[Black Soprano Family/SRFSCHL; 2021]

As a hip-hop collective, Griselda feels like they’ve been around forever yet also like they’ve just landed. They pay their respects to and share tracks with New York forebearers like Method Man, Slick Rick, and Jadakiss, never looking like mere upstarts. But they also possess a hunger you might not associate with rappers closer to 40 than they are to 30. The Griselda story is one of artistic drive leading to recognition leading to further drive.

Founding member Benny The Butcher is maybe the most consistent member of the core trio of himself, Westside Gunn, and Conway the Machine. But his consistency isn’t a stagnancy. The Plugs I Met 2, credited to Benny and producer Harry Fraud, doesn’t just regurgitate the mood of the 2019 series starter. Scarface artwork aside, this is that record that lets us know Benny face-to-face, even if all of his releases have been revealing in at least some way.

It’s not Benny’s version of 4:44, but many of The Plugs I Met 2‘s highlights find him reflecting, in ways that go beyond brief memory scans to fill out a verse. On the particularly weighty “Survivor’s Remorse” he thinks of a friend and fellow dealer now serving a 20-year bid. Earlier, in the same verse, he says, “When I was nine, my momma sent me to the store to get the kids some milk.” Plenty of other rappers have expressed the burden of being forced to grow up too soon, but how many can do it with that amount of poetic subtlety? 

Benny’s still The Butcher, though, and The Plugs I Met 2 keeps his blades as sharp as ever. Opener “When Tony Met Sosa” has him talking about the adulation he’s received, being told that he “saved” rap and about his cred among those incarcerated. He’s more about building himself up than he is about tearing others down, but a proper Benny boast is enough to make any insecure rappers feel at least a little singed by proxy.

“No Instructions” has Harry Fraud’s most somber production, as he implements tearjerker strings. It’s also one of the most intriguing looks into Benny’s psyche; he transitions from talking about being in prison and his commitment to righting past wrongs upon release. Yet, the dealing keeps going, and he admits he’s still got flaws. There’s no “but” at the end of that. A promise was made to a higher power, but it still wasn’t enough.

It doesn’t stop there, however. The second verse of “No Instructions” is focused not on Benny, but on other rappers, The Butcher talking about how they’re inauthentic and “just tryna sell records.” It’s not clear if he’s lambasting them for trying to claim a lifestyle that was never theirs, or for shying away from it as they worked to build up their mainstream clout. He raps as someone who is simultaneously in and out of the drug game, or whose veteran status allows him certain privileges when talking about it. Coming off his most accessible record to date, 2020’s Hit-Boy-produced Burden of Proof, Benny seems like he wants to remind us of how rooted he is to the underground, regardless of any Big Sean guest features.

The Plugs I Met 2 still has a fair bit of pop appeal. Benny sounds enough like 2 Chainz on “When Tony Met Sosa” to make Tity Boi’s actual feature on “Plug Talk” feel a bit redundant, but he still has plenty of fun with lines like “I tell you ‘Happy Birthday’ on the wrong day.” Another guest, Jim Jones, rounds out “Longevity” with a moving verse that succeeds for being unafraid to look a little saccharine. The late Chinx also fits in well into Benny’s oeuvre, but while his verse on “Overall” (likely available courtesy of fellow guest French Montana) is decent, it’s his hook that stands out. In fact, it kicks off a run of four consecutive knockout choruses. Hooks aren’t a prerequisite for a Benny The Butcher project, but it’s awesome to see how well he incorporates them into his gritty tales. 

With a runtime just under 30 minutes, The Plugs I Met 2 perhaps ends before it has a chance to dig into Benny’s psyche as much as it could. There’s a blessing to be found in wanting more, though. Benny and the rest of Griselda are a force so reliable and prolific that they should be boring by now. But The Plugs I Met 2 suggests that we’re just getting to know them. 

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