By Enygma (@IamEnygma)
On February 25th 2011, Benny Black turned 18. We had previously been communicating via social media talking about his rapping style and how he could become a top class MC. He reminded me of myself except he didn’t realise that he had more natural talent. He just needed a bit of polish to shine. So for his birthday present we would finally meet and I’d introduce him to hip-hop producers and other MCs. He was a shy and awkward teenager those days. One would not easily tell that inside was the potential of a beast waiting to be harnessed. But still, my peers were impressed with the little they heard and unanimously agreed that he was good for his age. It didn’t take long for people to stop applying the suffix “…for his age”.
Shortly after that Lyrikal Proof, The Mith and I released Klarity Anthem featuring Evon. In a bid to both promote the song and seek out fresh Ugandan talent, we released the instrumental and challenged young rappers to spit 16 bars on it and impress us. Benny entered the competition and won. From then on he was relentless, track after track, feature after feature, he impressed time and time again and grew in stature. He dropped two very well received mixtapes (Black’s W.I.T.S and the Lost Tapes) where he established his reputation as one of the deadliest lyricists in UG Hip-hop. Whether rookies or veterans, everybody knew there was danger if Black was involved. And he still managed to maintain a respected presence on the scene despite relocating twice, first to Rwanda, then to the United States to pursue his university degree.
Living in the States, he had to take a bit of the break from recording studios in order to maintain his straight A status in class. He still found time to make a diss track for Code when the latter suggested nobody under 25 in UG’s Hip-Hop scene could come near him. When you have creative juices flowing through your veins you need an outlet and so Benny put together a simple bedroom studio (with a decent mic and a laptop one can do a lot, that’s how I started too) and started to create whenever the mood took him. He was far away from the continent of his birth, living in a foreign land, studying hard, working hard, a relationship or two, meeting new friends, missing old friends and family, transitioning from boyhood to manhood and probably feeling lost at a time when he was expected to find himself. He poured these emotions into his bedroom microphone. But he didn’t just make diss tracks. He experimented with ballads and playing instruments and humming melodies and actual singing. He was exploring the outer reaches of his own self-expression, breaking through self-imposed limitations he had not realised were blocking his artistic progress. Once he was done with his books (graduating Summa Cum Laude, no less), he knew what type of debut album he had to make. It was not going to be the barbaric bar fight that had characterised his fledgling career. He would throw those shackles off and focus on songs. Songs that his younger sister could bump with her friends, songs that could show his friends the emotional roller coaster he had been on, songs that could show the industry how he has grown as an artist.
Most people will be streaming this album on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, BandCamp etc. but if you decided to purchase the physical copy (available at Keek Store, Mabirizi Complex, Shop L1-3), then you will feel the quality as soon as you tear off the protective packaging. The CD case has a high quality glossy finish, inside and out, that are a treat for the eyes as well as the hands. The title of this album “Afroppuccino” is derived from “frappuccino,” which is a blend of coffee and other ingredients. This represents his album well seeing as it is a blend of different styles fused together seamlessly. He fixed an “afro” in front of it to represent his African heritage which will also be recognised in some of the instrumentals. Most impressively, there is a 24 page booklet inside the CD case with lyrics to all 16 songs on the album nestled amongst vibrant photos of Benny. At this point I should probably stop calling him that because CD case also shows us that Benny Black now goes by the moniker “Blixxack.” New name, who dis? This is a subtle statement that we should not expect the Benny we had grown to know and love. We should prepare for a whole new artist. And that is exactly what we got.
“I just wanted to put out all things I have been dealing with since the last time I released a full project…I am also more or less an open book now. I talk about my experiences with situations…Words can not possibly express how much work, dedication, sacrifice and honesty went into this album.” I find these statements very revealing because rarely in UG Hip-hop do we hear an MC expose himself so candidly nor make himself as vulnerable as we hear on this album. But what I personally found even more intriguing, is the sequencing of the album. It plays out like a movie of a young man facing the harsh realities of life. Our young hero emerges into the unforgiving streets of life, he hustles by day and hustles at night (go get ’em hustlerrr). He is optimistic about his future, making money and has God by his side. Enthusiasm is high. This plays out on tracks 2, 3 & 4 (Emisana N’Ekiro, Hunn3d, Millions). But we all know the hustle is hard and money doesn’t last and besides that we face so many other catastrophes in life, our protagonist loses confidence in himself and in God (Track 5. Answers Down Below). Track 6 and 7 (QLC & WYK) see his self confidence continue to descend into insecurity and anxiety and then finally full blown depression and suicidal thoughts.
Not strong enough to end his life, he turns to drugs and alcohol to drown his sorrows which soon develop into inescapable addictions. He knows he’s slowly killing himself but doesn’t care anymore (8. Intoxication & 9. Poison). He’s given a rude awakening when he and his girl face a pregnancy scare (10. Ultrasound) and he starts to appreciate the value of life again. The strain of the ordeal causes him to lose his girl (11. Sometimes I Wonder) and he eventually finds a new addiction: WOMEN (12. Around Your Finger, 13. Sunken Place). He’s in and out of relationships and flings until they start to blend together (14. Side Ting). The only person who understands him and able to provide comfort through his turmoils is his ex-girlfriend (15. Ex N Os). However, the irony is that as they provide each other mutual solace, their relationships with their current significant others are deteriorating as a result.
What’s even more fascinating than the narrative I’ve found threading these songs together, is the fact that the instrumentals match them perfectly. You have some energetic hip-hop and trap sounds when he’s hustling hard and making money at the start of his escapades. Once the anxiety and depression set in, the music follows suit and becomes darker and moodier, matching his emotions. When he’s dying of alcohol abuse in Poison even the chorus becomes slurred! But when he’s partying with girls in the club the music goes upbeat again and you want to get up and groove with Blixxack as he tries to dance away his zibs. Putting together structured storytelling within one song is a challenge in itself. But to sustain it over 14 songs while matching the instrumentals as well requires extraordinary talent and Blixxack deserves all the plaudits that come his way. Mental health is a topic that has finally come under the spotlight in modern society after being swept under the rug as a taboo subject steeped in stigma for far too long. On Afroppuccino, Blixxack tackles the issue both delicately and aggressively, but never once losing grip of the personal experiences he regales us with so expertly.
One other surprise is that he demonstrates even more versatility on this project by singing the hook on every single song from Track 2 to 15! The only tracks where you hear the traditional version of Benny Black rapping his ass off are the intro (The Proem) and the outro (Alchemy). The sound and mood are maintained, but he just goes ham with bars from start to finish with no hooks, just to remind any doubters that it really is Benny still penning steel. The barfests bookend a treatise on adulting in 2018 crafted with such dedication and precision that one cannot listen to this album and remain unmoved. He started out writing rhymes until he finished the lead in his pencil and now he’s turned that spent lead into golden bars. He truly has performed alchemy.
On February 25th 2018, Benny Black turned 25, turned into Blixxack and gave us a work of art for a birthday present.
4 out of 5.