By Josh Weiner
Many rappers have been engaged in a dual battle of putting out popular music while also trying to overcome legal troubles. The latest to this party is Blac Youngsta, a South Memphis MC who has made various dents in the charts, while also having run-ins with the law that threaten to undermine his career progress.
Blac Youngsta was born Sammie Marquez Benson in 1990. Although he was subjected to a “suffocated socioeconomic upbringing,” Benson made ends meet by means both ethical (working at a grocery store) and less so (selling drugs and stealing food from the store he worked at). After a friend suggested he give rapping a try, Benson began recording mixtapes– including his Fast Brick trilogy– and caught the attention of Yo Gotti, one of the city’s most prominent MC’s. Gotti has been supportive of his protegé, signing him to his Collective Music Group label and appearing as a guest on his lead single, “Heavy.”
Unfortunately, Benson was in and out of jail throughout his youth (“I went to jail for dope charges, gun charges…. the longest I did was probably like a year”) and this lifestyle continues to plague him as an adult. Last year, the rapper turned himself into the police following a shooting incident involving rival rapper Young Dolph. Although Benson was eventually released on bond, he no doubt will have to make a clean break from his criminal history in order to reach his full artistic potential.
On that front, there are signs of promise. Blac Youngsta secured a deal with Epic Records last year and has just recently released his first LP, 223, this past February. The album was promoted by the lead single “Hip Hopper,” featuring Lil Yachty, which received minor airplay and reached the “Bubbling Under Hot 100” chart. The follow-up, “Booty”— the title of which sums up its subject matter quite aptly– has become Blac Youngsta’s most commercially successful single yet and first to crack the Billboard Hot 100; the remix with Chris Brown, Jeezy, and Trey Songz will likely catapult the single to further heights.
Although that song is nothing that mainstream hip-hop hasn’t encountered time and again in the 26 years since “Baby Got Back,” the rest of 223 proves to be more lyrically impressive. “Old Friends” documents the sorrow Blac Youngsta has endured watching his comrades fall, one at a time, to the perils of the inner city, while tracks like “Late” and “Heavy Camp” document the various hardships he and his family faced while growing up in Memphis. Blac Youngsta goes into reporter mode on “Strength,” addressing the recent sling of troubles that have slammed African-American communities in cities like Miami, Houston, and Flint. “We gotta stick together as black people,” he raps, pleading for unity. “If we come together, we’ll have more strength.”
Candid lyrics of this nature, along with solid production from the likes of Scott Storch, Tay Keith and Murda Beatz, make 223 a thoroughly compelling listen. It will be exciting to see where the Memphis MC heads next now that his mainstream career has been launched.