Griselda Records is quickly becoming the most formidable force in the New York-based revivalism of classic hip hop. Two of its three core voices, Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine, have dropped many solo releases throughout 2020 to keep fans of the collective well-fed. The missing piece has been Benny the Butcher.
While he has been featured on many of those projects, the group’s collaborative album and albums outside of Griselda’s catalog, we haven’t heard from Benny in a solo capacity since last year’s 25-minute gem The Plugs I Met. An unflinching ode to Benny’s past as a drug kingpin, that project was a key moment for the radioactive hype surrounding the group since then. After over a year of fans waiting for a new crop of songs from Benny, in comes Burden of Proof.
Even after a relatively sizable gap in time between projects (Conway has dropped three tapes this year), Benny sounds like the same rapper that he was a year ago. Descriptions of street life decadence and pseudo-mafia hedonism are still in his repertoire, delivered with a mid-paced flow that doesn’t drag but never forces the listener to catch their breath either.
The emotions are usually flat on a Benny track, as he is routinely about his business and nothing more, similar to a mob boss. The Plugs I Met brandished cover art of Tony Montana in Scarface, and Burden of Proof is fraught with skits that ape 20th century Italian mafia culture. Standing at 12 tracks and 38 minutes, the amount of time dedicated to skits are a bit heavy handed, but also add a humorous sense of theatricality to the album.
With beats provided by renowned veteran Hit-Boy on every track, the production is noticeably brighter, clearer and more soul-oriented than the typically abrasive, dark Griselda sound. It especially contrasts with Conway the Machine’s latest, From King to a God, which featured some of the gloomiest production on any Griselda project to date.
The cascading keys on “Sly Green” match beautifully with the notoriously smooth Hit-Boy drum patterns, and Benny delivers a hungry performance on top. This is one of many tracks where Benny channels an unabashed Jay-Z influence, most prevalent towards the end of this project on “Trade it All,” “Thank God I Made It” and “War Paint.”
“Thank God I Made It” is a heartfelt tribute to his mother’s sacrifice that she bore to make Benny successful in life, accentuated by a wonderful sung hook by Queen Naiji and a children’s chorus chipmunked instrumental. “Over the Limit” contains verses celebrating his triumph over the troubles in his past and charmingly egotistical lines: “Ducked indictments / Got rich / That really shocked me / Even the FBI surprised that they don’t got me.” This unremitting exuberance is carried over on tracks “Famous” and “Legend,” which both involve themes of an unlikely rise to fame but a sharp focus on staying humble through it all.
The features on this project are mostly excellent, with the exception of a middling performance from Big Sean. Freddie Gibbs fits like a glove onto any Griselda track he appears on, remaining undefeated in 2020 as hip-hop’s best kept secret. Rick Ross sounds charismatic on the back end of “Where Would I Go”; what a shocker. As a whole, Burden of Proof was short and sweet, adding a compact yet dynamic punch of an album to Griselda Records’ ascendant catalog.
Burden of Proof is Benny’s first project since his well-received 2019 album, The Plugs I Met. What separates this album from his previous ones is the production. Griselda fans are used to dark, gritty instrumentals by producers like Daringer. The production by Hit-Boy is not only a change of pace for Griselda but it also shows just how versatile Benny’s rapping style can be.
This project allows listeners to see his introspective side. Tracks like “Thank God I Made It (feat. Queen Naija)” are personal, storytelling tracks that feature little braggadocio, which is something to be expected from a Griselda project.
The following track, “War Paint (feat. Westside Gunn & Conway the Machine),” features incredible verses from each of the core Griselda artists. Similar to this track, one of the many highlights of this project is the features.
While listeners get to see the expected Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine on the project, they also get to see some pretty interesting features. Benny picked a great selection of artists that help paint the picture of this project perfectly.
Rick Ross on “Where Would I Go” provides a hard-hitting yet nonchalant verse that finishes the track strongly.
Freddie Gibbs’s verse on “One Way Flight” is a short, boastful one with plenty of witty one-liners. His chorus on the track also ties the whole piece together perfectly.
Other features like DOM KENNEDY, Lil Wayne and Big Sean were perfectly-fitting artists on tracks that listeners wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be on.
While Benny’s feature selection was top-notch, it would have been refreshing to see features from artists like 38 Spesh, Flee Lord and Elcamino, among other Griselda-related artists.
Burden of Proof is yet another project by Benny that proves him to be the best lyricist in Griselda. His narration ability combined with his clever bars and hooks makes him insanely versatile as an artist.
The evident soul-searching that Benny does on the project is at a level that has rarely been seen from him or his peers. Burden of Proof is arguably the most complete project from any Griselda member, as Benny expresses all aspects of his life, both past and present.