In 2017 when Bennie D accepted the trophy as he was crowned Battle of the Beat Makers champion, he tried to fight off the tears. He couldn’t. They just fell.

“It’s been a long time coming, you know,” he said in an impromptu victory speech on stage. “What you guys didn’t know was I used to be homeless, I used to stay in a shelter. Trials and tribulations. I worked hard. Bought the little equipment that I did have. Most days I didn’t get no sleep. I just want to say thank you Toronto, I appreciate you.”

The win was a culmination not just of a tumultuous personal journey of finding stable housing, support and peace of mind for himself, but it was also beyond anything the Chicago native had imagined would happen when he traveled to Toronto for the competition as an “international reserve.” The designation is given to people who are runners up to the 64 top finalists selected to compete in the battle. International reserves are people from outside of Canada who can compete if any of the selected finalists don’t show up at the competition, therefore forfeiting their spot.

“People were calling me, saying, ‘you’re an international reserve, you shouldn’t even go…’” he recalls. “I stopped listening to those people because a lot of people will tell you what to do and they think that’s cool for them to do. Nine times out of 10 it’s because they can’t do it.”

It’s a good thing Bennie didn’t listen. He didn’t just end up landing a spot in the competition when some producers didn’t show up. He also wowed the crowd and the guest judges that year – T-Minus, Kesha Lee and Rsonist of The Heatmakerz – and won the entire thing.

The following year he returned to defend his title, and made it to the quarter-finals where he lost to that year’s champion Lucyclubhouse. He has also competed in other beat battles in the U.S. and released a project available across streaming platforms via Distrokid called Battle of the Beat Makers World Champion.

In the first of a series of interviews with winners from the last three Battle of the Beat Makers, Urbanology Magazine talks with Bennie D about the importance of beat battles, his beat making process and why he calls his music “energetic pain.”

How do you describe your sound?

I would describe it as energetic pain, if that makes any sense. But I say energetic because when I’m down and out, I will channel my anger and I will place it into a beat and then it becomes energetic. When I break it down melodically, you can hear the pain in it. It’s just not one note here, one note there. I’ve studied piano in high school and also in college. So I play with a lot of pain and I take what I have, what I’m going through and channel that and I play what I feel. Sometimes the drums are like just naturally heavy and the change-up is so energetic, that’s what comes out – energetic pain.

It was the beginning. I need to keep pushing. I need to make sure that my name is here to stay.

How has your music career been impacted since you won Battle of the Beat Makers?

Well, I mean, I’ve gotten more contacts, but everything is still in the works. Even though that was really a great highlight of my life, it just doesn’t stop there. You have to go a step further. It was the beginning. I need to keep pushing. I need to make sure that my name is here to stay. It’s not here today, gone tomorrow. I barely have anything now, but I’m so thankful for what I do have. I will never forget the fact that I was homeless, that won’t ever change … I have plenty of contacts. But I got to just hope. And stay prayed up.

Why would you encourage other aspiring producers to enter something like Battle of the Beat Makers or other beat battles?

You can get the direct audience response from your beats as its played. It gets you out of the basement. A lot of producers they will make beats out of the basement and they just listen to the beats. It gets you in a competitive nature. And then it also makes you comfortable with who you are. As long as you’re optimistic about everyone else’s opinion about your beat. It gets you in a more comfortable state with who you are. You start to engage in a conversation more. You start to feel comfortable within yourself.

You’ve been in other beat battles since Battle of the Beat Makers – one in St. Louis for example. How were those experiences for you?

I always say this to myself – you have to be uncomfortable to be comfortable … Well, being in another state or being in another country can sometimes make you uncomfortable because this is not your place of residence … I got accepted to St Louis in 2010 but I didn’t advance. Well, I got booted off in the first round. But I learned so much from 2010 to 2018. So first of all, you play your best beat first. If you don’t play your best beat first, you are going to get swept away. Do not try to save your best beat for last because you’re going to be miserable.

If you don’t play your best beat first, you are going to get swept away. Do not try to save your best beat for last because you’re going to be miserable.

How do you go about creating a beat from start to finish?

Well, for me, if it’s hip-hop or rap or EDM, I will start with the drums. If it’s R&B, I’ll start with the melodies first … Once I work with the drums, I make the drums sound level and it sounds crystal clear. And then I’ll play with the sample a little bit to see what fits. And then from there I start to the breakdown material. I decide to add melodic notes and give it a little bit of edge, not make it sound robotic. It’s usually by what I’m feeling at any moment, like the pain I’m feeling or I might do a happy one. Anything that would make me channel my anger, or channel my passion period, into the keyboard and I just let it flow from there.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’m really passionate about making music. I love doing it and I want to see a great outcome. I want to be a successful music producer and I want to do other great things with the platform that I could gain. I’m only human, so there’s sometimes, yes, I do get frustrated. Yes, I do get tired. Sometimes I don’t have or I won’t have the patience that I guess a normal person would. But like I said, when you’re passionate about something, that’s all you do. You sleep, eat, breathe music. You know you want to go full throttle. You know you don’t want to let up. I just want to show the world what I’m capable of.

Photos © Isa Miguel Ransome & Urbanology Magazine

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Priya Ramanujam is the editor of Urbanology Magazine. She co-founded the publication in 2004 with Adrian McKenzie, while a journalism student at Humber College.

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