Talk to us a bit about Ben Reilly.
Ben Reilly is my rap alter ego. The name Ben Reilly came from Ben Reilly, the scarlet spider, who's a Spiderman clone.
I am a big comic book guy. I wanted to do something that was really true to myself by naming myself after one of my favourite comic book characters.
Ben Reilly is also a double meaning. My real name is Nahree, and the Be.N stands for Be. Nahree. It's a double entendre.
That's who Ben Reilly is.
Tell us a bit about your new mixtape, 'Not Your Hero 4 Hire.'
Currently, I am working on an album called, 'Save,' which is going to be my superhero origin story. There's going to be a lot of things that references to the Spiderman quote, 'great power, comes great responsibility.'
A lot of the songs are going to play on that, whether it's overtly or covertly. The songs are either going to be really personal to me or fun stuff that ties into that theme.
Which brings me to 'Not Your Hero 4 Hire,' which was me figuring out the fun songs. I felt that those songs fit the world but not the narrative. The textures, themes, and vibes definitely fit, but they didn't fit the direction because the album is very personal.
Those songs had little aspects of that, but for the most part, they're just fun songs. I liked them enough to put them in a different body of work. I also wanted to give people insight into the direction I am going forward.
I like how you took the project with different aesthetics that did not fit the narrative and still decided to release it as its own thing.
A lot of times, artists will record all of these songs, have a bunch of creative output, & then be like uhhhhhhhh. It will never see the light of day. It's really cool you did that.
I'm not gonna lie; most times, I am like that.
Obviously, you're into Spiderman with your name (Ben Reilly) - was that the superhero story that had the biggest impact on you?
It's definitely the one that, on a human level, I resonate with the most. Spiderman, as a character, has everyday struggles, whether it's familial issues, financial issues, or day-to-day issues that a human being can have.
He is very good at overcoming his obstacles.
Superheroes feel larger than life when you look at someone like an Iron Man or Superman. Not to say they don't have their problems; they always feel larger than life, and you almost can't see yourself in them.
It almost mimics artistry to me. A lot of artists choose to go behind a stage name and promote a certain image or sense of self.
Whoever is under that mask or ego is not necessarily who they are.
Talk to us about the track, 'Let The Sample Work.'
I originally was going to put it on the EP, but I didn't feel it was cohesive with everything else.
'Let The Sample Work' is a song that I worked on with my friend WaveIQ (producer). Wave sent me the loop cuz I like to rap over sample loops, and the drums weren't there yet.
I was rapping for a really long time on the song, and I wanna pay homage to Lil Wayne in a cool way. He has a song called 'Let the Beat Build,' and as the song goes on, the beat slowly starts to come in bit by bit (whether it's the high hat, snare, 808, etc.).
At first, I was just rapping over the loop, and I had everything up to the hook part. (I told Wave) I'm working on the beat you sent, but I think we should add some drums to this. I gave him the frame of mind I was going with, and then he sent me the beat back with the drums.
As soon as the beat dropped, I knew what I wanted to say.
What part of Wayne inspired you? Was it his mixtape culture, the Carter album series? What was it?
For me, I listened to Wayne's mixtapes more than his albums. Carter 2 is my favorite Wayne album.
For Wayne, it comes with the Dedication series, Drought 3, Drought 2, Drought 4, Dedication 2 and 3 were heavy for me, the first No Ceilings, the first Sorry For The Wait.
I always admired Wanye's obvious lyricism and punchlines. I also enjoyed it when he would get really animated with his voice. Other people at that time weren't doing it at all. Other people would rap really clean.
I liked how he'd put some type of emotion or animation into his voice.
More and more I talk to artists wanting to bring mixtape culture back.
1000% I am with that agenda. I definitely think that needs to come back. Rapping over other people's beats and stuff like that.
I feel like it's missing.
Can you talk to us a bit about the music video for 'Agenda.'
The whole point of the song is saying I am the topic of conversation—rapper flex shit.
I wanted the video to convey that in a cool way. The song has a sound bite from my first project, 'FREELANCE.' Two of my friends we went out for drinks, I met them at a gas station, and they grabbed a bunch of 40s. We couldn't get champagne.
The first line in the song is, 'couldn't get champagne so we got the next best thing.' We just sprayed 40 ounces like it was champagne. I had that on video, and I put it in the song.
We recreated that for the music video with the spotlight on us. I put the spotlight on us because the song says, 'I got a spotlight on me.' There is a lot of stuff like that where we put me in the billboard, where we experimented with different spotlight angles, and the shot with the hand and the water.
It's something where you can't get away from it.
Your art direction is extremely intentional. You never know with musicians and artists how intentional they're going to be about their visuals. It really seems like you understand the messages and symbolism you are trying to convey.
Even coming down to aesthetic things like the music video is mostly in black and white, and you have these dark blood-red visuals in it as well, which pop out.
Do you take a hands-on approach in this process?
For most of the visuals you've seen of mine - I write the treatments for. My director is Jacob Rink, he's the only guy I work with when it comes to my music videos.
Most of the time, I'll come up with a shot list, references, and ideas. I'll share all of that with Jacob, and he'll give me feedback and ideas. It's very collaborative between the two of us.
I like to reference old-school photography.
I was going to ask you about that, the colors of your videos are reminiscent of old-school cinema film stocks. The video where you're a car salesman (Free.99), and you look at the suit you're wearing, the colors are so rich.
You can tell as well with the grain and other elements.
Thank you, man.
Birds are seen across your discography and merch drops - can you talk a bit about why you like to showcase birds in your creative works?
When I came up with the theme of my first project, it was during COVID. I made it in the first month of COVID (March 2020). Everyone was adjusting, spending a lot of time alone.
I was going through weird things: work, friends, family, relationships. I always like to go for jogs to keep my cardio well. During COVID, it was low-key meditative. I would just go on runs sometimes, not even listening to music.
One day I was on my typical route running, and I saw the red cardinal fly past me. When I looked at it, I thought, 'that's a pretty bird.' Kept going about my business.
Day after day after day after day, I kept seeing this bird, kinda how people are with angel numbers. I googled, 'what is the symbolism of red cardinals.' I found that they symbolize peace, freedom, a lover who is no longer with you, and things will be alright.
I went into this rabbit hole, and I found myself over time researching these birds more and more. I found that the red cardinal is the male bird, and the brown bird is the female bird. For my project, I made the confident red bird song about me, and the brown bird song was a vulnerable song.
Then I learned the oldest red birds have stayed in captivity is 13 years, but when they're in the wild, it's 28, which inspired me to make a 13-track album that was 28 minutes long. That's what FREELANCE was and about.
Do you think during that time period of COVID, it naturally made you more introspective and slowed life down a bit?
Which made you more present in viewing the things around you?
1000% it definitely caused me to be more introspective. Low-key, it made me more introverted. It changed how I am socially.
Kendrick alluded to this loosely in an interview where he talked about how prayer was essential because it takes him out of the external monotony loop. In the US, you generally, get up, make breakfast, go to work, do whatever, and go to bed. Cycle repeats.
That isn't the authentic way people want to live. When you take time (no matter what it is - it doesn't have to be religious) to have less things in your external environment, you're naturally drawn in.
It reshapes how you approach life and deal with things.
Once you experience that change, your truer self comes through. For you, it was that project; it would have never existed if it was not for COVID.
Definitely, that is very much the case.
What artwork has been inspiring your creative pursuits recently?
Currently, when I record, I try to watch something of superhero media to give me some type of inspiration. I have gotten back into reading comics that I really liked in the past.
Some form of superhero media. It puts me in that world and gets me to working on my ideas. It allows me to find more to talk about and touch on.
What's next for Ben Reilly?
Not Your Hero For Hire and completing the Save album. Trying to save the world one civilian at a time. Dun dun duuun!