BennY RevivaL: From Internet Troll to Frank Ocean Collaborator
FOREWARD: This article is about a musician with a large discography, and as a roadmap I have compounded some of BennY RevivaL’s highlights into one mix, with a song from each project to represent the work.
It is October of 2016. The final weeks of the upcoming presidential election soar by, dominating the news cycle until the vote… except for one anomaly: the clowns people began capturing on video.
This is where I found BennY RevivaL. His account had around 2,000 followers at the time, which is a far cry from his success today with over ten times that and recent collaborations with Frank Ocean and Blood Orange. With the bizarre phenomena of clown sightings in Fall 2016, promotional videos of him dancing to his music in masks got a lot of buzz for obvious reasons — this sort of viral marketing of his own has always been part of the ethos, though. This was simply a serendipitous turn of events for the man who has been doing it on his own since 2015.
Even prior to the clown craze, BennY RevivaL was an infamous shitposter. No, literally. One of his first videos to gain notoriety was a tweet tagging fellow Floridian rapper Robb Bank$, where BennY RevivaL films himself taking a shit on the ground. Before he blew up, his method for attracting curious viewers was by incredibly cryptic replies to mostly Floridian rappers and he became known as a sort of haunt of the scene, always lurking around the corner with bizarre antics.
While originally reviled in the underground rap scene specifically for his erratic behavior, BennY RevivaL became something of a strange friend to rappers and famous twitter funny guys. BennY has shouted out his friends and even penned songs for them, writing songs throughout his extensive discography about basedjesus, skrongmeat, freakmami, billratchet, and guwop, some of which being the only people to have met the man behind the mask.
Once every few days, he posts sporadic photos and videos of him in a genuinely impressive span of locations, BennY RevivaL has popped up in New York City, New Orleans, Vegas, snowy mountains, deserts, and forests — a far cry from his hometown of Duval, Florida. Sometimes he is simply posted up somewhere, other times he is doing incredible freestyle dance choreography, but he is always covered with a selection from his vast collection of masks.
BennY RevivaL’s enigma is an integral part of the equation. Despite being on his platform for over 5 years now (longer, if you look at the 20+ DJ mixes he uploaded to Soundcloud and DatPiff prior to writing his own music) no one knows his identity or what he looks like, outside of a handful of collaborators. A self-described loner, he has even mentioned that there is no partner taking the videos or pictures, he just asks strangers on the street for help. He is a very shy and introverted person and prefers to largely spend his time entirely out of the public eye.
He has also been a victim of a lot of abuse and dysfunction throughout his life, both as a child and as an adult. He shares some candid memories in a series of posts on Instagram, with each annual installation providing another “chapter” and links to the previous ones. These are hard to read, but are worth it, because they are some of the only windows into his background that BennY RevivaL offers.
Throughout all of his works there is a very clear and troubled voice painting the pictures, and he describes himself as a sinner who knows he will not go to Heaven as he is now. This experience growing up in a cold and painful world is a direct influence on his work, and there are multiple points in his music over the years that highlight specific tragedies inflicted to him by others.
BennY’s message is arguably even more cryptic than his identity, with the only easily identifiable part being serious belief in his cause. BennY RevivaL makes what can veritably be called worship music on the same albums that he talks about his abusive childhood, selling drugs, and his tumultuous relationship with sex. BennY’s raw portrayal of life and the world that created him is an essential part of the authenticity of his music, we are served his ideas directly without the veneer of rules or restrictions — for better or for worse.
In addition to making music with a message about God (I refrain from using “Christian”, since RevivaL himself has denied the label), there is also an element of conspiratorial ideology within his music. There are numerous references to both verified and unknown phenomena within his music, such as MKUltra, chemtrails, the existence of giants, missing people in national parks and forests, organ stealing, and nephilim. He specifically cites nephilim as something to avoid or be hated, and has been consistent about this since he began. While we may never know the full reach of BennY’s thoughts about these subjects, it is clear that he invites the listener to do their own research as he seems to have done.
Thematically, his eighteen albums, recorded over the breakneck span of only seven years, tackle an incredibly wide variety of concepts and ideas.
His first mixtape, REPENT, is fairly self-explanatory, but the rest of his albums all cover a wide range of topics. Throughout the course of his discography, he has penned concept albums to his hometown Duval and the greater North Florida area, an album dedicated to his imaginary friend as a child (based off of Laura from Little House on the Prairie), the love of money, HIV, and even the abuse that he suffered as a child that made him the way he is.
Other topics are more abstract, 2nd DEATH, his eighth mixtape (also a response to his second tape, 2nd BIRTH), seems to be about shedding his old life as a sinner, metaphorically dying, and reconnecting with his divine purpose to begin anew. 2nd DEATH seems to serve as a halfway point, of sorts, between the older era and newer era. Much of the music prior to 2nd DEATH has a less specific focus, albums such as ATTITUDE and FORGIVE seem to touch on more abstract concepts, while his newer albums, such as PURCHASE and REMNANT focus on more concrete ideas. While the listener can only try to interpret what these mean based on their messages, it is clear that these are all specific “eras” for Mr. RevivaL, all with their own specific significance and convictions.
In addition to the thematic content, BennY RevivaL’s sound is also incredibly dynamic and has changed significantly throughout his career, though it could always be considered “lo-fi” at the end of the day. Sampling has always been a huge part of his music. With samples ranging from Anton LaVey interviews to viral videos and clips from his own interviews, the act is an evolution of his earlier days of DJing and making mixes before putting his own pen tothe paper. His earlier music is more characterized by a 90’s influenced sound, with lots of synth and simpler beats, while later projects seem to be much more house influenced and complex in their production.
One thing that is important to the man is paying homage. He embraces finding his legs in music as a fan before he became a musician himself. Before he ever made his own music, he would compose numerous hour-long mixes consisting of the music of others with minor editing, with some specific tributes to artists like Key Nyata and the notorious SpaceGhostPurrp. He is largely inspired by Southern, specifically Floridian musicians, but the scope is huge when it comes to musicians who inspired him. Among others, he has been largely influenced by many stars of the underground from the 2010’s such as Lil B, Earl Sweatshirt, and definitely Tyler, The Creator.
In each project, there are a few familiar things listeners can expect to find. BennY RevivaL is unpredictable in many ways, but his works have some consistent motifs. Each album has a song named after it in the tracklist somewhere, as well as a song called “SPOKEN TRUTH” followed by the number of the album. These serve as a segue to help elaborate on the theme of the album, usually incorporating BennY himself explaining his process or a collection of samples that help to shed light on the inspirations for the project. Every BennY RevivaL project is also home to his own unique and inventive ad-libs, with some being eternal and some being specific to the specific project.
These concept albums are not just concepts, however. They are meant to be lessons from BennY to the listener, informative and instructive. While both the morals and messages may be dubious at times, RevivaL is not afraid to cross lines because he isn’t concerned with how people take what he says. BennY doesn’t write his music for himself, he writes it for you, and he wants you to take it to heart.
BennY RevivaL is no stranger to controversy. In fact, it is in some ways inseparable from his place in music, given that the beginning of his platform was from established musicians and Twitter personalities simply reacting to his insane early antics.
This can be traced back even further than his music career though. As Odd Future runoff, anyone who idolized Tyler, The Creator or Earl Sweatshirt in the early 2010s knows about the power of shock value. BennY, a huge fan of the Odd Future era, seems to have taken a page from their book with the ability to turn controversy into eyes watching him. The process isn’t pretty, but when one embraces this strategy, notoriety is favorable to being ignored entirely. BennY RevivaL is not apologetic either, he embraces the drawback. The opener of REMNANT, “OFFEND”, is specifically about using the ability to shock and disturb people to get them to hear the message. He is not concerned with the way that his work is interpreted, for better or for worse.
The callous, dark humor in a lot of these moments falls flat when one punches down, but is also a byproduct of a very cold and ruthless internet where BennY was proselytized. Growing up in the bizarre intersection of the 2000s and 2010s, BennY has likely been a part of the transformation from the raunchy early years to more “PC” dialogue, and a lot of the things he says seem to point more to the former, a more no holds barred approach to laughing on the Internet. When we look at Tyler, The Creator, we see someone who has gradually shied away from and distanced themselves from their edgy past, but the important thing to note is that this is also what became his platform in the first place. Overall, this method is not pretty, but it is impossible to say that it doesn’t work. People love controversy and it brings them to the table, even if they want to fight.
In particular, BennY RevivaL has managed to avoid a lot of criticism by existing in the crevices of popular music. In particular, I found myself most troubled by his work around homosexuality. There isn’t just the usual light homophobia one can expect, it is a self-loathing, specific type of message that is hardest to listen to. The most notable offenders are the tapes HIV Positive and GLAAD GAME.
I leave interpretation up to the reader on these, especially since the subject at the center of both of these tapes is BennY RevivaL himself and his own sexuality. I grew up as a closeted religious teenager in Alabama, I am no stranger to the types of difficult and often contradictory thoughts that this kind of double life and experience growing up can create. I don’t approve or condemn the feelings that he has about himself, nor do I think that two out of eighteen tapes should define his entire discography, but it is worth mentioning and everyone will certainly have their own interpretation and experience with such difficult works.
There are other controversial projects he has worked on, like LOSE CULTURE, that deal with topics like race and growing up biracial in the South that I can’t really speak to. At the end of the day his work is based on his own personal experience, and I feel that even if it is difficult to listen to, it is also something that should be understood as a reflection of his world and taken with a grain of salt. One is welcome to their own opinion or disgust in the same way that he can only make art to express himself.
Despite the uncompromising nature of his work, BennY RevivaL genuinely has a lot to offer the world as well. BennY is a workhorse if nothing else, and has been grinding for years and years with little payoff outside of a cult following until recently. He has said in rare interviews that he offers that he has had the chance to become famous and has passed it up in order to maintain the integrity of his work. He is not interested in “making it” with his music, he is trying to tell the world what he has to say, and the way that music goes corporate is perpendicular to what his own goals are.
BennY RevivaL has also pledged to make all of his music free. He has never once charged for a mix, a song, an album, and has distributed his music across every free platform that is accessible. Instead of monetizing it on Spotify like most artists, BennY can be found with his life’s work uploaded on YouTube, Soundcloud, and DatPiff until recently. All of his catalog is available to the public without any restriction, and it is a point he prides himself on.
In fact, the only works of BennY RevivaL’s that carry any sort of price tag are those that are associated with other artists. While he has managed to escape the larger vision of the music world, artists have noticed him and asked him to collaborate. It is unknown how many have asked to work with him, but one can find many notable artists in his followers and mentions on Twitter, and he has even shed his reclusiveness on occasion to venture out and assist them.
RevivaL only takes interest in artists and projects that personally interest him or that he feels connected to, one of his only interviews is with Jacksonville blog Folio, an article definitely worth reading. He also appeared on the podcast Chillin Island, his only recorded interview, where he shies away from even speaking for a while.
Musically, RevivaL took his first step outside of his own lane with a feature on Blood Orange’s Angel’s Pulse, on the song “Seven Hours Part 1”. The notable thing is that he doesn’t change any part of his sound, despite Blood Orange being nothing close to “lo-fi”. The entire song is his, with even his familiar ad-libs, and he raps for almost the entire duration before the abrupt end of the song.
Most notably, BennY RevivaL has become one of the favored few to work with world famous Frank Ocean, someone who at the very least, he was no doubt incensed to work with because of his love of Odd Future growing up. Somehow, despite landing a feature with Frank Ocean, there wasn’t much word about this in the music cycle, so BennY RevivaL has largely remained in the underground despite his name on such a huge artist’s work. The only word on how this came to be was an Instagram story of Frank Ocean’s, pictured below, and we will likely never know the full story based on how private the two are.
The song, “In My Room (BennY RevivaL Remix)” is even hard to find. It was released as a B-Side on the vinyl release of the single, which may explain why it didn’t change the artist’s life overnight. It is still a great song, however, and another example of how BennY RevivaL can rap over just about anything. While it isn’t as lo-fi as his song with Blood Orange, it is still impossible to describe it as anything other than stylistic in his own way.
As time passes, BennY RevivaL’s musical output has slowed down. With how silent he is about his personal life, we really can’t do much but speculate about the reasoning. Whether it be real life conditions, burn out with his work, or difficulty with making new tapes, there have been longer and longer gaps between his most recent albums. When he first began the project, he was releasing tapes at breakneck speed, with usually 2–4 per year until 2019. REMNANT was released in the summer of 2019, then GLAAD GAME, his most recent, was debuted shortly after the new year in 2021. This is the longest we have gone without new work from him since he began making music as BennY RevivaL, and we can only really wait for the next thing.
In the meantime, however, there is no better time to explore his discography and try to understand the message behind the madness. I have personally been impacted greatly by some of his work, and I think all of it is at least worth a cursory listen. My personal favorite albums of his are 2nd Death, LAURA, NORTH FLORIDA, SALUTE, and YOU ARE NOT A GOD. His perspective is not always pretty, but it is borne from the life that he has lived, and not many people can translate something so hard into the amazing body of work that he has. I appreciate his perspective and look forward to what comes next.