First and foremost, who is Ben Z and how long have you been rhyming?
I am a hip hop artist, producer, and change agent living in Madison, Wisconsin with my wife and three children. For the last eight years I have been seriously pursuing rhyming. The last few years have included great opportunities for me to use my craft to work with youth through hip hop workshops in addition to creating my own music.
Recently you released an album called 'my mixtape'. What is the concept of 'my mixtape'?
The concept was more of an afterthought to be honest. I had spent a solid year networking and collaborating with artists through SoundCloud. At the beginning of 2012, I had roughly 50 tracks that had no home, so to speak. Rather than let them all sit buried on my SoundCloud account, I decided to create a compilation album with some of my favorites. To round out the project I held a remix competition together with the Upcoming Hip Hop Artists group on SoundCloud/Facebook using a set of my vocals. After fan voting was complete, the runner up and the winner each received a place on the album for the intro and outro tracks.
I noticed that the project features a lot of global talent. Explain the importance of networking and the power of interacting with talent across the pond.
'my mixtape' includes collaborations on every single track with a producer and even some emcees. Over 20 artists had their hand in the creation of the album, and many are from across the globe. If people think hip hop or other genres exists only in one region, they must be living off the grid. Some of the dopest tracks I've heard came from places like Greece, the UK, France, Canada, and China. In this day and age it seems foolish to not tap into international artists and connections for many reasons. The most obvious reason is the fact that billions of people exist outside your own country. Those people include potential fans, collaborators, and future friends. In fact I've had song plays in at least 120 nations over the past year.
To me, working internationally also fulfills my inner desire to interact with people from different places and cultures. Being a dad with 3 kids, I can't exactly hop on a jet and fly around the world, but sites like SoundCloud make it easy to connect with people and experience new sounds. Many artists I've worked with online have gone on to add me on Facebook and continue to build both professionally and personally. Much like Gillespie did with Jazz, I try to use my craft as an ambassadorship which creates positive connections across the oceans.
You can download 'my mixtape' HERE.
As an artist, I know that it is important to make an impact and connect with fans. Your music gives you the opportunity to impact people from all walks of life. Describe the feelings associated with presenting your gifts to the youth.
One of my goals in writing lyrics and creating music is to inspire. I hope that people — especially youth — are encouraged, inspired, and provoked to think about deeper things. I love to think that people are out there listening to a track of mine while feeling like my words fit their moment perfectly. As an artist, I feel the responsibility to present something of value and worth to the listeners. Additionally I go into schools and other organizations to actively work with youth through hip hop workshops. I love sharing my craft and time with kids who are looking for a positive outlet.
How can the masses get in contact with you?
You can find me at www.benzmusic.com as well as the following links: Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, YouTube, and on Twitter @BenZMusic1.
Can you detail 5 Simple Ways that we can use to empower the Youth?
1. Remember your own youth.
Think back to when you were younger. What would have been helpful to you from the older people in your world? Then think of ways you can use your craft and skills to creatively provide that encouragement to the youth in your community.
2. Get connected.
Find youth organizations that welcome your involvement. Often community centers, faith organizations, schools, or even other artists already have things in place that you can become a part of. Ask around to find out if there is some way you can help.
3. Be real.
Young people are already confronted thousands of times a day with phony images of happiness and life through advertising as well as their peers' ridiculous expectations. Often a moment of honest authenticity is like a breath of fresh air to youth who are going through the most awkward times of their life. I've found that sharing stories of my own troubled youth creates openness and hope.
4. Be creative.
I've brought professional breakers, dj's, producers, emcees, and other artists to school assemblies and after school workshops to inspire kids. It is amazing to watch as youth discover their voices through various methods of self expression. Instead of staying out all night with friends or causing a ruckus, kids can be inspired to fill notebooks with drawings, writings, songs, and other positive expressions. What creative things can you spark off for the youth?
5. Give them a platform.
So often the youth are vilified instead of validated. The youth are our future, and we are the current holders of the torch. Drop-out rates, achievement gaps, and crime statistics among youth will not be solved until “the grown people” realize it is up to us to engage the young people in our community. How can we use our skills and artistry to empower, validate, and inspire the youth? One way I have tried is by helping youth produce entire albums with their original beats and lyrics, music videos, and collaborative songs between myself and the kids. Let's use our artistry and expertise to amplify the voice of the youth!