“You can be indie and still do major shit.”
Not too long ago, when the idea of being a pop star wasn’t limited to a single genre, prosperous artists that sat at the very top of their mountains of work contained a level of charisma. That charisma was reflected in the personality of the said artist, and in the style of whatever it was they were creating. Whether that be music, physical, artistic creations like paintings or photos, or even modeling—that gravitational personality expressed through their creative medium makes them all the more exciting to see when in person.
A few decades ago, you could see that a pop star wasn’t just a title for a specific artist but a title used for their status. In the ’80s, they had Michael Jackson. In 2021 we were blessed to have someone like The Weeknd—and even still, his artistry and personality favor the same styles as that of a pop star. The name didn’t go anywhere, but the requirements and the achievements have changed—drastically. But that doesn’t stop those who believe that they can reach the heights of pop stardom. It only inspires them more. Once a door is made, it will be opened, and once an achievement is made, it will be rightfully awarded.
Recently, I was given a chance to speak with an upcoming pop star in the making, Popstar Benny. I’ve been a fan of Benny’s music for quite a while now. I was given the information to connect that Popstar Benny was formerly Benny Jetts, the name he used when I originally came across his atmospheric, outer-space production sound. From one era to the next, Benny has evolved beyond whatever potential he thought he had and entered into a whole new realm of dreams and possibilities ready to be explored. In our interview, I got the chance to speak with him about the usual meat and potatoes—where he’s from, how he started, and what his dreams are. But within this interview is truly the story and feel of a pop star in the making.
“Everything I did needed to be done with a purpose, and if not, then it can wait until the purpose shows itself.”
We had a small introductory conversation about our days and creative life. We also talked about the pandemic status of Atlanta as news had just broken that it would be officially opening up a day before we spoke. A casual icebreaker with an artist I’ve been listening to for a few years now that I never thought I’d talk with. As comfortable as ever, like we’d known each other for years, Benny walked me through his mind and showed just who exactly he is—not only as of the affluent producer but as the human behind that prosperous skill as well. From this walkthrough, I’ve seen the level of stardom awaiting Benny with my observations.
Who are you and where are you from?
I’m Popstar Benny. I’m from Cobb County, GA, which is more or less the suburban area of Atlanta, about 20-minutes or so away from the metro area. I’m a producer, DJ, and graphic designer—I do a little bit of random creative things, but my main hustles are the three I mentioned earlier. Those are the creative endeavors I do that I find the most joy in, so I’ve been keeping my full attention on them and just trying to incorporate each one in my daily life.
How did you come up with the name Popstar Benny?
I picked my first artist name in middle school: Benny Jetts—from the Elton John song “Bennie and the Jets”—and I had that name for a pretty long time. I like how those two names came together, but eventually, I felt I needed something new. Especially around 2017, I was feeling a little stagnant at the time. Moreso like I was evolving at the time, Benny Jetts was a cool name, but it wasn’t just “the” name. The “pop star” mentality came from when I was playing this song “Popstar” by meltycanon a lot around that time, then the word itself just stuck with me. I started seeing it everywhere, thinking about its definition, and even studying real deal pop stars. Especially the effect Michael Jackson used to have on people, like that “pass out when you see them” impact, you know? And that observation is what made the name click. So after a while, I just switched the name up. New focus came with it—because now it’s something to aim for, that level of pop star popularity. Maybe one day, my legacy will reach that level.
“Living in Atlanta is like being baptized in swag, honestly.”
How do you personally get involved with making music?
I was a super music fan at a very early age, to be honest with you. Back when MTV and VH1 used to play those morning blocks of all the hit songs and videos, stuff like that. Remember being young—in like 4th or 5th grade—and getting ready for school was just different for me because it always involved good music, you know? Like I’m not just getting dressed to it while it’s in the background, I’m paying attention to all the songs and getting dressed. Soak it in every day before school, you know?
I’d say maybe a year, or so later, I got into the Gorillaz very heavy. At that time, Demon Days had just come out, and it was the first time I was diving deep into music and listening to the instruments in the background, studying the diverse sounds, and just reflecting on the music and how it’s made. Maybe another year or two later, I became a big Soulja Boy fan, and just seeing him on YouTube make his beats on his laptop just threw me over the edge. After that, I was like, “okay, lemme see… Fruity Loops? Yeah, I need to get that ASAP!” and from there, it just clicked. A little bit after that, I put together Benny Jetts, and the rest is history. So I would say the Gorillaz helped me understand and appreciate music, whereas Soulja Boy inspired me to make music that I liked and do my own thing with it.
Growing up in Georgia—where some would say all of the current trends are arising from—
What was it like living at the peak of Hip Hop culture from a child to an adult?
It’s truly a blessing, I mean, the whole world is watching us down here, and we can see it ourselves. But to be in it is way different. It’s not a bad thing at all, though. I think it’s amazing for people like me because I can do what I do—I’m already in a place where people in my field wish to live. I wake up here every day. It’s a reminder that I have everything I need around me so, I need to do the work. The environment creates the people, you know? You can even see that in people that move here from somewhere else. It always comes full circle, everything that comes out of here is crazy, and everything inspired matches that exact level of astonishment. And we’ve had people from literally all over Atlanta see some shine; whether they’re on the street side of the alternative side, they’ve seen the rewards of their work. So again, it’s just motivational being here.
Put it plain and simple, living in Atlanta is like being baptized in swag, honestly. It’s so diverse out here you don’t know what you could walk into. If you put the work in and meet the people you’re supposed to, you’ll do everything you desire. That’s the only way I can look at it.
Do you have any idols or sources of inspiration for your career?—Any favorite artists?
Oh, for sure, I would say Kanye and Pharrell are my biggest musical inspirations by far. Just because of us growing up with them and seeing the two differences of their career. You had Kanye who wanted to go beyond the level of just making beats, where Pharrell found comfort in that shadow-like position and ascended to an unprecedented level in his career just like Kanye did, but differently. I remember seeing Pharrell in Frontin’ and just connecting, “oh, he’s not just doing the hooks on these songs, he’s making the beats, too.” So acknowledging the two of them had for what they wanted is a storybook to me. And that is where I get my grand and pop star nature from as well. To me, they’re the blueprint—whichever way you do it, with hard work and consistency, you always come out on top.
You mentioned earlier that you went under a different alias for a while at the start of your career—
How would you say yourself as an artist has evolved from that name? Were there any experiences you look back on as specific lessons?
I think the name switch changed my perception of myself. I believe it changed the way I perceived things, but it also changed the way people perceived me. Like I said, pondering on the idea of a pop star for a couple of months and choosing to make that my name put my mind in the position of making that happen. And with that came experiences that I needed to learn.
It sticks out way more when people hear the name and the tag. I mean, people respected Benny Jetts, but it’s different now. It’s stuck with you way more than before, and that’s exactly what I want too—I’m perceived as a pop star now because I’m Popstar Benny now. Because I put myself in a more serious light, people will react to that as they should. If it can be perceived that it is this way, then that’s their new reality. I’m moving with this as a career now, you know? We toss that word around a bit, but it’s serious. I’m trying to do this for the rest of my life—and the name change showed me and everyone around me that. Not a lesson, but a monumental moment where I felt like I had my life in my hands, if that makes sense.
You were one of the first people I saw with the name “hyperpop” behind their work. I wasn’t sure if it had been used before or if it was even an accurate description but—
How would you personally describe your sound of music?
Truthfully, I wouldn’t say I’m the one who kicked it off because I’m sure someone was going behind the genre of hyperpop somewhere before me, but I have been putting a lot of work into it. Only because—well, everything comes full circle, to be honest with you—So in 2013, when I was making beats to the point where I was releasing my work, the music of that time was the type of beats I was trying to make. All those sounds that came out from then and afterward were perfect templates for me to work off of and find my style and sound to make. Mainly because after that is when Soundcloud popped off, and this more experimental, diverse hip-hop sound had a place to call home. So it is fitting that I’m defined as hyperpop I think it’s truly a great fit.
Right now, I’m trying to balance between two or three sounds, but the main one that I’m releasing now definitely fits within that hyperpop lane. That name is funny because I remember being in middle school and showing another kid a beat I made. I play it, and he looks over at me and says, “this sounds like some Pokémon shit, man.” And at the time, it kind of hurt, but seeing it now is like, “yeah, I get it.” I was too in the future, you know? There was no space for that type of sound, but in 2021 that’s the vibe now.
It’s interesting to me how you work within such a close, tight-knit community that you’re constantly putting out work with a plethora of artists either within or outside of your camp—
What is it like to have a community of artists around you as often as you do?
Half of it is just my mentality. I don’t play any games with this anymore. Everything I do has serious effort behind it. In 2019, I quit my last cashier job, so after that, I knew I needed to make something happen. Before that, my producer work was more recreational, but I switched gears for real once I left that job. It was almost like I was saying to myself, “let’s get the ball rolling.” Everything I did needed to be done with a purpose, and if not, it can wait until the purpose shows itself.
When working with my friend group, I usually find myself in the A&R position. I provide the beats, and the artists will do the work they need to do. I put some people in a room together with the right energy, and excellent work comes from it. A good bit of the songs I make come from meeting up with my friends and working with them. People I know, like Tony Shhnow, will be at another one of the homies’ houses working over there, and I’ll get the correct information with them. I’ll play a few things for them on the spot, and the next thing I know, we’ve got 4 or 5 tracks out the way spontaneously. It’s motivational really, knowing that I have that ability to see the homies and know I can get work done makes it even more fun. We treat it like a job, but we try to have the most fun with it. We do things with a purpose and enjoy ourselves in our essence, which continues the flow of motivation.
Your tags are behind some of the best underground acts for the past few years, a plethora of names that we can go on all day about—
How did you go about getting in contact with these artists?
I’d say eight times out of ten; it’s more of an in-person type of situation. I know many people from the internet, but if we never meet in person, the likelihood of working is slim to none. It just happens how it happens. Early in my career, I wanted to plan out and track people down, but just letting it happen naturally over the past couple of years has been the easiest that it’s ever been. I might go out to a show and see someone in the crowd I’ve seen on Twitter or Instagram, and we meet up like that. I know the DM thing works, but usually, it kicks off in real life with the people I work with. I saw them, they saw me, or we already knew each other.
What is your work process like? Is it a nonstop cycle of work or is it broken into periods?
I would say it’s more of the latter. I find myself getting in modes where I’ll want to make 100 beats in a week. Still, whenever I get out of that mode, I’ll chill for a week or two and not do anything—sometimes, I’ll put things aside to deal with real-life situations or put my creative energy into other endeavors. I’ve been doing more of this with BEAR1BOSS, where I’m working on more managerial things and just letting him make as much music as he wants. I’ve been making a lot of music with him, so now I can step aside and focus more on the promotional side of things—the work will get done regardless. Plus, taking that break and just living a real-life is an inspiration in itself.
You work in such a diverse range of sounds, what’s it like finding inspiration to delve into these newer concepts?
The main thing is taking time to live. I’ll watch TV, play video games, or listen to music in those living periods. Lately, I’ve been studying more music, so I’ve been putting playlists together and just throwing things in them I find cool to me. Stuff like that always helps spark new ideas for sounds and something to work on for the future. Also, just staying up to date on the art world as a whole. It’s easy to disconnect now, but I like to be tuned in even when I’m just chilling.
What’s it like being a heavyweight, underground producer in 2021?
Would you say it’s easier to connect to the mainstream industry, or has that pipeline changed drastically for the worst?
It’s a very comfortable spot when you look at it. In 2019, when I decided to quit my job, I was also taking a hot second to look at the industry itself and where it was going. As part of my procedure to figure out my musical identity, that observation allowed me to see exactly where we “underground” producers stand and just how close the mainstream is to us. After getting a full view of things, I feel a little indifferent towards it, but if you get the brainwork of it, it’s just like the ABC’s—but that brainwork doesn’t come without research.
The A&R’s and the labels work on how the current industry is set up, so if you don’t know that, you’re out bad. I don’t trip too much over the status of things like that because I know there are always some connections to be made that will put you exactly where you need to be. Having that knowledge of moving around the underground while in the sight of the labels simultaneously will help you swim with the sharks. So I won’t say that it’s been more accessible, but the process has changed for the better. Now, if you do the work, things will come straight to you just as they’re supposed to.
Plus, we’re in the age where we’re all doing it ourselves. Some of us aren’t signed and are getting all of our numbers from streaming or YouTube and extra services like that. People are recording themselves, taking their photos, shooting their videos. There’s work to be done, and now we’re learning that you don’t need a loan from the label to do this. You don’t have to sign a contract anymore. With enough dedication, you can outwork a contract, you know? It’s almost like the labels keep up a front to let us know they still work, but in reality, we know and see the truth.
“It’s a reminder that I have everything I need around me so I just need to do the work.”
Do you think you have an advantage to being in the music scene because you’re independent?
Oh yeah, 110%, and that’s the beauty of it. The infrastructure that’s forming for us artists taking the independent route shows me nothing is stopping me from getting a placement with these certain artists—and just because I’m not signed means, I can do whatever I want. I’m not tied down to another company or organization backing me, it’s just me, and that’s all I need in some aspects of what I do. There have been times where I’ve had label placements and things like that, and I didn’t see anything from it for a while because of all the extra shit that came along with it. So not being tied down to that is a 110% advantage, and I think it’s something new artists should be aware of. You can be indie and still do major shit.
What does the future—whether near or far—for you and Popstar FM look like?
The main goal is to find a physical location for the PopstarFM studio. We are trying to settle down on a headquarters to have people work out of. That’s been the focus for a while now. We have a couple of people who have their spots around town that we lock in and record, but I know it’d be different if we were all in the same space. Then I could start experimenting with the other ventures we have in mind, but all that will fall into place once we find a place.
Do you have any words of advice for those following behind you on your path to pop stardom?
I would say keep a 110% focus on your craft at all times. Don’t forget to live your life and be inspired, but always hold that craft in front of you. Keep the tunnel vision and never forget the goal because it’s what will keep you going when it gets dark. Try as hard as you can not get distracted, and stay with the work because you honestly never know when it’ll pay off in your favor. Kind of generic advice, but that’s truthfully the way it is, and I hope those that listen to me see what I’m talking about and say, “man, I’m glad I heard about that.” Stay focused, stay prepared, and stay hungry.