ALBUM REVIEW: Benny The Butcher, The Plugs I Met II
(Editor's Note: The pure shock of this album actually having good production and bars, compared to 2020's Burden of Proof, made me fawn over the record in ways that I now disagree with. This is a solid rap album, but it is by no means a contender for Top 50 Albums of the Year.)
Unlike the other Griselda members, Benny The Butcher has something to prove in 2021. The group has been putting out quality material for a long time, but last year Conway and Westside Gunn really stepped it up with From King to a God and Pray For Paris respectfully. They were able to soften their styles just enough to appeal to the mainstream without giving up a single ounce of what made their music so special in the first place. Those two albums were very distinct artistic expressions that could only come from them. Pray For Paris was especially impressive, we ranked it as the #13 Best Album of 2020 because of how Westside was so effortlessly able to weave postmodernist themes with beats and features from all over the map. Not only that, it really felt like he started to become the star of his albums rather than an aloof, Great Gatsby-like curator of sound. Benny, on the other hand, sacrificed all his best qualities for fame and fortune.
As I said in my review of his major label debut Burden of Proof, Benny was reliving his dreams of being Jay-Z from 2003. Come on, Reasonable Doubt? Burden of Proof? All the mafia skits and beats that sounded like Just Blaze? With that album, he went from being the strongest member of the group to the most generic, why the fuck did he have a Big Sean feature and do a club song? Take a look at his streaming numbers, this approach was clearly a major commercial and artistic misstep that no one could’ve seen coming, especially after his excellent The Plugs I Met EP (B+) from 2019. Tracks like “Crowns for Kings” or “18 Wheeler” are legendary, they serve as cautionary tales and money flexes at once, a dynamic that feels real and dangerous. Benny The Butcher painted himself as Tony Montana over detailed boom-bap from the likes of The Alchemist, Daringer and the late DJ Shay.
Sequels are usually not as good as the original and The Plugs I Met 2 is not an exception to this rule. Even with that being said, this is essential listening. I cannot stop a grown man’s ambitions, Benny The Butcher started making music about fame with flashy, big name features on Burden of Proof and he’s never coming fully back to the underground. In this style and with those limitations in place, I believe that this album gets a lot right. For starters, it’s produced entirely by Harry Fraud, who acts as Benny’s plug on this, “shit felt like when Tony met Sosa” he says to Fraud on the outro of “When Tony Met Sosa”, a great opener that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Over a beautiful violin and saxophone loop, Benny sheds the awkwardness that plagued his music last year with some standout bars like “My heroes in federal sweat suits and New Balances”. From the jump, this sound just feels right for Benny, it feels like a return to form, and for the most part, it only gets better from there.
What is a plug without exclusive resources? Harry Fraud’s strong suit is not only his expertly crafted nostalgic gangster beat work, but also his connections. As the former Coke Boys in-house producer, he brings French Montana as well as the late Chinx Drugz into the fold without missing a step. Sure, French doesn’t really do a great job, eh features are part of what makes this album a B- rather than a B (Editor's Note: And now a C lol). But my God, Chinx fucks his shit UP! The catchy chorus he provides on the warbly, street-level “Overall” is the best on the entire project, and his verse seals the deal. The way he perfectly matches Benny’s tight-knit in-bar rhyme schemes is impressive with bars like “I'm business-savvy, so they throw them digits at me (Uh)/These n***** wanna win, but they don't know the business, daddy” just makes the song his.
The main drawback for this album is how none of these people Benny raps alongside really feel like his “plug” or like they particularly have a “plug”. For example, I think 2 Chainz does a great job on his feature with plenty of great wordplay and a “Mercy” level flow, but there’s only one real bar about drug dealing and that’s at the tail end of the track. Nonetheless, while the lack of substance from the features takes away from themes of this album in a way that hurts it, most of the features do their job. On “Talkin’ Back”, Fat Joe sounds like he’s been charging up his abilities since his late-career hit “All The Way Up”, the brrr! adlibs and bars about coke, Harvey Weinstein and Gangs of New York rival are pure energy, and provide the track with a pop element that actually works for Benny’s style. On top of that, the vocal samples and flute loops of Harry Fraud’s beat prove that he’s the man for the job.
Solo highlights like “No Instructions” and “Thanksgiving” are major highlights because they see Benny back spitting bars like it’s Tana Talk 3. Fame and wide appeal are not the goal, he uses tracks like this to really dig into the themes, like “dealing Mexican raw” and “owing the plug 50”. His style has provided a lane for a lot of struggling pop rappers like Big Sean and others to come back and spit something with substance (on his own album not on that awful “Famous” track off of Burden of Proof). Meanwhile, the Rick Hyde featuring “Survivor’s Remorse” finds Benny going back to the personal storytelling of a mediocre track like “Trade It All” and doing it so much better. Bars like “That could’ve been me, I answer every call from jail ‘cause that could’ve been me” actually land, it shows Benny having a sense of perspective on a beat and with a feature that again, fits his style well.
Overall, I would say this album is pretty good. Benny’s bars are consistent, Harry Fraud’s beats are fire and the vibe of the record isn’t marred with bad skits, ambition or illusions of grandeur. Like Pusha T, he sounds like he really has his own lane and knows what he’s talking about. Burden of Proof found him worshipping Jay-Z to such a point that he completely lost his touch with his lane He wanted to prove that he was top five in the modern rap space, and instead he got his ass handed to him by Freddie Gibbs and then spent the rest of the album complaining about not being famous enough. The Plugs I Met 2 feels like a step in the right direction, I just hope to God that we don’t get Burden of Proof 2.