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By Lauren Wise
There's cheeky and then there's just don't give a...
Boston rapper Benzino, co-owner of hip-hop magazine The Source, is the latter. Despite controversy over his editorial policies – former Source staffers have frequently complained of pressure from the boss to give his albums positive reviews – the rapper includes a coupon for three free months of the magazine inside copies of Redemption, his new album.
That's not his biggest gaffe, though. Benzino, a former member of undistinguished groups the Almighty RSO and Made Men, is a hip-hop Zelig. He unabashedly, and foolishly, switches styles to suit his guests. He takes on the guise of a peace-loving Rasta man with Wyclef Jean on "Neva Shuvin'": "We never shuvin' niggas/We try to hug you niggas." What is he? Ghetto Barney?
On "Gangsta's Touch," the rapper adopts a Ja Rule growl on a duet with Ja's Murder Inc. cohorts Black Child and Cadillac Tah. He then brazenly rips off the guitar riff to P. Diddy's "I Need a Girl, Part II" on "Would You," down to the employment of Puffy foil Mario Winans on the song's gospel hook. With Fatal Hussein of the Outlawz, Tupac's former crew, on board, Benzino transmogrifies into a gritty-voiced, weed-tokin' fatalist obsessed with his own mortality. Sound familiar? And not surprisingly, when Daz Dillinger stops by, Benzino keeps it gangsta with an old-school G-Funk bounce, Middle Eastern flutes and a flow that sounds like Ice Cube leftover from 1995.
With his renewed focus on the clubs ("Rock the Party") and sap for the ladies ("Different Kind of Lady"), Benzino is happy to chase mainstream credibility even as he forgoes a unique identity.
By now, you've likely read all about Benzino's beef with Eminem. Sadly, his by-the-numbers Eminem dis track, "Pull Your Skirt Up," was hardly worth the time Eminem spent responding to it on the mix tape replies "I Don't Wanna" and "Nail in the Coffin." If, as he raps in his clumsy flow, Eminem is the "2003 Vanilla Ice," then Benzino – ments and Eminem's large security detail – must be 2003's update on the Madd Rapper, a self-important creation that can't sell nothing.