Cover art: Yael Sela, Maayan Sela, and Efrat Shmuely
“Story of my life, man, I’m always out of place. I just want a wife, who strokes me on the face.”
– Benjamin Elia$, “OTW”
At first listen, you might take Tel Aviv hip hop artist Benjamin Elia$ for a joke. On the first track off his latest endeavor, On the Way, executive produced by Oscar Fox, the singer snaps his finger and sings to us with adoration and unrequited lovey-doveyness over a snorkeling hip hop groove as if it’s resurfacing after being submerged into water. Then, it springs to life and the first verse swings into the air pocket. I get my popcorn ready and continue streaming.
Before I even knew what Ben looked like, I got the image of a lowkey rap version of Eric Nally of Foxy Shazam (not the sound, just the spirit and charisma of, and a Beck comparison would be so overrated here, by the way). I wondered if he was shooting for comedic effect or sincerity. Then I realized something: he’s doing both, and the look is good on him.
The album is full of surprises, don’t you worry. On Ben’s title track, he sings of meeting his dream stoner girl and rhymes “pearls” with a chopped syllabic stretch of the word “peril.” I immediately think he would be an excellent television writer for a children’s TV show: not gimmicky, but kind and frank, unbothered by opinion, witty, and provocative enough to keep the parents entertained. Basically, the project you’d come up with if Lil Dicky (who now goes by Dave Burd) decided he wanted to teach the kids a thing or two about DIY hip hop.
But then we get to the third track, “The Message,” which is similar in sound (but not entirely) to the popular Brenda Russell piano riff off her 1987 hit “A Little Bit of Love,” a super scrumptious sound that most avid indie hip hop fans know and love for its Big Pun re-emergence. Paired with Anna Moore’s luscious vocals, the track is a new take on a classic, and it works. It’s the little adjustments and decisions that indie artists like Ben make in production that truly make a song pop, and “The Message” pops off.
Other tracks, like “Flowers” featuring Jenny Penkin, borders a folk-electronic style like that of Beck and Moby (couldn’t avoid the Beck reference, sorry) having you transfixed on the lyrical content, and the union between beat and word is beautiful. A little bit of harder production knocks us off our feet on the following track, “Remedy,” featuring MC TONYG, who delivers the remedy over a snapping snare and then passes the mic off to a mystery woman offering orgasmic vocals which dominate the track, pressuring the two MCs to take pleasure in falling back (insert Ashanti comparison here, all we’re missing is a “MURDAAAA” scream), and we’re taken to a dream escape somewhere in the clouds.
Bottom line: Ben isn’t a joke. He’s the real deal. I see what he’s doing here. He’s an artist in control of his own domain, rocking to his beats, and sharing his epic vision with the world.
Enjoy On The Way in full below: