To see where you’re going, you must understand where it all began. With Benny the Butcher’s new project, Tana Talk 4, the silver-tongued sharpshooter of Griselda takes listeners back to the beginning of his career in a true ‘back to basics’ moment.
If you’re from Buffalo, like I am, then you’re aware that Benny’s been busy besting his opponents and bodaciously mastering his craft for almost two decades—maybe even longer. The first instalment to the Tana Talk series, a mixtape from 2004, was one of the Butcher’s first big outings – a raw performance from a green-eyed street rapper hungry for his next opportunity. That was directly contrasted in Tana Talk 3, his first official studio album released in 2018, which featured Benny in a more complacent demeanor, reminiscent of a retired drug dealer who has made his escape to Florida.
Now, in a complete 180, Benny has dusted off his stove and headed directly back into the game on Tana Talk 4, displaying a hunger that invites comparisons to an unsigned yet determined version of himself. And it makes for a much better offering.
Charting the progression of the Butcher’s blunt lyricism punctuated with Pyrex punchlines about his humble beginnings, Benny takes listeners through a journey of his life in Tana Talk 4. Recapturing what made the Tana Talk series so special to begin with, Benny enlists Daringer and The Alchemist to handle all of the production across his last independent album as he stares into the face of the next chapter of his rap career: signing to Def Jam.
With that in mind, and the added context that rap-heads often look at Benny as nothing more than second-in-command to Westside Gunn, this ‘back to basics’ approach seems to have been more fueled by the desire to quiet naysayers and take that final leap. “With Tana Talk 4, I have a chip on my shoulder. No one thinks I can recreate that energy. I’m not trying to create the same energy, but TT3 was who I was then, what I was going through,” said the Queen City MC. “The things you hear me talking about on Tana Talk 4 is me now and who I’ve become.”
Beginning the project with “Johnny P’s Caddy” – featuring an equally hungry J. Cole, with both lyricists floating over impeccable Alchemist production – is one way to signify the aforementioned chip on his shoulder. Going bar for bar with one of the game’s biggest stars, Benny sets out to prove that the Def Jam deal and his journey thus far are no fluke; in the words of his Griselda counterpart Conway the Machine, God doesn’t make mistakes. Defiantly, Benny raps, “They wanna know what I brought to Griselda, I say, “Validity” / They askin “What work y’all niggas put in?”, I’m like, “What didn’t we?” / Problems that I correct through the obstacles I progress / Illogical for them to feel they responsible for our success / Besides Con’ and West, tell me, who else I gotta respect? / ’Cause I’m kinda perplexed, it’s bout time that I got my respect.”
The triumphantly produced “Thowy’s Revenge” transports the listener to the pothole-infested streets of Buffalo, painting a vivid portrait of his impoverished upbringing. Benny recounts his days running the streets as a young East-side native with dreams of taking his talents to levels Buffalo rap has never seen. He taps into the struggle and strife that plagued his mind as a youth and repurposes his trauma into one of the highlights of Tana Talk 4. “Made it out the hood, no problem / With no father and a poor mother / I was raised in a dope house, we had sticks in it like we’re storing lumber” he raps, juxtaposing how he started and where his talents ultimately took him.
On the outro track “Mr. Chow Hall”, Benny recounts the moment he was shot, an event that left him in a wheelchair for a couple of months. Going into shallow detail about the 2020 Houston shooting, Benny contextualizes the incident during his hospital bed-ridden days as the police badgered him with questions. Unfortunately, while unpacking trauma is no easy feat, Benny falls a bit short in grabbing the attention of the listener as the song lacks the picture painting qualities that Benny is more than capable of.
Tana Talk 4 sees Benny the Butcher at arguably his hungriest, bar-wise, as the chip on his shoulder consistently rears its head throughout the 12 track LP. Unfortunately, though, sometimes the album’s subject matter comes off as stale, adding no proper nuance or depth to the Benny the Butcher lore. There are shining moments where the Buffalo-based rapper seems to attempt to articulate a captivating tale that thoroughly illustrates his why, how, and who, but the project ultimately falls short of an emotional hook that reels the listener in for the long haul. Tana Talk 4 shows Benny the Butcher’s improving his rhymes, but doesn’t offer any more profound insight into the man behind the microphone – even as we return to where it all started.