Wisconsin doesn’t seem to be a likely place to foster hip-hop artists, it would seem that to find any sort of talent you’d need to go down to Chicago at the very least. Milwaukee has churned out some good artists like Klassik or WebsterX, but outside that Wisconsin would seem to be a veritable rap wasteland. As of late though, Oshkosh has been slowly fostering it’s scene with the Full Effekk crew and other people making names for themselves, but one quiet voice among the crowd is Bentley920. His music has been gaining traction and steadily growing a good following, rightfully so, but in talking with him what I connected with was his passion. He certainly didn’t have an easy path to music and to get where he is now took a lot of hard work. Bentley920 isn’t above reproach though as he carefully critiques his own works, searching for something to fix and better as he works on new projects. Not one to rushing things, Bentley920’s measured approach ensures quality over quantity. Growing up in the South and making the move up to Green Bay in his early years has given him a unique perspective and a sound that stands out even among the diverse noise coming from the Midwest.
Editor’s Note: The answers here have been condensed and edited for clarity and time, you can listen to the full interview here.
Give us a little bit of your background.
Bentley920: I was born in Missouri and that’s where my music influence came from. Nelly and Insane Lunatics with Murphy Lee was big back then and I was with my mom, but she got into some legal trouble. So, I was forced to either go into foster care or live with my aunt. I moved up to Green Bay and decided to continue with making music here and I fell in love with Green Bay. I got into a lot more into my singing up here, my mom was a big rap influence because listened to Tupac, Eazy E, NWA, Ice Cube, and all that kind of stuff got me into, like, hardcore rap. My aunt was more into the softer side like Marvin Gay, Brian McKnight, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cook, the soul and singing aspect of it. So, I started to sing a lot more. I never took singing classes, I just like to do it and going into high school I decided I wanted to do music full time. I actually dropped out of high school my junior year. I started dropping my music on Soundcloud, Myspace, even Facebook.
Dropping out of school isn’t an easy choice, how did your family react to that decision?
B: There was a lot of skepticism at first, my family didn’t like it. My aunt really took it hard because she thought I was a smart kid and thought I could a lot more with schooling than music. But to me, there was always a love for it and I watched a lot of interviews with artists and the one thing they always stressed was if you got a dream you gotta chase it, you don’t want to wait and play around because then it might be too late. I really took that to heart and at the same time I was starting to make music, that was the same time Wiz Khalifa was dropping Prince of the Cities and Lil Wayne was still making stuff.
You came out at the same time as some big names then, who were some of your early influences?
B: Drake was just coming out with his Best I Ever Had and when I heard him for the first time I just fell in love with it. I mean he would rap and sing and he was just a huge inspiration. That’s like my mentor right now, going through what I’m going though in life, and I’d really like to sign to Drake’s record just because I like the direction their going. They value what performances they do and the way they carry themselves. And that’s what I’m focused on right now, focusing in on my sound and building a following.
Was there ever a point you regretted leaving school and taking that chance?
B: At first I was wish-washy because I had a sponsor that invested $40,000 into me for a scholarship to go to school and that’s what had made my family mad too. There was all this money I was leaving behind to go to whatever school I wanted, but I was like music means a lot to me. In the time I told everyone that it was hard because from then, my junior year of high school, until like 19 I was alone. I spent a lot of time finding myself and deciding if music was what I really wanted to do. What I found out though was that in all those times when I was alone, all I did was listen to music.
What was the transition like moving from the South to coming up North?
B: I love where I’m from, down south is just a different animal. I don’t think a lot of people up here can ever understand that, it’s just a whole different culture. Where I grew up I got all the new music all the time, all of my friends were big hip-hop heads that kept me in the loop of new music and new sounds. I got to see Nelly and he was always around like a lot, but when I moved up north it was a lot different. Wisconsin seems to get like the new stuff last, it takes forever to get out here. So, now that I’m older I’m trying to embrace that and make my sound come from here. It’s cool growing up around all that stuff, but you’ll end up trying to be like that and sound like that. I’m trying to stay away from that and listen to my own sound and improve that.
You recently opened up for Big Sean and Curren$y at The Rave, what was that like?
B: Aw man, that was crazy. When I got that Big Sean show I was freaking out, he’s a big influence on me as well. He’s his own self and his own self, he doesn’t have to worry about any of the hate. Curren$y was crazy too, that show was actually a lot better than the Big Sean one. I got to meet him back stage as he was doing sound check and he gave me some advice to keep grinding and stick to my own roots. I finally realized I was getting to where I was supposed to be after all of my hard work and those rough times. So, now I’m focused on getting to where they are at because you can only be content at one spot for so long.
What’s the new album going to be like? You’re working with OG Parker, who’s produced albums for Rich Homie Quan, what’s that experience like?
B: Yeah, I have a couple of things I’m working on, I want to do a mixtape and then an album. The last to mixtapes I dropped,, where just me coming into the industry and showed off what my original thought of sound would be. My second came out on like a deadline for me, so it came out with a lot of process behind it, but not like a whole lot of thought as far as a good concept or story line. I just kind of put out songs I thought were good, which worked sort of because I did it my way but I didn’t let a lot of people in on it or take in any opinions. So, with this OG Parker mixtape/album that I’m doing they’ve been sending me beats and sounds to get a feel for what I want. From there we want to work on either pushing the mixtape first or doing some singles that we can throw on the mixtape. I’m really taking awhile to do because I have some actual producers to work with instead of YouTube or Soundclick. But with OG Parker I have his number so I can call him and talk and work on the ideas and I really like that. And I know there’s at least 1 person I can relate to who’s going through what I’m going through and that’s what I’m trying to focus on right now, my feelings and thoughts. And I want to put that into a sound, then put that into a song and then that into a mixtape and go from there.
As for now, there’s no release date for the next mixtape/album as Bentley920 is working on crafting the music and putting a lot of time into making it. Based on the passion in his voice as he was talking about the new project, I think it’ll be well worth the wait. In the meantime you can check out his Soundcloud.