ALBUM REVIEW: Benny Revival, GLAAD Game
(Editor's Note: As time has gone on, the replay value for the tape has gone down. There are some sonic aspect of the record on the production end that I find kind of annoying as well, but overall this project succeeds in how brave and bold it is.)
Dev Hynes a.k.a. Blood Orange is a man whose cultural position is one that lies in the intersection of many different figures, movements, eras and styles. He’s participated in prestigious events like The Met Gala while at the same time working the ticket booth for Kerwin Frost’s film festival at a showing of Good Time, the directors of which he has professional and personal ties with. The reason why his music is so singularly excellent is due to his disparate array of influences, collaborators and experiences. The way he honors and sheds light on the queer, gay and trans culture that informed most of other culture is one of the most key elements that allows him to always be ahead of the curve. Dev has always been a mainstream voice for the outcasts. He’s put multiple trans women on his album covers, skits and features while paying homage to the cultural touchstones of that community like Paris Is Burning and Pose. Most importantly, Dev’s all-accepting attitude has allowed him to go beyond tolerance, he actively seeks out the oddest and most cutting edge artists regardless of sexuality, gender or harshness of sound.
Yves Tumor and Ian Isiah are the first two artists that come to mind immediately. I'm sure their distinct style and uncompromising art was just seen as "weird" when they first came on the scene, but now they’re rockstars. I’m hoping the same happens for his Angel’s Pulse collaborator BennY RevivaL, who is perhaps the oddest and most underground artist that we’ve seen Hynes expose to date. On “Seven Hours Part 1”, Benny raps like he’s in a ‘90s cypher on tape, the production sputters and rewinds as he spits cryptic rhymes like “Been gettin’ high with open eyes, and got the same liver/I paid the price to recognize that I’m a main *****”. Upon first listen, this track made me interested in BennY, who’s online persona is even more mysterious than his bars. A quick skim of his Instagram account reveals pictures and dancing videos of him out and about in NYC, covering his face with a different vintage rubber mask from Scooby Doo, Halloween or IT. I have been following him for about a year now, and while I was amused by these posts and their cultish captions, I always wondered if I would be able to hear him string together a project with the writing quality of “Seven Hours Part 1”. From all I could tell, he made a lot of SoundCloud albums that sounded more like rough sketches than proper projects.
I’m happy to report that his new mixtape GLAAD Games is the best thing he’s put together thus far. He opens it with the eight-minute lo-fi epic “TRADE”, which starts with thumping electronic music that could easily be played in a gay bar. Over this is a computerized voice repenting for the sin of being gay, “God I come before you, humbled with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, seeking your forgiveness for my abominable sin” Then he spends the remainder of the track getting more personal than ever, with unmistakeable references like “I spill tea like a messy waiter” and “so I slept with many men for more than 50 Cent, my candy shop has opened up welcome in sin” The way that BennY uses this style of hip-hop, typically made by straight oldheads, to reveal these details about his life is refreshing to say the least.
Stylistically, this is one of the most uniquely sequenced and produced hip-hop albums I’ve heard in awhile. He changes flows and beats in the exact same way he switches up masks, going from surf punk on “PORNOGRAPHY” to the swinging Detroit techno of “REPRESENT”, BennY is truly an artist that does what he wants when he wants. On the former, he is at the peak of his “suss bars”, “make me cum and drink it, drink it all up, stick out your tongue and show me show me how it’s done”. Moments like this sound like him being gay and proud of it, but in reality, he’s far from proud. The sound of this album is hearing a gay man anonymously indulge in sexual promiscuity and “sin” at one moment, and the next we get a track like “SPOKEN TRUTH # 18”. Here, we get one of many vocal snippets where it’s a preacher using bullshit terminology to paint homosexuality as the work of the devil in some shape or form. On “FLAGRANT”, we get another preacher saying “Satan’s created a world, he’s making the world over in his image. The goal is to replace the creation of God with his own creation. When these beings get here, from this planet that’s orbiting our solar system...when they get here, the world gone be like ‘em, these are gonna be genderless type creatures.”
Moments like this make BennY’s purpose painfully clear for the first time. One layer of this whole dress up act is that he’s ashamed of his homosexuality because of his religious upbringing and doesn’t want to bring shame upon his family. But digging deeper reveals that BennY is wearing these horrifying, gender-ambiguous horror movie costumes to be a stand in for all marginalized people who the preacher refers to as "creatures". “FLAGRANT” as a song is one of his best performances on the album, he spits wicked fast flows with a purpose. “My life is over, never have children never be sober/Never get married, house on the ocean...Surrounded by vultures and I’m fresh meat/Since I kiss boys, mama hate me/Askin’ the lord, that he fix me”. In order to be the man he is on the inside, he needs to give up his identity, his life, his pride and safety. He even plays news clips about men who commit hate crimes over Grindr to convey how risky and dangerous his lifestyle is. It’s no wonder that BennY is the exact way he is, it’s about survival not spectacle.
“TIMEOUT” is another 8-minute epic in the form of a bumping trap banger. On this track, BennY is trying to compensate for his “wicked ways” by taking a break and repenting. “I think the devil tryna make me suicidal/He finna find out that I took a new route” is not the only alarming line here, the track is filled with violence. “Suck dick, get busted, prayers on Sunday” pretty much sums up his entire life pre-mask. He would indulge in gay sexuality, get brutally beaten and then reluctantly go and ask God (essentially just the people who beat him) to forgive him. I just wanted to say fuck people who are still using religion as an excuse to marginalize and lord over others, if anyone needs to go repent and beg not to spend eternity in Hell it’s those who use physical force to impose their will on others. I really didn’t know BennY had it in him to get these thoughts across in such a concise and hard-hitting way, he’s extremely brave and I commend him for using his voice in this way.
This album is not for everyone, there are a lot of moments where the repetition of the same chorus doesn’t sit well with me or I get bothered by a way a beat roughly switches from trap to house. I personally am not turned off by the sexually explicit content, but I can imagine someone with different sensibilities turning it off in fear it might accidentally hook up to their Bluetooth speaker and their friends will hear them listening to a song with lyrics like “Knick knack patty wack, lick on my ballsack”. I think this rough and confrontational nature is the exact point that BennY is trying to make, and it certainly works for me most of the time. Straightforward tracks like “CRY BABY” and “SELF HATE” thrive in their simplicity and attention to delivering concise and memorable choruses. “SELF HATE” is so fucking good, it’s this weird little hip-house/IDM track that’s super danceable. Tracks like this prove that BennY is capable of making “good” songs that can get lots of streams on Spotify. I just find it admirable how he decides against that on every other song. Just like in his personal life, he is going his own way. He is choosing the path of most resistance, never compromising or being catchy for too long. After all, what’s the point of having 100 costumes if you’re going to just wear one or two all the time?