Mr. Benjamin goes with 'Flow' while directing energy to youth

Growing up in the inner city, Benjamin Smith found music — particularly the mellifluous hymns of a church choir — a source of comfort and inspiration. With gospel and early R&B fluttering through the house and reinforced at Sunday services, it's little wonder that music factored greatly into Smith's goals and aspirations.

Ultimately, it was Smith's discovery of hip-hop, notably Run DMC, L.L. Cool J and the Beastie Boys, that set in motion his dreams of becoming a rap artist and music entrepreneur. At 29, more than a decade after he began listening to hip-hop, Smith owns and operates Deuce 8 Records, a label that records and promotes Seattle hip-hop artists, and is on his way to becoming a successful rap artist (he goes by the moniker of Mr. Benjamin).

While success doing something you love is infinitely gratifying, for Smith, it's not what he does inside the recording studio or on stage opening for high-wattage hip-hop artists such as Snoop Dogg, Outkast or Mystikal — it's reaching young people and making a difference in their lives.

For the past three years, Smith has gone into schools and youth centers throughout the Puget Sound region to impart upon young people the importance of staying in school and steering clear of drugs and alcohol. Additionally, he stresses the importance of setting goals and the value of mentorship. Smith credits the guidance and wisdom of positive adult role models for the accomplishments and successes in his life.

As a rapper, he constructs rhymes that examine life in the inner city, culled from personal experience and lessons learned. Messages of hope and self-empowerment are embedded in his raps, and enforce a positive influence over the listener.

Smith recently talked about how he juggles multiple roles of speaker, mentor, rap artist and independent record-label owner.

Q: When did you write your first rhyme, and what was that like?

A: I wrote my first serious rap when I was about 19 or 20. That's when I composed an actual song and memorized it. That experience for me was wonderful because I actually had a song all the way thought out and memorized. That inspired me to write more songs. I never really had completed any songs. I used to just freestyle all the time. Everything fit. I thought I was the bomb.

Q: Describe your style.

A: My style is the "Northern Flow." You know how everybody categorized their raps, Nelly had "Country Grammar," Master P had a down-South flow, Tupac had the East Coast-West Coast sound. Mine I like to call the "Northern Flow." I like to expose the world to some of this hip-hop in the Northwest.

Q: Talk about your record label, Deuce 8 Records.

A: I've been in business since 1995, when we got into the studio to record the first album. In 1997 we incorporated, which is when we got really serious. I wanted to start a record label because I was always into the habit of wanting to rap and I had a whole lot of friends who were rapping. Everybody from my label is from the Seattle area. I want to put Seattle on the map and show the world the talent that Seattle has. We are like a diamond in the rough that hasn't been found yet.

Q: What did you set out to accomplish with your first full-length recording, "Mr. Benjamin 2008"?

A: With the first full-length I actually wanted to become a major-label artist, to get drafted to a major label because I have big dreams and goals of becoming a gold or platinum artist. My main focus and goal is to sell enough units for a major label to come and pick my whole label up.

Q: How would you describe the music of Mr. Benjamin?

A: A unique sound. A very easy-listening type of flow. Compatible for all ages, from young to old. Universal. The "Northern Flow."

Q: You're active in the community, serving youth and exposing them to the positive aspects of hip-hop music. Why is this an important cause for you?

A: It's really important to me to go to schools and places like the YMCA to talk to these kids and let them know that all hip-hop ain't bad and to show them that you guys can have dreams and can live your dreams. I'm from the inner city myself. I grew up just like they are growing up. If I didn't have mentors in my life, who knows where I would be. I feel like it's my turn to give back.

Q: What was it like to be honored by the city of Seattle for your achievements with the Mayor's Award for Excellence in Hip-Hop (October 2000)?

A: Actually, that blew my mind. For me to get that award was astonishing. It didn't dawn on me until a couple months later. I was so busy with what I was doing I didn't really sit down and think about it. Normally major acts and artists get those type of awards.

Q: Describe the Seattle hip-hop scene at the moment.

A: The hip-hop scene in Seattle is very small. It's flooded with rappers. Seattle tends to be one of those type of hip-hop scenes that follows the trends to what's hot and what's not. I would say the scene is all right.

Q: What was it like to open for big-name acts like Shaggy, Sir Mix-A-Lot and Outkast?

A: The opportunities presented themselves to me from the promoters. Some promoters don't see me as an artist; they respect me as a businessman, because of my business train of thought.

Q: What's most rewarding about your work as an artist?

A: What I find rewarding is the satisfaction of doing something I love. Music is something that I love to do. I'm inspired by so many people around me. I just feel like it's something that comes natural to me. If I can touch one or two people who listen to my music, I'm satisfied.

Q: What messages do you impress upon young people?

A: That school is very important, and that education is the key to success. And just to say no to drugs. That's very important. I see a lot of our youth falling into drugs.

Q: You've obviously accomplished a lot. But what is your greatest accomplishment?

A: My greatest accomplishment is being able to go into these schools and community centers and be given the chance to interact with the youth.

Tina Potterf: 206-464-8214 or

Mr. Benjamin

Featuring: Rap artist Benjamin Smith.

Discography: "Mr. Benjamin (Mama Keep Ya Head Up)" and "Mr. Benjamin 2008."

Web site:

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