Ray "Benzino" Scott
"Benzino? That's not even my real last name", he offers unnecessarily. An incredulous smile extends across his face when he further considers any mafia relations. "If you think about it, that's what entertainment is, man. Entertainment gives you perceptions of people you really don't know."
On the day after the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards, Ray "Benzino" Scott sits in Sound Trax Recording Studios in downtown Manhattan with every intention of changing the perception that people have of what they really don't know. Who is Benzino? Perhaps one of hip hop's biggest questions throughout the summer will get answered on October 30, when his debut album, The Benzino Project arrives in stores.
"I drove Mercedes for the last ten to twelve years and that's where that comes from" explains the verbalist with a heavy Gangsterese accent. From the controversy heavy beginnings with the Almighty R.S.O. in the late '80s to the scandal laden name change of Made Men to the rumors of his involvement with Source Magazine and numerous encounters with the law, Benzino still finds himself a newcomer to many fans with his latest debut album, this time as a solo artist.
"The whole shit is big. It's a big album", describes the made man of Motown Records' latest attempt to break into hip hop. With most of the beats crafted by the production team alias that Benzino and Made Men work under, Hang Men 3, the album also boasts production by Teddy Riley, D-Dot Angelettie, Puffy Combs and Track Masters. Guest spots on The Benzino Project bang from Scarface and Snoop Dogg to R&B poptress, Pink. On "Any Questions (If You're Real)", Black Rob joins the effort trading verses with Ray. Cormega and Raekwon pop something special on "The Jump Up" and even Benzino's son, Ray Ray has his say on "Shine Like My Son".
If that's not enough, Busta Rhymes and M.O.P. add verses to the "Figado" remix that Benzino is currently slaving over. "Honestly", begins the emcee from the Academy Homes Projects outside of Boston in Dorchester, Massachusetts. "It's the shit because everybody brings talent to the table. When you're into music and you meet other people that's into music, that's what you want to be involved in. And that's real, man."
If that's real then perhaps the "gangster" tag that usually accompanies any mention of Made Men or Ray Benzino is not. "We switched it to the Made Men because we felt that the R.S.O. name just created too many dark clouds", he reflects with the tree smoking between his fingers filling the studio with its aromatic healing power. "We're always R.S.O. but we just kinda switched it up a little bit."
After surfacing from Boston in the late eighties, the Almighty Rock Solid Organization with members E-Devious, Rock, Tony Rhome, Deff Jeff and Benzino who at the time was dubbed simply as Ray Dogg, experienced some success accompanied by some serious setbacks. Their single, "One in the Chamba" received heavy objection from authorities in Boston for its alleged anti-police message. In 1990, Rock was mysteriously stabbed to death in a parking lot. Following that, Tony Rhome was murdered with a similar shroud of mystery tarnishing the group's image and changing everything.
It has been a long trip in the music business for Ray Benzino. Allegations of him threatening staff members at the Source Magazine for a high mic rating on Made Men's 1999 release, Classic Limited Edition were quelled by his recent revealing of his long time partnership as co-owner of the publication with Dave Mays. "We met at a radio station and became real good friends. About a year later, we put out a one piece paper called the Source. The rest is history", he describes. "I kept on my career. He kept on with the Source. We've been partners since what? '86? That's damn near fifteen years."
Attempting to squash any more rumors about friction with the Source, Benzino smiles, "If I wanted, I coulda been on the cover."
The recording studio is booked until the wee hours of the morning. Teddy Riley's "Figado" beat thumps repeatedly as sound engineers tinker with the song until it is right on point. Ironically, the movie, "Original Gangsters" airs on a small television screen high on the studio wall and Benzino puts in work throughout the night as though he has something to settle. "Don't have to worry about no controversial issues, just check out the album", he tells.