It’s not the best album to come out under the Griselda Records banner, but The Plugs I Met 2 shows Benny the Butcher still can fulfill basic expectations.
The COVID pandemic scuttled release plans for untold numbers of musicians and performers, leaving vast expanses of the last year largely unpopulated with noteworthy album drops. That void seemed to have been aggressively filled by Griselda Records and its founding/headlining trio: Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, and Benny the Butcher. This Buffalo, New York rap collective (with some domain also over Detroit, since they count Boldy James as a member) has maintained an undeniable dominance over the last 12 calendar months of releases. Which isn’t to say that Griselda wouldn’t have broken out without a gasping space to fill, but more that the stars aligned for the brand-savvy crew; they’ve always been good about keeping their name in the conversation, but as the reach of their promotional apparatus has grown (with Eminem, Jay-Z, and Virgil Abloh all putting significant investments down), they’ve only gotten better at doing so. A sudden dearth of competition certainly didn’t hurt of course.
The Plugs I Met 2 is — approximately — the tenth project out under the Griselda banner since March 2020; it’s also Benny’s second in that time, following October’s Burden of Proof — and not counting a starring role in Griselda Films’ first feature, Conflicted. All this puts Benny still just a little behind compatriots Gunn and Conway, who’ve cranked out three albums each during the same timeframe — plus, Conway’s highly-anticipated Shady Records debut is said to be coming very soon. The least prolific rapper of the three by degrees, Benny makes up for it by scoring prestigious collaborations with Hit-Boy (Burden of Proof’s sole producer) and Harry Fraud, who handles all the production duties on this new project.
As far as rapper/producer matchups go, Benny and Harry are practically too perfectly aligned; their pairing is almost on the nose. The two artists have equally dedicated themselves to preserving a specific legacy of NYC hip-hop, though Fraud’s career goes back at least a decade now, a span of time during which he’s convincingly asserted himself as a torchbearer for the hard-hitting coke rap of yesteryear by working with both genre progenitors (Max B, Jim Jones) and revivalists (French Montana, Action Bronson). Benny is in the latter camp: Griselda have found significant success positioning themselves in opposition to contemporary trends in rap music, decrying inauthentic personae and minimalist production.
The Plugs I Met 2 fulfills any and all expectations one could attach to a meeting like this; it boasts nine, cleanly produced, soul/funk sample-driven beats, over which Benny recounts harrowing, firsthand stories of the drug trade. There are some featured rappers here (all over the age of 35, aside from Black Soprano Family’s Rick Hyde), and all their contributions are serviceable — though none really stand out from, nor urgently accentuate, what Benny’s laying down. (Fat Joe’s reference to the “Wuhan Virus” is certainly memorable, but for different reasons…) This isn’t an easily dismissed project in terms of the level of its craft, but it nonetheless inspires little passion — even despite drawing from the bleak lived experience of its author. Benny has built his career on this point of credibility, yet his approach feels diluted, distracted by tendencies toward homage and tangents of frustration with other rappers and their careers. It’s all ultimately part of the brand, but since it seems that Griselda is a group who are here to stay, one hopes that they’ll find something more to say.
Published as part of Album Roundup — March 2021 | Part 1.