brown may want to track this down, as it beats anything on his latest album (which was released more than a decade ago). Matter of fact, if Bobby Brown and the Hangmen hooked up for an entire album, I’d run to the store to buy it. Of course, I would probably be the only one, but at least I'm being honest.

This is just an instrumental break with no skit over it. Although they should have made this longer and hired somebody to actually rap over it. Sigh.

17. G-A-N-G-S-T-E-R
Even after you completely ignore the flow, the rhymes, and the content of this shit, I still find fault with the chorus, which, for the sake of punctuation, should have included a bit of dead air as a “blank space” between spelling out the word “gangster” and his own name. But at least the beat is hot.

Please refer to my notes for “Roadrage (Skit)”.

This Teddy Riley beat sounds like computer generated belching in a bad way (yes, as a matter of fact there is a good way: see Ginuwine’s Timbaland-helmed “Pony”.  Side note: Teddy produced a similar-sounding pseudo-futuristic beat for "2000 Watts" for Michael Jackson's Invincible). Teddy’s verse is better than expected, and Benzino and his friend Mr. Gzuz sound exactly as can be expected. However, because of its awkward rhythm, it is nearly impossible to actually dance to what is supposed to be a club banger. Once again, there’s an official remix that is far superior: it features Fabolous, G-Dep, and, once again, the annoying DJ Clue. (G-Dep? The hell? Was he like the bonus bag of chips you get in the vending machine when you order a stuck Black Rob and two fall out?)

The high-energy beat is good, and the three guests turn in the best lyrics on the album. Benzino also manages to drop a not-completely-inane verse. (I'm just wondering how Ray blackmailed the Chef and Lord Superb, but not Ghostface Killah, into appearing on The Benzino Project. I guess Ghost has much more swagger than everybody thought.)

A sweet-as-sugar song which has Benzino talking to his (then) seven year old son, who is also a featured guest. It contains some of Benzino’s best lyrics, mainly because there is an actual theme for him to stick with, rather than a bunch of humorless arrogance for no particular reason. Even (failed) R&B singer Case’s hook fits well in this context.  Still, this is too weak for my tastes, as it reminds me of that Will Smith song. 

Mike McNeil of the Boston rap group the Wiseguys spits a verse on this glorified skit. Although it isn’t a very good verse, it at least puts this beat to better use than most of the other skits on The Benzino Project.

I sure as fuck hope this wasn’t supposed to be Nate Dogg on here, because putting him on a skit to talk about uninteresting shit would be the biggest waste of all.

Somehow, this song sums up the entire album, in that it has a pretty great beat but contains no lyrics that are worth hearing, unless they come from outside of Ray's extended family.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Benzino Project holds up surprisingly well for an album from an artist who is supposedly without talent. And I'm not talking about individual tracks: I mean the entire disc holds up. Of course, Benzino is extremely limited as a wordsmith, but he has a pleasantly gruff voice and a kinda-interesting delivery. His is probably the quality of rhymes that Eazy-E, Diddy, Dr. Dre or Timbaland would spit if they bothered to write their own verses. If Benzino wasn’t such a jackass (he proved that, even in gangsta rap, you can go too far in your hustle, and did so several times over, which is quite an accomplishment) and had a good ghostwriter, he’d be perfectly fine. Like the people on that short list, the man's real talent lies in producing (with the Hangmen 3) and/or being a record executive. There is no bad instrumental on The Benzino Project, save for the Teddy Riley and Trackmasters contributions. The guests, who probably only showed up for some good reviews and/or Source covers, mostly sound pretty good. The combination of these factors make for a very entertaining album. If only he used his considerable talents to produce other people’s albums while staying in the background, Benzino may have had a much different career, but instead he Suge Knighted The Source and started a smear campaign against Eminem. But we’ll get to that with his next album.

BUY OR BURN? You probably can’t buy this as it is out of print, and you shouldn’t go out of your way to find it. Should you stumble across a used copy somewhere, though, then you should buy this, as it is well worth your money. (There is also an alternate version entitled The Benzino Remix Project, which is essentially the same album except for that “Bang Ta This”, “Figadoh” and “Boottee” are replaced by their superior remix versions.) If, however, you really, really resent supporting Benzino financially, then you should at least snatch a copy from the Internet, like I did.

BEST TRACKS: “We Reppin’”; “Any Questions”; “No Part Of Us”; “Ghetto Child”; “The Jump-Up”

-Sir Bonkers

(Wow. Never thought I would ever see a positive Benzino album review. Well, outside of The Source, anyway. Leave your thoughts for Sir Bonkers below.)


  1. AnonymousJuly 10, 2010

    have this album bought it when it came out... its pretty bad

  2. AnonymousJuly 10, 2010

    regardlesss of this album having some real heat, it has nothing to do with benzino rapping and he killed The Source and everybody hates him

  3. Just to be clear. I am in no way related to Benzino, I reside nowhere near Boston or anywhere where Ray could find me if I were to write anything bad about the man, I am not Max using another account to say unpopular stuff and I genuinely feel "the Benzino Project" is a good album. Benzino is (in this stage of his career) a rapper that ranges from terrible to average. Good are the songs which feature the least of his vocals (that's a large part of this disc) and a good guest artist yet the songs where he takes centre-stage are also not as bad as you'd expect due to the Hangmen 3 producing some bomb ass beats. Also, I used to be a big fan of Eminem's. I in no way approve of Ray Dog's racist efforts against him. Yet I feel that personal shortcomings have very little to do with music. There, proceed to say whatever you will.

  4. Hmmm - Still not buying or downloading this album. I appreciate the point of view, though! This is probably the best publicity that Benzino will get in this day and age.

  5. AnonymousJuly 10, 2010

    review big boi's new album

  6. A.R. MarksJuly 11, 2010

    Not a bad review, but really. The only song I feel like hearing from this is the Rae/Mega joint. Even the Snoop/Scarface song had a shitty beat! Really?

    On a side note Hangmen 3 is actually a pretty good team, which implies that Zino may (or, quite possibly, may not) have some talent behind the boards. Maybe the boss just sits back with chips and a Yoohoo and yells stuff at the other two until they come up with something good.

  7. AnonymousJuly 11, 2010

    what a load of crap albums over the last couple of months , last good album kool g rap

  8. I suppose you people in the USA might bear more of a grudge against Ray than I do since you people actually read the Source. I didn't witness that entire situation, plus I'm generally not interested in that shit when choosing what music to listen to. Benzino did a good job collecting beats and guest appearances (also not giving a fuck HOW he got them)and he doesn't really get in the way that much here on songs like "The Jump Up" or "No Part of Us". Therefore this shouldn't be read as praising Benzino (as a rapper). I'm just praising this album because not only does it mostly sound good but also it feels like a "Project" in the sense that it feels like a lot of hiphop's finest coming together to make some good music.

  9. Damn, I thought there would be a lot more people would have to say, perhaps not about the "Project" but maybe about 'Zino himself. @Max, have you checked out anything off of this yet? Or do you refuse to do so out of principle?

  10. AnonymousJune 07, 2011

    Good review. It is true that Benzino has more skills that he is given credit for. I found out after hearing that song he did with 2pac and Freddie Foxxx in 1994. Too bad it was remixed beyond recognition for Benzino's third album "Arch Nemesis". At least they didn't change the line up.


    The released version: