Hip-hop artist Benjamin (or Benny) Starr began making waves in the local music scene in 2016 with the release of Free Lunch — and that was before the then-Upstate-based emcee moved to Charleston. From his powerful PechaKucha speech two years ago to last fall’s live recording of his upcoming LP, A Water Album, things really started to shake up around here once Starr landed full-time.
“I moved back to the Lowcountry, specifically Charleston, in 2017, with the goals of transforming myself into the man I wanted to be, immersing myself into the community, seeking knowledge, challenging power structures, and creating powerful, liberating art,” he says. “I’m extremely humbled, and grateful that members of the community in which I live respect that art enough to select me for this award, because that tells me that important efforts to build a scene are having an effect.” It’s not only the music, but the fight for equality and justice for people of color that drives Starr and inspires his listeners. Every community needs a leader, someone with a vision, someone with unwavering purpose. And hip-hop has found theirs. “I’m grateful for the projects, and collaborations, I’ve been able to be a part of over these past two years,” he says. “I look forward to my continued evolution, which will bring more liberating elements to my work. I’m extremely energized about A Water Album, which arrives on Juneteenth 2019. I’m inspired by the young people I constantly encounter throughout the schools I am invited into. I am thankful for the courageous Black Women, often unrecognized, in and around the Lowcountry, that I’ve been able to learn from.” The Benny Starr Effect will undoubtedly continue to wake up a city that has been sleeping on its wealth of black artistic culture for far too long, particularly hip-hop.
“Hip-hop is culture,” he says. “The Geechee-Gullah ancestry, that is embedded in this air, water, wind, and soil, is culture. We the people, of stolen land, and exploited labor, are culture. The dogged pursuit of liberation and justice, for that culture, continues. Thank you for your support and acknowledgement of the work I hold so dear.” —Kelly Rae Smith
Runner-up: Abstract that Rapper
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