Each Wednesday, Rocks Off arbitrarily appoints one lucky local performer or group "Artist of the Week," bestowing upon them all the fame and grandeur such a lofty title implies. Know a band or artist that isn't awful? Email their particulars to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It didn't strike us until recently, but there are no real poppy male R&B singers of consequence from Houston. There's Marques Houston, but he's from California. There's Houston Summers, who sang "I Like That" with Chingy about two summers ago, but is probably more well known for gouging his own eye out. He's from L.A. (Naturally.) Oh, and there's Bobby Brown, who's married to Whitney Houston, but she's a she, and he's a nutbag (but still coming to the Arena Theatre soon).
It's crazy when you think about it, really. There are more than five million people in Houston - three million of whom play in an indie-rock band, sure, but that still leaves about two million people. Surely one of them is a budding Chris Brown, right? (Minus the woman-beating, of course.) Enter Benjamin.
Benjamin - full name, no joke, Benjamin Franklin - is a spacey, beguiling, convincingly quirky artist with just enough pop sensibility to make him about one Wale feature away from being a legitimate threat.
We reached over to Mr. Franklin and he was kind enough to tell us about how he's not from Earth, his attempt at legitimizing the coolness of work-force boots and the possible correlation between dancing and being a dipshit. Aces.
Rocks Off: Okay, Benjamin Franklin is it? Weird name for a pop singer. We're not sure if you're aware of this or not, but there's a pretty famous fellow with that exact same name. Inventor, diplomat, politician. Heard of him?
Benjamin [laughs]: Hey, you weren't supposed to know my last name. Hmm. [laughs] Well, when I first started pursuing music I used my whole name, but it quickly began to feel very "gimmicky." People would always make a joke about it before I performed and folks that wanted to work on projects with me would always suggest that the album cover should have my face in the middle of a $100 bill [rolls eyes]. So now I just go by Benjamin.
RO: Perhaps you could go with B-Frank?
B: Really cool people sometimes call me B-Frank.
RO: Or, better yet, Beans and Franks?
B: Sorry, but "Beans and Franks" will never happen [laughs].
RO: Tell us, where did you come from? We mean, before a week or so ago we'd never heard of you, despite the fact that your music is clearly impressive.
B: I came from Mars by way of intergalactic travel.
RO: That's normal. That's a normal thing to say.
B: I've been working with music for a while here on planet Earth, but I've just now gotten into my groove and picked up a great musical partner by the name of Justin "Jay" Cooper. I was crawling, but now I'm flying and you will be hearing a lot more about me in the near future.
RO: "Meet Me Again" is super dope, in that airy, Charles Hamilton-esque kind of way. It very much makes us want to call several of our friends over and choreograph a dance routine to it. Was that what you were going for?
B: Thanks. I actually never thought of it as a choreographed number, though I would love to see someone create a dance to it. Do it. Then post it on YouTube.
The song is actually a remix to the song "Meet Me" from my Construction Paper
EP. Its purpose was just to go into more detail about the original song. I'm serious about the YouTube video...
RO: Ooh, let us ask you this: So we've been at various clubs/lounges/bars lately, and without fail, every time Beyonce's "Single Ladies" comes on, there is somebody in there that knows - and performs - the entire dance. Don't you think that's lame?
Like, we always assumed with that situation you're supposed to get all excited when a song that you've learned a dance to comes on, do the first ten or so seconds of the dance, and then start laughing at yourself. We think the more of the dance you perform, the more of a dipshit you look like. Here's a graph displaying the correlation for clarification purposes. Would you say that you concur with our hypothesis?
B: Totally agree! Like, where do they find the time to practice?! Who coaches them?! I've personally seen it go as far as "Single Ladies" dance battles. No joke. They completely go to war! Blood, sweat, tears, weave, booty-shaking, the whole nine. That graph is spot-on by the way. Are you a down-low statistician?
RO: We dabble. You know, we never really noticed it before, but there aren't very many male R&B-pop singers in Houston. Maybe Baby Bash or Frankie J, but that's really stretching. Why go that route?
B: Well, first off, I don't even think I'm like those guys.
RO: Nor should you.
B: People have always tried to compare me to someone and I've yet to hear an artist that I sincerely believe matches me. The music I make is basically whatever I feel like creating. Throwing it under the pop genre just gives me the space to do pretty much anything I want.
Even though that explanation makes it sound like I'm all over the place, I believe my sound is still very focused. I think you'll be able to easily recognize a "Benjamin song" when you hear it.
RO: How do you expect people to take you seriously as a pop singer if you're without big, neon-colored plastic sunglasses or really bright shoes? We're fairly certain that's how The-Dream became famous.
B: I got that covered. I've been wearing work force boots lately. I think they're cool looking. They may not be colorful, but I think they scream, "Look at me!" Plus, I look a lot less of a clown. No shade to The-Dream. I think his music is really cool.
RO: This is just a suggestion, but how about if you offer your forthcoming album on your Web site for free? Just a thought.
B: I'm way ahead of you. On April 21st, everyone - plus everyone they know - can download an absolutely, positively, no-strings-attached free copy of my EP Whatever...
. It's bangin'. It's fresh. It's fun. You need it in your life.
Download Benjamin's forthcoming album, Whatever..., for free April 21 at www.bensingsandwrites.com. His first EP, Construction Paper, is currently available via iTunes and CD Baby.