The sound of Atlanta’s changing. Beatmakers have shifted from textbook trap 101 loops to more plugg-in inspired production where all sounds and instruments are synthetic, adding needed innovation to a trap sound that’s gone stale.
Coming of age during the peak of P2P sharing sites like Limewire and Frostwire’s dominance, Producer Popstar Benny has helped paint a different palette for Atlanta. If Zaytoven replaced the piano keys with digital plug-ins, Benny would be the outcome. He offers licorice sweet production that blurs genre lines of hyperpop, trap, EDM, drill, and jersey club, with 8-bit video game and anime samples. University!, Benny’s sophomore album featuring his friends and collaborators, feels like a Japanese RPG (think Persona or Final Fantasy); every artist has a specific role, with each song providing a soundtrack to their journey. It’s imaginative, fun, and a gleaming showcase of the next generation of ATL rap.
Producer tapes usually hold onto a singular sound for the duration of a project, but University! pivots; it slips in and out of different genres in seamless transitions throughout its 39-minute run time. Benny opens University! giving Bear1boss, his protégé born from Young Thug’s rib and the ATL Mount Rushmore of the 2010s, the lead spotlight. On the opener “Snow Boots On,” Benny muffles a soul sample as if it was buried underground, but it’s Bear’s vocals that bring out the euphoria in the chipmunk’d loop. When he’s flexing his ice making his wrists look wetter than a boat, his stretched-out voice no longer sounds human. The soul transitions into high-octane hyperpop synths on “Heavenly,” and Princesa 28 turns the beat into a field of flowers to frolic in.
University! contains a gumbo of artists, a vast variety that brings out Benny’s versatility as a producer. Drum snares and a Gorillaz flip takes over “feelbadcorps,” which features Surf Gang’s Moh Baretta who keeps his focus on collecting packs and keeping the trap moving. It’s Jersey Club friendly neighbor “All The Girls <3” features Tony Shhnow gliding over a beat that mixes soul sampling, hyperpop, and jersey club seared into one. “Cold Blood” sounds ripped out of an 8-bit JPRG, and Loso Hendrixx raps like he’s caught in the middle of its mayhem: distorted vocals, manipulated by Auto-tune, glitched out like it was AI-generated. There’s enough differing sounds to give listeners a real opportunity to discover the many emerging new subgenres of rap music.
The most exciting aspect of University! is the introduction of fresh faces in the ATL scene. Riding the bubblegum pop groove of “Kno Where 2 Start,” MoneyyShawn sounds reminiscent of Fatman Key! with the Auto-Tune glazing his melodic delivery. Jae Zakya proclaims herself as queen of the hill on “Call Me!” while she pushes away thirsting men, gets high and drinks lean because her pain is “9 deep.” Sk8star has one of the most fun moments on University! with “omg,” while sounding a bit formula based, his exaggerations are ridiculous to the point of hilarity: “I’m gon slam her, Undertaker”; “Took his hoe and bust her cheeks”; “it’s so good I buy her wings.”
Tony Shhnow, Bear1boss, and 3AG Pilot are the vets of the project, with their verses providing safety nets. On “Duck Unlimited,” Nolanberollin sounds like he’s locked in a recording booth underwater in what otherwise is a solid verse. Bear brings the charm on the track, “money in my backpack, money in my Bentley truck,” said like a nursery rhyme. $pook is University’s top of class, delivering one of the most infectious verses on the album. “Club Spook” is only a minute and a half long, but $pook fills the looped synths with bulletproof confidence as she asks for 10k to drop her tape.
Duwap Kaine and Bear1boss’s “The Freestyle” is University’s centerpiece. Imagine the PlayStation 2 menu ambiance looped, with trap drums and snares attached. Duwap and Bear’s chemistry steps in sync off each other’s energy. “Shipping that pack through the mail
n**** veah Gmail n**** Yahoo!, N**** they claim they got beef but see me and acting like the cool,” Duwap raps.
University! brings a solid roster of new talent to the forefront and allows Benny to showcase his expansive range as a producer. With the success of featuring Moh Baretta and Duwap Kaine on the album, it brings hope for more imaginative collaborations in the future to help support the artists with weaker performances. With University!, Benny plays the cool professor, providing the education for the next wave of emerging Atlanta talent.