Last week Funk Volume released the trailer for its upcoming documentary, Independent Living. Co-founded by Hopsin and CEO Damien Ritter, the Los Angeles-based indie imprint embarked on a 44-city tour, delivering their brand of genre-pushing Hip Hop to their legions of nationwide supporters. The three-minute and 42-second short provides a compelling peak into life on the road for one of today’s most captivating collectives.
There’s a shot of Hopsin dangling from the rafters upside down Spiderman-style while his fans recite every bar. There’s another of Las Vegas-sensation Dizzy Wright describing the priority shift he experienced now that he’s become a father, followed by a separate clip of a fan forecasting that, “This time next year it won’t be 20 dollars to see Hopsin.” There’s even an unexpected shot of what appears to be a two-year old blonde girl saying the words “Funk Volume” on cue while wearing a baby Funk Volume T-shirt. The scores of millions of YouTube views FV has logged is one way to recognize brand recognition. Seeing Hopsin, Dizzy, SwizZz and Jarren Benton move masses towards mayhem is an uncanny indicator of brand loyalty. Suddenly Funk Volume’s semi-secret success is starting to feel not-so-semi-secret.
Jarren Benton and Dizzy Wright discussed numerous topics in this expansive interview with HipHopDX. But more than their thoughts on Rick Ross and Lil Wayne’s recent endorsement issues or whether Dr. Dre and Andre 3000 are capable of coming back with classics or Benton’s latest release, My Grandma’s Basement—what resonates most is the camaraderie between the two. Funk Volume is in the midst of crafting something extraordinary and Dizzy Wright and Jarren Benton are reveling in life on an indie.
Jarren Benton & Dizzy Wright’s First Impressions Of Each Other
HipHopDX: Dizzy, where were you the first time you heard a track by Jarren Benton?
Dizzy Wright: I was in Vegas. My manager, Dame, sent me the video. He sent me a couple videos, and the first video I checked out was “Shut Up Bitch.” I was rockin’ out, and I’ve been rockin’ out ever since.
DX: Word up. What about you Jarren?
Jarren Benton: The first video I saw from Dizzy was…Dame sent me a shitload; it was like three of them. Which one was the first one I watched? It was “Can’t Trust ‘Em.”
Dizzy Wright: It wasn’t my “Ill Mind? It wasn’t my “Ill Mind 5?”
Jarren Benton: Nah [laughs]. It was “Can’t Trust ‘Em.” I was fuckin’ with the song ‘cause I heard him perform the song at South by Southwest. Me and my homeboy was talking to each other—my homeboy L’s was there—and it was like, “Damn, this little nigga here goin in.” So when I saw the video, I was already familiar with the song, and I thought it was dope as fuck. I saw Hopsin and SwizZz, and it was funny. The shit was dope.
The shit that got me was the video, when Hopsin got his hair…he cut his shit. I’m fuckin’ it up, but Hopsin cut the nigga’s hair. And he was like, “Yo! Yo…bro!”
Dizzy Wright: I do not sound like that [laughs]…
Jarren Benton: That nigga was sounding like a little lamb [laughs]. I love that video, man.
DX: Were you impressed?
Jarren Benton: Hell yeah…hell yeah. I was impressed when I saw the nigga at South by Southwest. I was like, “Damn, they got a strong ass team.” And that’s why I was like, “I gotta be over there.”
How Friendly Internal Competition Helps Funk Volume
DX: Was that a hard decision to make? You’re a father; you’re a family dude. Was it important to be around cats that not only could spit but could maybe push you as an emcee?
Jarren Benton: Yeah, you know what, that was important, man. It would be a shame to be on a label and everybody ain’t fuckin’ coming with it. Everybody just makes you step your shit up, because everybody is solid. Everybody is fuckin’ dope, and I’ll put money on it. I don’t think nobody can fuck with our team bar for bar. I’ll just say it. I remember Snoop Dogg said that shit on “Rap City” one time; he put a bet out there. I’m doing it too. I’m putting up a million dollars—Dame’s money [laughs].
DX: So Dizzy, last year, Hopsin was already on the XXL cover, and you made it this year. Is there pressure behind that accolade? You have cats that get on that cover and do well, and there’s cats who’ll get on that cover and it’s like, “Where’d they go?”
Dizzy Wright: Yeah, no pressure at all. No pressure at all…I’m chillin’. Funk Volume’s a platform for artists to be themselves, so hopefully Jarren can be in my position next year and just keep it rockin’.
DX: Was there anything that you specifically felt you did to get those accolades? Was it just being nice as an emcee?
Dizzy Wright: I just got in tune with the fans, got on the road and traveled a lot. I did a lot of shows, and I stayed consistent with my music. I think it was being on top of my shit, releasing a lot of content and making projects out of it. I wasn’t just dropping music; I kind of had a home for all the music. So it worked in my favor.
DX: Who had the best verse on “FV 2013?”
Dizzy Wright: Jarren [laughs]. Jarren snapped on that, “Hello y’all it’s the bully / With a Trayvon Martin hoodie…” Stupid. I was like, “Mothafucka! I’ma get the nigga next time.”
DX: Do y’all do that a lot?
Dizzy Wright: Everybody just do they thing, but I feel like everybody is just constantly getting better. Now we all just feed off of each other, because everybody’s good with their words. But we all make each other step up. You just hear something, and it’s just like hearing anybody else that’s talented. You go, “Yo, I gotta step it up. It’s the same thing.
DX: No doubt. Jarren, this one’s for you. Dizzy’s mom is really involved in his career…
Jarren Benton: Man, shout out to Mrs. Wright…gotta love it. First, let me say this. I’m sorry to cut you off on your own interview. I’ma say this, then I’ma let you finish. Look at this nigga’s shoes, man! You gotta get this shit. My nigga—that’s that West Coast shit. I’m from the South, so this that type of shit we used to watch in like Boyz N the Hood and Menace II Society…the socks with the house shoes.
Dizzy Wright: Yeah. Yeah, you niggas can’t pull this off over there.
Jarren Benton: But anyway. Go ahead on…back to you [laughs].
DX: Is it ever tricky sometimes? Y’all are real emcees, and you really say what’s on your mind. Do you ever think, “Man, what’s my momma gonna say when she hears this rhyme come out?”
Jarren Benton: Nah, I’ve been like this since I was 15. I’ve had worse songs when I was 15 than I have now.
Dizzy Wright: Oh, shit.
Jarren Benton: And my mom used to be like, “What the fuck?” So they’re used to it. The only thing I worry about now is endorsements with this Rick Ross shit going on. I’m like, “God damn, if they got him, and I happen to get an endorsement…shit, it’ll suck to get that money and then get that shit pulled from you. So, after that shit, I’m probably gonna be a Christian rapper on the next album [laughs].
Jarren Benton Talks Censorship & Corporate Endorsements
DX: You’re gonna go the LeCrae route.
Jarren Benton: Hell yeah, I’m switching it up.
Dizzy Wright: That nigga spooked [laughs]! That shit got him spooked…
Jarren Benton: Hell yeah, they did it to Lil Wayne too. He just said, “Beat the pussy up like Emmitt Till.” I know it was disrespectful to Emmitt Till’s family; I get it. And Rick Ross just said, “Slip a little Molly in her drink,” you know. They was fucked up shits to say, but it wasn’t like, to the extreme.
Dizzy Wright: Yeah…
Jarren Benton: So I’m just imagining, because some of the shit I say is to the extreme.
Dizzy Wright: You just think about some old Eminem and shit, and he was just saying crazy shit and being outspoken. I ain’t saying it’s right, but I felt like the punishment was crazy. It was like, “God damn!”
Jarren Benton: And then I’m black too, so I can’t do the same shit Eminem could do because he’s white. He’s a fuckin’ dope emcee—white or black—but it is true…certain shit he got away with, and I don’t know if I’ma be able to get away with that shit.
DX: Good point. Do you think Rick Ross still would have gotten dropped from Reebok if he had a better apology the first time around?
Jarren Benton: Yeah he still would’ve got dropped. But let me say something…
Dizzy Wright: What was his first apology like?
Jarren Benton: It was nonchalant…
— Mastermind (@rickyrozay) April 4, 2013
DX: Yeah, it was a tweet that basically said, “I’m sorry y’all took it that way.”
Jarren Benton: But you know what’s crazy? I gotta say this. Hip Hop—we are empowered. Corporations come to us because we make your shit better. If we really was smart, we could switch that shit around like, “You know what? Y’all pullin’ us? Well, don’t fuck with Reebok. We just don’t ever use our fucking power.
Dizzy Wright: Just make that shit look lame. Instead of empowering they shit, start clownin’ a nigga like, “Nigga you rockin’ them Reeboks?” Then the tables turn on them niggas, and it’s not even cool…
Jarren Benton: Yeah, we could fuck Reebok up if we really wanted to. We got a lot of fuckin’ power, and we’re not using the power that we got in Hip Hop.
Jarren Benton & Dizzy Wright On Independent Success
DX: One of the reasons you talked about wanting to be with Funk Volume in the first place was having that control—being in the driver’s seat. If you’re on the label without that control, do you still have that type of success?
Jarren Benton: Well now, the indie market is all through social media and the Internet. The majors are now trying to use the same methods as independent labels. Shit, look at Mac Miller, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis—they’re doing it. They’re setting the steps to do that shit.
Dizzy Wright: Wiz [Khalifa] did that shit.
Jarren Benton: Wiz—hell yeah.
DX: Dizzy, what’s the response from people in Decatur when they see Jarren Benton?
Dizzy Wright: I’m not sure, because I’ve been working. I’ve been to Atlanta once, but Atlanta is a tough market. There’s so many artists, and there’s so much turn up out there. He gets love from what I’ve seen, but I don’t get to see the full amount of love that the nigga probably really gettin’ because I’m not there. I live on the West Coast. But yeah, the response is real nice. The response is always nice when we’re there.
DX: How often do you guys all hang out as a label—Hopsin, SwizZz—how often are y’all together?
Jarren Benton: Usually when we’re in the same city.
Dizzy Wright: Yeah, when we’re in the same city—during shows, when we got meetings, at videos—we can only kick it when we’re working. But we’re always working, so we always run into each other.
DX: Does it feel like a family, or does it feel like a company?
Dizzy Wright: Yeah, definitely a family. It’s small as hell, dog. We got a tight squad, we all on the same page, and we all know what’s going on. Ain’t nobody out to lose. It’s like a little family business…that’s what it is.
Jarren Benton & Dizzy Wright Talk Growth & Lyrical Gaffes
DX: I know you guys were just shooting your documentary. What are people going to find out about y’all when they see the documentary?
Jarren Benton: That this nigga’s hair ain’t real [laughs].
Dizzy Wright: They gone find out Jarren’s real age [laughs]. They gone see that shit sink in. Nah, they gone find out a lot; they gone see the grind. We did a tour of 50 cities—just all of us grindin’—I was at a smaller stage…Jarren was at a smaller stage. To be able to see that and see where we’re at, they’re gonna be able to see the progress at the same time in real life. It’s not gonna just be some shit that’s just out, where you say, “Them niggas used to be some shit.” They get to still see the shit in action, and people get to kind of catch on to the wave. It just makes the shit tight as fuck.
DX: You did an interview with BReal.TV where you said you were still trying to find your style and still evolving—to the point where maybe one day you might just wear suits.
Dizzy Wright: Yeah, man I don’t know what I’ma do. I’m not making no plans, and I know that I just like to be honest. I’m outspoken, and I speak my mind. As long as I could do that on whatever…I like making music though. I just like making music. That’s really what it’s about right now.
DX: Honestly, is Hip Hop in a good place right now?
Dizzy Wright: Yeah, I mean, look at Kendrick Lamar. “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” is all over the radio; it’s 2013, bro. Two years ago, all I heard was [makes “four on the floor” cadence]. That’s all it was. Now when “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” is on the radio, I turn that shit up! That’s Hip Hop, man, so it’s possible now. Doors are being opened up, and these older cats are starting to get behind some of these younger cats. You see Joey Bada$$ and DJ Premier on “Unorthodox,” so shit is getting gangsta, dog.
Jarren Benton: I think Hip Hop is definitely in a good place, man; it’s some of the same shit that he said. I remember a minute ago when I was trying to get in the game, and Snap music was taking over. I used to be like, “Fuck. I’ll never make it.” But now, the door’s open, and my lane can get in. It’s always been in a great place, but it always goes through phases. I’m loving it right now.
DX: What’s a line of yours that you always stumble over onstage when you’re performing?
Jarren Benton: Ooh, the “Lean” line. Should I put it out there? I’ma be honest with you. Some nights I be so fucked up—like just intoxicated—that I’ll be like, “Philippine / Billie-Jean / Guillotine / Rita-lean / Drizzling / Jiggling / Ringaling /Nigga-ling…” I’m actually saying it now, but sometimes, I be like, “Jing-a-ing, ching-a-ling, ding-aling, ring-a-ling / Chainsaw blade goes ring, ring / Get a mothafucka…” Sometimes, I can’t remember that shit [laughs]. I used to never perform drunk, but once we started doing the tour, I started performing drunk like, “Damn.”
So that’s the secret, and they be crunk too! I’m going, “Jing-a-ing, ching-a-ling, ding-aling, ring-a-ling,” and they’re like, “Oh, he killin’ it.” That’s the hardest line to me, man. I can do it now though; I’m sober.
DX: Dizzy, what’s a line of yours that you stumble over?
Dizzy Wright: I don’t know, man. It’s just that I only stumble when I don’t go over my shit for a while. If I went on tour and I had no time to rehearse—like if I had to just add all my shit, and I hadn’t went over it a lot. That’s the only time I really stumble. I couldn’t even tell you a line, because sometimes I be getting faded too. I’ll be faded, and then I’m just like, “Go to the next shit!” That’s what it is.
Dizzy Wright & Jarren Benton Discuss Hopsin’s Next Album
DX: There’s a lot of people waiting on Hopsin’s next album. Have either of you heard it?
Jarren Benton: I got that nigga’s whole file, and I’ma leak it. So it’s coming out soon; I’m gonna drop it exclusively on my website like two weeks after my album.
Dizzy Wright: I ain’t heard shit from it [laughs], but I’m waiting for it too. I be texting the nigga…e-mailing him, DMing him on Twitter, sending him messages on Facebook pretending to be other people, and all kind of shit. I want the album, dog. Shit, I be cussin’ the nigga out. I don’t know…we waiting too, man.
DX: I think it’s interesting how we always say, “Andre 3000, when are you gonna put that album out?” “Hopsin, when are you gonna put that album out?” Is the album important anymore?
Jarren Benton: To us? Hell yeah.
Dizzy Wright: Yeah, it’s important to us for sure. He drop that album, and we gettin’ some pussy from that album [laughs]. You know I be on it. Nah, but it’s just important because he’s opened these doors for us. This Funk Volume shit is his shit, and we just want him to be as active as possible. People go through their own life situations behind this music shit. Niggas just have a life. He’s gonna get it together, and when he does, it’s gone be hard. The wait ain’t even gonna matter, and nobody will care about how long it took as soon as it’s out. They just gonna be bumpin’ the shit, waiting for the visuals and shit like that.
DX: Is he tough on y’all?
Jarren Benton: Who, Hopsin?
Dizzy Wright: Fuck no…we tough on that nigga! Shit, I be on that nigga’s head [laughs]. I guess we’re tough on each other. Nah, we tough on that nigga.
Jarren Benton: Nah, he ain’t tough on us, man [laughs].
I gotta say this man. When you’re talking about people who waited so long on albums—man, fucking Lord Have Mercy. I don’t know if y’all remember him; he was in FlipMode Squad with Busta Rhymes. That nigga was so dope. I used to be like, “When is this nigga gonna ever drop an album,” and he never did. He probably did, but by then I just didn’t give a fuck. So you can wait too long, and people will just say, “Fuck it, I don’t even care no more.”
Dizzy Wright & Jarren Benton On Dr. Dre & Andre 3000’s Hiatus
DX: Because we see that with Detox, right?
Jarren Benton: The only thing that scares me out Detox is that there are such high expectations for it. I don’t want it to fall short of that, and I would rather him not even put it out. I love Dr. Dre; that’s like a legend. I don’t want something that’s not going to live up to the expectations to be the last shit I remember Dre for. I’d rather him not even do it.
Dizzy Wright: But see me, I got confidence in that nigga, dog. I’m telling you, nigga. He the nigga behind Kendrick, dog. He’s behind there throwing that little extra in there. That’s not saying he makes Kendrick Lamar—fuck no. But I’m just saying that nigga Dre is great. But I don’t think he’s gonna put that shit out. Is he even saying he’s gonna put it out?
Jarren Benton: I hope he don’t…
DX: The most recent thing he said is that he and Jimmy Iovine are opening a graduate program at USC. Right now they are about to start giving out different degrees and grants…
Dizzy Wright: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying…
Jarren Benton: Yeah, he ain’t gonna do that shit. Dre got big shit going on now.
Dizzy Wright: Yeah, he ain’t even talking about that shit. He’s bigger than Rap; I got Dre headphones. That nigga ain’t gotta put out no music [laughs].
Jarren Benton: Don’t do it, Dre. I’m just waiting to get to an interview so somebody can give me some fuckin’ headphones, man. I’m just putting it out there in case niggas got some headphones or something.
Dizzy Wright: This nigga trying to get that West Coast headphone come up [laughs].
DX: Do you feel the same way about Andre 3000’s solo album?
Jarren Benton: Now that’s a different story. I think he can put out an album, and it’ll be fuckin’ crazy. I really do think he can, because that nigga’s dope as fuck. The little shit that he drops—even when he raps on it—is crazy. The last shit he did, the Rick Ross shit, “Sixteen,” that nigga killed that shit. So he’s still got it in him, and if he puts some shit out it’s gonna be stupid. Plus he’s in his own fuckin’ world. You don’t know what to expect from him, so there are no expectations. You don’t know what to expect from that guy, so it’ll be dope.
Dizzy Wright: OutKast do some wild shit…they got some pretty wild records. When he in that mothafucka with his shirt off, playing the guitar with his hair permed out…just acting crazy like, “Caroline.” That’s that shit! I would love to hear an album from that nigga.
DX: That’s interesting how you word that, saying Andre 3000 still has it. Is there a part of you that feels Dr. Dre doesn’t have it anymore?
Jarren Benton: I feel like Dre still has it, but I remember Snoop Dogg saying something, and it was a real good fucking point. [Dr. Dre] doesn’t have those same people around him that helped contribute to those Chronic albums that we fuckin’ love. And everybody might be on some different shit too, you just…I don’t know.
Dizzy Wright: Yeah, them niggas is bigger than that now. Dre, Snoop…look at Snoop. He’s Snoop Lion, and he’s bigger than that now. Them niggas is beyond just Rap; they accomplished that already. They already did that on the biggest scale you could do it on, and that’s why they’re doing all that extra shit.
Jarren Benton: It’s like Prince. When Prince first started it was Prince and The Revolution. To me that camp—and Prince might probably hate me for saying this—was putting out the sickest shit. Today, you can listen to anything Prince and The Revolution put out, and it still sounds crazy. But when he wasn’t around those same people, I guess he changed mentally and got around new energy. It wasn’t the same. I love old school Prince versus new shit that Prince is doing.
I just don’t want the shit to be like that. Dre puts some shit out, and it’s like, “Damn, I’m still listening to the other Chronic. I don’t even listen to that new Chronic shit.” I don’t know…I don’t wanna be like that, man. Don’t do it, man.
Dizzy Wright On The Future Of Funk Volume
DX: That sounds like Funk Volume needs to stay together forever then.
Jarren Benton: You know what? It’s different, and I’m gonna tell you why. What makes Funk Volume dope is that everybody does their own shit, and everybody’s in their own lane. I can’t do what Dizzy do. I can contribute a verse or two, but I can’t sit here and…the same goes with Hopsin. We’re all in different lanes, so it’s not like we’re all working together on each other’s projects. We can throw verses on there, but individually, you’re the one making the sculpture. It’s not like I put a piece here, and he puts a fuckin’ piece there. He might just put a little color here or there. But what makes it so dope, is that we all doing our own thing.
You know what? That makes me think. Prince was composing and doing his own shit himself [laughs].
Dizzy Wright: See, you just taught yourself something new on camera.
Jarren Benton: Fuck…it don’t matter [laughs]. Damn…wow. Cut.
DX: Word up. I’ve just got two more questions for you. SwizZz—same question I asked about Hopsin.
Jarren Benton: SwizZz is working on some shit. SwizZz threw a verse on my fuckin’ album, and he beasted the fuck out. So I’m waiting on SwizZz’s shit. He’s working, and he’s gonna kill it. I don’t know when it’s coming out, but SwizZz got some shit.
Dizzy Wright: SwizZz is his own man. Because he’s one of the co-founders, he got out there and built the fan base. He knows that his fans aren’t going anywhere, and he’s taking the time to make sure he’s right. He’s making sure he’s ready for everything he’s about to enter into. So he’s back in the back, working on his music and doing his own little thing. When he comes, he’s just gonna come out swinging hard. It’s a good thing that we’ve got fans waiting for our artists to come out, because then the shit keeps growing on its own. People can expect greatness from SwizZz.
DX: Tell me one thing about Dame that people don’t know.
Dizzy Wright: It’s so crazy to me, because people on the Internet be hatin’. I interact with my fans and stuff, but I’m not really in tune with the Internet world. Half of them little fuckers on there talking shit are like 12-years-old, strongly opinionated, they watch these videos, and they think they know everything. They think they know about the Illuminati, and they’re just talking.
Behind the scenes, without no Dame, there is no Funk Volume. It don’t matter how good the rappers are. You have to have that business mind behind everything—the ones to tell you what to do and whip you into shape. This shit gets tiring. It’s like having someone to just keep everything together, and look for new artists. Dame wasn’t just the nigga behind the scenes, he was the merch nigga, the driver, the nigga working with the promoters, getting water and towels backstage when we was sweating. Somebody needs to make that hit happen. When niggas got a little bigger, he’s the one that got a security guard for niggas to be safe. Somebody gotta be like that.
So when I see niggas hating, that shit irritates me. Niggas don’t even know. You’ve got good rappers, but do you know how many good fucking rappers there are in the world? You’ve got to find them. And when you do, how can you get them niggas moving? How can you get all of them on the same page…on the same train moving in one direction but doing their own thing? That’s what everybody wants. Somebody needs to be able to keep that together. Who’s gonna do all the e-mailing, talk to all the niggas, book all the shows, make sure the tours is good, make sure everybody is safe and make sure you’ve got a little money in your pocket? Yeah, this is what we’re supposed to get, but you can just give us this for right now to make sure we’re good.
That’s everything, dog. You need a nigga like that that’s all about it. That’s somebody that you can just work with who’s not in the club trying to pop bottles, throw money, go dumb in that bitch and be the artist. You need a nigga in the back just chillin’ with his backpack and his laptop ready to talk to niggas. So I got the utmost respect for Dame over anybody. I get irritated when niggas don’t like him.
Jarren Benton: That was well said, man. I gotta say the same thing. I see a lot of that fuckin’ hating and shit, and I can’t even get mad at them. They don’t understand what goes into putting together a business. A lot of what they say is irrelevant; it’s just little kids talking shit.
But, for me, the one thing that people don’t know about Dame is that he fuckin’ loves Boyz II Men [laughs]. They that nigga’s fucking heroes, man. So if they’re watching, come sing at a show or some shit. Pop up at the show or something.
Dizzy Wright: All these rappers in the van, and Dame is driving throwing on Donnell Jones [laughs]. Like, “Nigga?” That shit is crazy.
Jarren Benton: It’s like five niggas in the car. You got a nigga in the car with a backpack with a gun in it and shit, and we rolling to “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye” and shit [laughs]. I love Dame though, man. I’ll ride for that nigga any day.
Video shot and edited by Emmeline Kim & Brooklyn Martino