Benzino, ‘Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta’ and Me

Ray “Benzino” Scott is one of rap’s most resilient figures, a stone cold gentleman with the ladies and the most redeeming character on VH1’s Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta–in that order!

I have some history with Benzino and his buddy/business partner David Mays (who I’m not necessarily a fan of). Back in 2000 I was writing a bunch for Spin magazine. I was on contract for both Vibe and Spin—which was awesome. I got to write Kid Rock cover stories for Spin and Busta Rhymes cover stories for Vibe. Anywho, around that time I pitched a story to Spin about The Source magazine—more specifically about the lives of its co-owners of what was the biggest hip-hop mag then, David Mays and Raymond “Benzino” Scott.

As I had always understood it, Mays co-founded the Source magazine with Jonathan Shecter. Mays and Shecter both attended Harvard University and started the magazine there as a simple one sheet. The also had a college radio show. Mays was nicknamed “Go-go Dave” because he was from the home of Go-go music, Washington D.C.

[Editor’s Note: After Shecter left the magazine, The Source‘s origin story got murky. Mays asserted that Benzino, a member of Boston rap groups Amighty RSO and the Made Men, was not only a co-owner but also a co-founder of the mag. Had Benzino always been behind the scenes or was this revisionist history? It was and still is unclear.]

I was commissioned to write a story for Spin about Mays and Scott but while I was in the middle of penning that, I was awarded a fellowship to the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University via the National Arts Journalism Program. When you get the fellowship they expect you to drop everything and focus on your studies. So I did.

The Benzino/Source story never came out, but I got to hang with him for a minute. I went up to Boston, where he had a court case he was dealing with. Went to his old hood, talked to a lot of his old homeboys. Went to the recording studio that he owned that was like, one of the illest I’d ever seen. I went to Benzino’s house in New Jersey and he showed me his cars, and his home theater, and personal gym. I told him that he was living better than most majorly successful rappers. He told me that all of his material wealth meant nothing until he scored a platinum plaque (which confused me).

Months go by and I get a call from my friend and White Mandingos bandmate Darryl Jenifer, bassist for the infamous Bad Brains. Darryl tells me he’s in a recording studio with Benzino… up in Woodstock, New York. And I’m like “OK.” And Darryl’s like, “Yeah, so I asked Benzino if he knew you and he said something like, ‘Yeah, Sacha Jenkins is a damn FBI snitch.’” The Feds were investigating Benzino and crew and because my story didn’t run, Benzino was under the impression that I was “snitchin’”. LOL. FOH. FTW. WTF?!

He was wrong—I just saw what they let me see which was a rich rapper, initially from the ‘hood, who was living pretty swell. The story didn’t run, but I do recall being up late to interview Dave Mays while he was on business in Miami. And I do recall Benzino’s very cool pops ringing Dave Mays and asking him to get him “a room with an ocean view, PRONTO!” Dave asked if he could take care of it in the morning, but ZNO’s dad said “NO!” Best believe Dave Go-go’d and handled that shit immediately.

But I digress. On Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta Benzino isn’t the bully or gangster he’s reputed to be–he’s the voice of reason. On LHHATL Benzino is the sane voice of love and commitment. His man Stevie J calls himself a bus driver and says that his baby momma Mimi and sidepiece/artist Joseline can either ride the bus or hop the fuck off if they don’t like where it’s going. Steebie’s a scoundrel and a liar while Benzino plays the role of the sage, caring friend and sensitive boyfriend to a sometimes undeserving Karlie Redd.

There have been people online who have been dissing Benzino—saying stuff about his neck and other mean things. But I’ve also seen lots of women essentially offering to throw him some “P” and that’s no surprise. On the show, Benzino cooks food for his woman, and he even went to meet her with a ring! Black women love that—shit, WOMEN love that. Man, if Benzino turns out to be the lightskind-ed Denzel Washington for the hip-hop set, good for him. He battled Eminem and lost. Years later though, he’s still here. Like the most fit cockroach you’ve ever seen. ZNO, please take that as a compliment. You became the most socially redeeming part of a show that makes black people look like overly-emotional, totally irresponsible fuck monsters with mothers who say the darndest things. So many people counted you out in hip-hop Benzino, and you’re STILL HERE, decades later. If that’s not gangsta, may Tony Montana shoot up my Honda Element.

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