By Leah Solomon
Ben Rule was the first person to introduce me to the beauty of hip hop. My sister and I were sitting with him in his car outside a bar in Pietermaritzburg and he played “Burn Fetish” by Eyedea and Abilities. He then played us his original, ‘Coffee Stained Page’. “Empathy is the poor man’s cocaine. And love is just a chemical by any other name. I like the way your pheromones make me sleepy. This far away I still smell you inside me”. These lyrics from “Burn Fetish” and Ben’s undeniable talent as a rapper have stayed with me since then.
Ben Rule, a 4th year Law student at Rhodes University and winner of recent hip hop/rap competition ‘Watch the Throne’, started a love affair with hip hop he was somewhere between 9 and 10 years old. “I’ve always had a massive attraction to words,” he said. “The idea of rhyming things already appealed to me before I heard hip hop.” For someone so young (at the time), he had already been testing his skills and limits with words, writing limericks and making up his own words to songs that already existed. With his already robust understanding of the power of rhyme, hip hop managed to push him over the edge, to find a medium that allowed him to express his rhymes in a more artistic way. “The ability to make sense and even tell stories while sticking in a strict framework of rhythm and rhyme schemes was something that I was in awe of at the time,” said Rule.
His love for hip hop and rapping steam-rolled as he matured. Starting off with Eminem, jumping to the big commercial artists at the time like 50 Cent, OutKast and DMX. Each time Rule encountered a new artists, everything changed for him. There was never one artists that shaped him and made him want to rap, instead there were guides along the way. “These guys have made it clear to me that there is no ceiling, you can rhyme everything if you want to,” said Rule. “When I got introduced to Nas’s early stuff, everything changed. The first time I heard Tumi, Mos Def and Talib Kweli properly (I was 17 at the time), everything changed. Everything changed again when I heard Eyedea, then again with Aesop Rock.”
Thus, with the guidance from his mentors, Rule has managed to find a niche for himself, a je ne sais quois unique to him. “I think what I write about depends on what I’m listening to when I write – the verses are usually just a linguistic interpretation of the space that the music puts me in,” said Rule. With an already-existing deep attraction to words, Rule has established a style that is “all about patterns and rhyme schemes”. His rhymes are multi-layered and complex, with a strong emphasis on not only what the verse is saying but also its structure. He produces raps that are introspective; “lots of thinking about thinking and writing about writing”. However, his works touch on subjects such as the importance of fiction and dreams, personifying abstract nouns and linking head-spaces with the physical domain.
Rule sees hip hop and rap through a different lens. It is about the words, the power of the words, their meanings, the way it gives more life to storytelling and how it allows listeners to strongly relate to the human experience. “Hip hop has become powerful on a societal level for different reasons. It gained its power by having a voice-for-the-voiceless/anti-establishment character, making society uncomfortable and representing people otherwise missing from the dialogue,” said Rule.
Ben Rule has spent fourteen years of his life dedicated to hip hop and rap and the 200 original album copies he has in his possession. His “head over heels” kind of love for the genre will only grow as he does, as a person and as a rapper. “If melody allows portrayal of emotion and paints impressionist pictures, hip hop paints with a realism bordering on photography.”
Ben Rule in brief
Leah Solomon: If you had to be stuck in an elevator with a rapper, who would it be and why?
Ben Rule: Slug from Atmosphere. He’s been through the whole spectrum as a writer & I’d love to ask him how he matured enough to not write complex rhyme schemes every time he pens a verse.
LS: Name your 3 favourite rappers.
BR: I could more easily give you ten, but if I had to give three it would be Slug, Eyedea and Tumi.
LS: Who is your guilty pleasure musician?
BR: I’ve never experienced guilt at enjoying music. That said, probably Amy Winehouse.
LS: What would your first album be called?
BR: It’s already called Garage-stained Daydream.
LS: If you could rap with anyone, who would it be and why?
BR: Aesop Rock. If he was telling a story about brushing his teeth, there would still be a texture of literature, historical & pop culture references worth a full-year honours course in English.
LS: What’s your hip hop pseudonym?
BR: n/a. (that’s not my pseudonym, I just don’t have one).
LS: What one album can you not live without?
BR: The self-titled album of Tumi and the Volume.
Photos and video courtesy of PS Entertainment, Grahamstown.