REFLECTING ON LIFE: To end “Still Thoro,” the final song on his new 14-track mixtape, “The Reflection,” Ben G raps:
“I’d rather write the setlist / Than trying duck the Fed’s list / They loving all my punchlines / But do they get the message.”
The message Ben G, a rapper cool enough to get props from both the frats and the trap (the latter is a provincial drug-dealer’s term for a place to sell drugs), is telegraphing on “The Reflection” is that prosperity, even with hard work, isn’t guaranteed.
If success does come, no matter how great or small, especially in a genre as capricious as hip-hop, it’s OK to put your feet up and, well, reflect. But Ben G’s “Reflection” isn’t necessarily celebratory. Instead of songs similar to the feel-good anthems in his catalog like “Sex and Candy,” “Mayday” and, to an extent, “Dump My Ashes,” these songs are built on exposed pain, persistence and perseverance.
If this was a collection of art to be hung on walls, it would be called a retrospective.
“It’s more deep and introspective,” Ben G said.
The mixtape is a look back at his troubled past – incarceration, time spent at Epworth Children’s Home – sure, but it’s also a gauge to see how far he’s come. The cover shows Ben G wearing a nondescript hoodie staring into a bathroom mirror, but his reflection reveals him in a leather jacket, wearing a hat and fancy watch while holding a microphone.
“The Reflection” is also a reminder about how far he has to go.
“I guess when I was on tour, I was in a really good place, I had a good peace of mind,” said Ben G, who spent the fall touring with Gorilla Zoe. “I felt good about my life, rocking packed out crowds every night. I was on the bus writing, thinking a lot about my life, thinking a lot about the world.
“I’m going to go back to making the fun songs I’m known for, but this mixtape I wanted to give my hip-hop head fans something.”
Interview clips featuring music icons Bob Marley, Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G., among others, serve as intros and outros to songs. There’s also dialogue snippets from movies such the cult classic “Paid in Full.” As “Cranberry Saucin’” comes to a close, listeners might be jolted by one of Tupac’s diatribes from “Juice,” a scene where his character’s passion descends into madness.
“The ‘Juice’ clip, I’ve got to give credit to Kenny Miles,” Ben G said, referring to the USC running back who became the starter when Marcus Lattimore injured his knee. “I showed him the song, and he said, ‘I know what would fit perfect on that.’ ”
Speaking of Lattimore, “#21” is an ode to the former USC star. The music is interspersed with well-curated clips of game-action calls by announcers and Steve Spurrier press conferences. Ben G said his associate, Germ, pulled the clips and made the song’s accompanying video.
“I’ve gotten tight with him,” Ben G said of Lattimore. “He reached out to me and we kind of just got tight. We’ve talked about things we can do to change the world.”
Ty Fyffe’s woozy beat is the backdrop for “Are We Even Alive,” a song in which Ben G ponders, among other things, the effect “Jersey Shore” has had on popular culture and mankind’s propensity for firearms.
Besides Ty Fyffe, known producers Sonny Digital and Big Dukes contributed beats. Though he’s formed a relationship with Drumma Boy, who has produced hits such as Waka Flocka’s “No Hands” and Young Jeezy’s “Put On,” Ben G didn’t use any of Drumma’s beats for the mixtape.
“It didn’t really fit the mold of the tape, but it’s coming on the next one,” he said. “I got some crazy stuff for the next one.”
There’s a follow-up to “The Reflection” coming in spring, and an ambitious Ben G said he’s got three, maybe four total projects dropping this year. He said he’s got hundreds of songs.
“I got a song with Jazze Pha that nobody’s ever heard,” he said, referring to the producer who has worked with numerous hip-hop and R&B stars, most notably Ciara.
Ben G also recorded a verse for Waka’s “Fist Pump” remix, a song that also features B.O.B.
“So I have a lot of big records for the future, but this tape was more personal and raw that it needed to be the way it is,” Ben G explained.
In other words, the message in the punchlines had to be presented thoroughly.