“We have to go through the storm to appreciate a sunny day” (Ben Efficial, Love and Hate)
Ben Efficial (Ben Hains) is a 22 year old hip hop artist. He is so prodigious and talented that he was working with studio producers at the tender age of 13. A bastion of conscious hip hop, he seeks to champion the artistry that has been smothered by mainstream, stereotypical rap. This is part of what underlies the poetic, thoughtful and spiritual lyricism in his EP, ‘Imagination’. In this review and feature article we are blessed that Ben Efficial gave me his time in an interview enabling a better understanding of Ben, the young man behind the music.
The term ‘Imagination’ is defined as, “The faculty of forming new ideas, or images… Not present to the senses, the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful”, to propagate new ideas. Using Imagination to break down the expected form that hip hop ‘should’ take, the guns, the violence, the drugs. To go beyond stereotypes is important to Ben. More so than perhaps other people, because his father died when Ben was just 12, and at the time grime was what Ben was listening to. His Dad was a writer and took the view that grime and rap were rubbish, musically and lyrically. Ben adds, emotionally, that he wishes his Dad was here to see that hip hop is an art form. “It would be great if I could show him the real music”. The sadness that his father never got to see his son’s wonderful lyrics left me with a heavy heart.
The EP contains 7 tracks. The first, “I can see they’re Hurting”, demonstrates an acute sensitivity and intuition to the pain of others, the ability to see wrongs with this world, and anger at the system that fails many, especially the education system. “If only they can see what I see, because I can see they’re hurting”. To see and feel others pain is a gift, and also a burden. It makes for a lonely world to see alone, and also it reflects Ben’s own pain, and the weight of carrying that for others. That must leave a gaping hole, and a deep vulnerability to hurt.
Transcend is one of the best known tracks on the EP. But like most of them, ‘Transcend’ is timeless, in lyrics, backing, and production. It never dates. Old or new, it continues to be relevant. ‘Transcend’ itself means to be or to go beyond the range of limits of a conceptual sphere, to surpass trends. Ben goes beyond his years, he is ageless, timeless, wise, and uses spirituality to overcome battles in his mind, and the hard journey he has been through. Spirituality is one of the biggest contributors to his work. He is a Hare Krishna and states that this part of him pushes him and gives him the innovation to write and further himself. This for me is reminiscent of a quote by Kendrik Lamar: “My whole thing is to inspire, to better people, to better myself forever in this thing we call hip hop”.
A stand out track is ‘Love and Hate’. It highlights the passion of Ben Efficial, and how that’s channelled through his work. The dictionary definition of ‘love’ is “An intense feeling of deep affection”, while ‘Hate’ is defined as an intense hostility and aversion, usually deriving from fear, anger, or a sense of injury”. That is a lot of intensity, both within the song, and the amount of feeling he gives to his craft, and that it gives back to him. Shaped by life events, he puts them out in his art, bravely so, to open up so honestly and with rawness.
He contends that “in our reality, there’s the biggest duality of love and hate”, implying that we can’t experience or appreciate the good without having the bad and the lows to compare it to. The things he loves are the most simple things in life, often being the case when you have been through bad times and trauma. He starts with the things he loves in ‘Love and Hate’. He loves spending time with his Mum in the kitchen, the smell of flowers after the rain, loves sitting back in peace on a bench in Hampstead Heath. The track ‘Rise with Me’ also correlates with that: “If you’re looking for peace then Rise with Me”. Spirituality comes up again, this time demonstrating its healing qualities. He loves “being in a meditative state, I love that I now live without a medicated brain”.
This nod to mental health struggles in ‘Love and Hate’, shows the adversity he has been through, “I hate that I had to hear scary voices at night”. I am not ashamed to say that I met Ben in a psychiatric ward when he was just 18. He was very unwell but his talent still shone through. And it was clear that he was a beautiful soul, troubled by the world we live in. This experience in hospital, he tells me now, means he feels how others feel, because he has been there, and he understands in a way that he couldn’t before. Like ‘Love and Hate’, this is also the underlying premise in ‘I can see they’re Hurting’. Now, he says to me, that what he went through with regards to his mental health mean he feels things so much more deeply than he did before. On good days, his joy is heightened. On bad days, his despair feels vaster than it did before. That is akin to the duality of dark and light, up and down, and of course love and hate. It seems that following Hare Krishna, for Ben, makes spirituality part of his medication, especially because this, and his life experiences make for a deeper sense of being.
The real anger comes out in this song around his bereavement: “I hate the fact that I had to lose my Dad at such an early age. I hate the fact they could have saved his life with the medicines, but the pharmaceutical companies were suppressing them”. This was one of the first times that I had heard such pain around his father’s death.
In this way he demonstrates that feelings are complex. Hatred comes from anger, in this case at the system. But anger is also a mask most often from pain and deep hurt. This is sadness, expressed in another way, because sometimes pure sadness is too much to take. Ben rarely talks about his father in real life. I have only heard it in is music. In fact his very first song, aged 12, was a grime song about his Dad’s death. It was in fact his father’s passing that actually took him from grime to hip hop, changing the direction of his creativity, and as a psychological outlet where grime, Ben felt, had limitations emotionally. This is a good example of how music can be used for therapy, especially, if speaking is too hard. Like the neurologist, Oliver Sacks, contends, we have a greater capacity in our brains for music rather than just words alone.
Partly this is one reason why Ben Efficial feels so passionately that this system ignores the art and wonderful talent that Ben is “proud to stand beside” in conscious hip hop. This system, he feels, pushes away this side of the genre in favour of the “gangster rap”. Akala concurs in ‘Find No Enemy’: “Everything they do is stereotypical”. He labels this as“self abuse”, taking on the image that pulls rappers down and allows them to become the system’s playthings. Like Akala, Ben knows that it doesn’t have to be this way. The great writer, Maya Angelou, profoundly states that, “I think a number of leaders are… in the hip hop generation. And when they do understand enough, they’ll do wonders. I count on them”. Inspiring words that Ben agrees with: “I have felt this way since I was very young… It’s an art form”.
The Imagination EP is a work of such pure quality. ‘Cycle of Symmetry’ and ‘Infinity consciousness’, along with the title track, ‘Imagination’ show the great production and professionalism. The first two tracks mentioned are both collaborations. ‘Cycle of Symmetry’ with Tekneek and Demise. ‘Infinity Consciousness’, with Demise. Both have a great sense of intensity and allow the artists to bounce lyrics off each other. Like ‘Infinity’ states they feel “The spark of the heart within”. ‘Imagination, the title track of the EP, starts with a different vibe, with a blues, jazz guitar backing. Ben Efficial, will, he contends, “Take you to a magic place of Imagination”.
Ben Efficial, is a shockingly talented wordsmith. From a very young age he has fought for his art. It is has been his experiences that have shaped him. Losing his father so young, and contending with mental health problems have made him the person he is today. Pain is an opportunity for development: “We have to go through the storm to appreciate a sunny day”, repeated in the chorus of Love and Hate. Joy, equally gives growth. He plans an album, having already produced a number of new tracks. This is something to look forward to. Pain, joy, and spirituality, he stresses have made him appreciate life so much more. This reminds me of the beautiful quote by the great philosopher, Albert Camus:
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer”
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