Ben Beal talks creative process, college experience, career evolution and more
I had the pleasure to sit down with Ben Beal and discuss all things from influence, college, opening for A Boogie, art, and much more. Since we sat down, Ben has released singles such as "going nowhere, but not here" and "Action Figures," which are available on all streaming services now. Additionally, Ben was named to MTV's Freshman List with his track "Cardinal" at the beginning of the month.
Receiving early musical and artistic influence from his family growing up, it seems that Beal has been building his career since he can remember. From early success opening for major artists, taking a hiatus from music, and bringing it all back to hit the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021 by storm, Beal is poised to have a massive rest of the year. His influx of constant content from music, videos, clips of him freestyling, and even just being who he is on Twitter has made Ben one of my personal favorite new artists. Learn more about him in our interview below:
Tell us about yourself
I'm Ben Beal. Really not much to say to my life story—I grew up in the suburbs; I was born in New York City, but grew up in a really small town my whole life. I didn't really have a lot of creative friends or opportunities to be creative, because the standards here were always sports, social skills, whatever it is. I grew up in a really musical household—my parents put me on to jazz and classic rock at a really young age, and I'd like to say that that's the reason I make a very sample-oriented, jazzy-type pop. I guess growing up in a super creative family and household just kind of molded me into the artist I am now. I went to University of Maryland. I was on a two-year break from music when I first got there because I was just dealing with being a college kid, just transitioning from mundane life in the suburbs to crazy, dynamic life in Maryland. That was definitely a huge moment in my life; I'm glad I finally graduated. I've been working on music full-time now, but, yeah—my life story is that I've always been making music.
Did you go to Maryland full-time as a student? Did you live at the school, or did you take online classes or anything like that to focus on music?
I lived on campus and I literally went through normal college all four years, but no matter where I lived, I always had my mic and my setup with me all the time. So, I literally was always recording; I was always making music. Even when I was going through a hiatus—the typical college route—it was hard to really focus and get my head on straight. I knew that the music I was making was special, but there was something preventing me from just sitting down and making sure I'd always have something else that I felt like I need to do. Once I started getting back into it, that's when I started working with this producer I met through my old manager—Produced by Jay, he goes by Big. I started going to DC pretty much weekly to record with him, and, I don't know—I guess the chemistry between his style of beatmaking and my style of rapping was just so motivating. I just wanted to be in the studio with him every week.
That's awesome. This next question... I was just on your Instagram before you hopped on, and I saw your story where you're like... “The first something someone would say is, ‘You sound like Mac Miller.’” Is he a big musical influence to you, or is that just kind of like a coincidental kind of thing?
I don't wanna say that it's a coincidence, because I was raised on Mac Miller’s music; he is definitely one of my idols and always has been. I related and connected to his music more than anyone. When I first heard Mac, I was like, “Oh shit, there are kids just like me doing this; I don't have to secretly write raps in my notebook anymore, people are actually doing this shit.” He inspired me to just express myself in whatever way I saw fit; it doesn't matter what everyone else in my town or my friends thought of it. The second I started, everyone was just like, “Holy shit!” I sounded just like Mac. I was in probably seventh grade, and everyone was like, “You have that same kind of child cadence to your voice.” Mac always sounded like a kid, even when he was 26. We have a similar talking voice; our beat selection was always similar because I really like jazz, boom-bap. I just fell in love with that style of music and when I rap, I sound like Mac. And honestly, it's a compliment—even if people are saying I'm copying him.
For me, personally; when I listened to a bunch of your music, it reminded me of K.I.D.S. It gave off that relatable vibe of being in high school and just doing stupid stuff, chilling with your friends.
The amount of memories I have listening to K.I.D.S. in high school and even college... just listening to K.I.D.S. during smoke sessions in my friends’ backyards. It was a soundtrack to high school; I think the first song I ever heard from Mac was “Knock Knock,” and I think that's most people's first one, unless you became a fan of him the past three years. I was at summer camp, and my counselor was putting me on to Kanye, Biggie; it was really the first summer that I buckled down and listened to hip-hop music, and Mac Miller would just always come on shuffle. I was always like, “Well, what the fuck is this... This is crazy; this dude sounds so different from everything else,” and I remember I used to steal his iPod whenever he left the bunk, and I bumped every Mac Miller song in his library. I was also listening to Biggie; he put me on to Mos Def. Eventually, they became my favorite rappers, but just hearing Mac for the first time was just the craziest experience. When I fully took a listen when I got home, I felt enlightened.
Do you have a favorite album, song, or bar by Mac?
Yeah, probably “San Francisco.”
“Yeah, welcome to the dark side of my bizarre mind
I’m trapped inside of this amusement park ride There's an atom bomb inside my hard drive I'm holdin' the apocalypse (Apocalypse)
Let's take a ride and get lost in this Metropolis”
That's the first couple of bars of “San Francisco,” and that song really made me think of Mac differently. I always knew he was this really upbeat artist, then when I heard Faces, I was like, “Oh fuck, there's some shit going on in his head that I don't think people understand.”
Looking at your Instagram, you have a very creative aesthetic. I saw you have a collection of a bunch of different art containing a lot of pop culture references and crazy old clips. What made you develop that?
That’s a great question; people ask where I get all those old VHS clips, or why do you think that’s synonymous with your music? I like to say that I'm very, very influenced by Adult Swim, and I grew up just binge-watching every single weird, gritty animated show on Adult Swim. Just watching their commercials where you have no idea what the fuck is happening. It's like a bad acid trip; they're called Adult Swim bumps, and it put me on to this whole type of gritty, alternate dimension-type aesthetic where it's just a combination of crazy colors on poor camera quality or VHS style. A lot of visuals that people think are obscure now because they're so old, I just love seeing them twisted and sampled as if you were sampling a beat. So, when I make visuals with an old VHS or cartoon, it's always because the lo-fi music has the same sort of feeling. I like connecting an Adult Swim aesthetic to lo-fi music, because I feel like they're the most like-minded combination of visual and sound that I could possibly think of. They’re two of my biggest influences, also, so I love combining the two. I'm always watching TV; I was always watching movies. So, the pop culture references just come naturally. I'm a very obsessive kid, and when I start a show or movie, I dive into that world for a bit and it becomes all I think about. I guess it just goes hand-in-hand with the music-making process; I just love the visual aspects.
Do you make all of the visuals on your own?
I do it all on my own. I have a lot of producers that I work with that make the beats, and I wouldn't be anything without those producers. But in terms of branding and marketing myself and picking my aesthetic, my visuals... Everything's always been just me. Now, I finally have a team, but it's taken eight years to get here.
Just a question off of that: do you have a top three list of movies?
Damn, that’s a hard question. I need one second because I have an extensive list. Alright. The Town with Ben Affleck where they're robbing a bunch of banks in Boston. Spirited Away is one of the biggest staples ever; it's one of the most feel-good movies I've ever seen. The Shining; my dad put me on to Stephen King when I was young, so I've always had the biggest obsession with the old scary movies.
I picked three of your Instagram posts and want you to explain some of the videos.