For years, Benzino was name that came with some sort of stigma. However, public perception of the rapper/mogul started to change last year, when he joined the cast of Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta.
The world got to see a Benzino that was different from the gangsta image he had as a rapper and the one time owner of The Source.
The metamorphosis is still going. Over the last year, he has apologized to old rivals — like Eminem — and he has also changed his name (you can now call him Zino Grigio.)
You can even see the change in his music. His new mixtape, Crushed ice, which dropped today, and which you can download here, has the rapper departing from his gangsta music roots.
Benzino, who is currently shooting the second season of Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta, recently chatted with GG to talk about his new persona, deading old beefs and what he thinks of Love & Hip-Hop: New York.
GlobalGrind: Is it true that you changed your name?
Benzino: I kinda just altered it to Zino Grigio. The Benzino name has a lot of controversy, a lot of memories to it. So I thought it would be kinda cool to just start fresh with a whole new name. But it’s not too different. People kind of shorten Zino from Benzino anyway.
There are probably still people who, when they think of Benzino, they think of Benzino strong arming dudes.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Bad memories. A lot of bad memories. There was a lot of controversy and different stuff that I’m not too proud of and this is kind of a whole new way to show the world that it’s a new me, a new vibe, a new attitude.
Sounds like you regret a lot of your past.
I try not to regret too much but, of course, when you grow, as a person, you evolve. You look back at some of things you’re probably not too proud of. But I try not to live with too many regrets. The way I look at it is: life is one big college, you never stop learning. I’m definitely not too old to keep learning. I have three beautiful children that I’m trying to raise with morals and standards, so I had to check myself first before I can teach them the right way.
So how would Benzino handle an altercation now, would you take the high road?
Of course and I have. I’m not so confrontational. A lot of times it’s about how you communicate your emotions, how you handle things as far as your conversation…not trying to lash out with any kind of violence or any type of harsh words. The high road would definitely be a better place for me. It can definitely be done — I’m living proof of it.
Do you have an example of Benzino letting something slide?
There’s probably not one particular example, but just in general. I still take a lot of heat for the whole The Source situation, the Eminem situation. People throw darts at me through Twitter or blogs. Before I would try to lash out to every individual that would try to throw something at me in a negative way, but now I just kinda ignore it. And sometimes I try to explain where I was coming from and why I made the decisions and why I might have done what I done.
So if someone comes up to you and says “you’re the reason why The Source fell off” you would say what?
Man, they say it all the time. The Source — we had took out a loan back in the '90s at a 21 percent interest rate that made us sell part of our percentage, myself and Dave [Mays]. And the people that bought the percentage ended up putting more people on the board and it was kind of a corporate takeover. In retrospect the monthlies are going out of business because of the Internet. But it was just a bad investment.
With the mic rating system, I made a mistake when I gave my group, The Made Men, 4 and half mics and I did that basically out of spite to show I owned the magazine, I could do what I want. And that was a mistake.
If you had to give that Made Men album an honest grade right now, what would you give it?
You know, that Classic Limited Edition was a pretty good album. I would probably say three and half mics.
Has reality TV helped your name?
The light it showed me in, people can get a chance to see Benzino other than always battling somebody or beefing with somebody. It was good from the ladies' standpoint. I guess they see I have no problem cooking for somebody that I’m into. I was taught well. I have standards and morals myself. I’m a Cancer so when Cancers love, they love hard. I think the way Love & Hip-Hop has showed myself, it’s in a positive light and that’s always good.
So when a Freddie Gibbs says that it’s “weak” when rappers do realty TV, you say what?
I mean, everyone has their opinion. Freddie is an up-and-coming artist. I heard a few of his joints. He got some hot stuff. Everybody is in entitled to their opinion. I just think that hip-hop is involved with so many different formats, to me I think it’s a good thing. There’s no reason why you can’t take your music or your craft to a different format.
A couple of weeks ago you had an ugly Twitter exchange with Mimi.
Yeah, yeah: me and Mimi got into it. I am human. I’ve known Mimi for a long time and I kinda fell victim to the whole Twitter thing. It was silly and to be honest, I’m embarrassed about it. And you can best believe it will never happen again. Actually, since then, we’ve apologized to each other and we moved on.
Do you watch Love and Hip-Hop: New York?
Yeah, of course I watch it. I support Mona, VH1, Stefan and the whole crew. You know I’m just a pretty cool person with everybody down there. They’re all great people. I think the brand definitely has taken off to heights that I don’t know if anybody thought that it would. I think the New York show is a little more serious than the Atlanta show. I think with the cast of Atlanta, you get seriousness, but I think you get a lot of comedic value also.
Who's your favorite character?
On New York, I would say my favorite character is definitely Erica. I think she’s colorful. I think Rich is pretty funny because he’s in the middle of his artist being a female and his girl Erika. And it’s like he’s in the middle of that so I know he’s going through a lot. I know a lot of the characters firsthand, like Joe, Tahiry and Consequence. I knew a lot of them prior to them filming.
Didn’t you beef with Budden and Slaughterhouse a couple years ago?
Yeah, but that was just hip-hop. That was just me being the old Benzino, just reacting as soon as you see something. When I had the Source magazine, me and Dave were on top of the world. We really didn’t have to answer to somebody. Sometimes, that much power that we had and that much influence is just a lot. At the end of the day, I’m also a true hip-hopper. I went to Wild Style in '79. I used to be out there with the block parties and I was the DJ. I’d know every hip-hop artist from the crash crew all the way to right now and everybody in between. I’m heavy into hip-hop. I love hip-hop. The Slaughterhouse thing was just that competitive spirit. I said a few things, but that’s in the past. I know those dudes have done a lot. They got a lot of fans. They’re really lyricists and really on their craft. I definitely don’t have any more issues with Slaughterhouse. I wish all them dudes well with all of their careers and moving forward.
Is the tape you have coming out gangsta music?
Nah, I pretty much put that to the back. I can’t talk about gangster music too much anymore, because I’m just not living that life anymore. That was Made Men, old Benzino. I’m not living that life no more. I got a 19-year-old who just got in college. My son Ray Ray, he also raps. I got my daughter, 15-years-old, and I’ve got a 10-year-old. Having kids has mellowed me out. There’s a lot of cooling, females, getting money, and stuff like that. There really isn’t too much gangsta stuff in me anymore.