Oswin Benjamin is the definition of recorded freestyle. And while he’s outrageously humble about himself, you’ll see his undeniable talent splashed all over Youtube from other users like TEAMBACKPACK, a channel dedicated to Cypher rappers. The NYC native is first and foremost a battle rapper or Cypher artist, but when he takes this thoughts to the studio, magic happens.
Story | Sara Loretta
Image | @americanbrown
Prior to releasing his 2017 mixtape Hueman, Oswin Benjamin gained traction after his nomination for BET’s 2016 Cypher alongside Locksmith and Dead Prez. Then, this summer Benjamin released a handful of tracks to compliment his growing discography including: a remix of “Mask Off” (that is the best I’ve ever heard), “Summer Nights” (an R&B ballad that discusses ‘the duality of man’), and finally “Shook Ones 3” (a dark track that check’s ego with Uncle Phil’s sobriety).
In Oswin’s remix of Future’s summer hit, the original instrumental is overshadowed by Benjamin’s 90s pop culture references to Angry Beavers, Cousin Skeeter, Uncle Phil, and MaCaulay Culkin, and his ability to separate himself as a realist in a world full of filters. As the chorus links back to the title, “take that mask off / tell that girl to wash her face / take that mask off”, the New York-based rapper also takes jabs at the fake appearance girls use such as short skirts and heavy makeup use.
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By the end of the song, Oswin Benjamin reminds us all that individuality is beautiful and enticing. The struggle that we face in the Age of Technology of regularly having a comparison to look at, makes us “put a mask on” to attract the world.
Then in “Summer Nights” Benjamin battles his inner self to be a good man and do what needs to do to survive: “Momma says pray / trust God and the vision / but it’s harder to cope when the funds low”. He explains that summer nights is like a pair of dice because the days are long, giving us too many sunny hours to overthink our financial situations, love lives and being a good person.
In the final minute of the song, Benjamin channels his church chorus upbringing to ask God for redemption for the mistakes he’s made in his life. The verse begins with a quote from Soren Kierkegaard, “Be that self which one truly is…”, and concludes by Oswin stating “I’m only human”. This handful of seconds is Benjamin deciding to walk away from a life of crime (as depicted in the music video) and live a good or morally acceptable life.
In “Shook Ones 3” Oswin once again attacks individuals who are full of themselves or fake, as he so stated in “Mask Off (Remix)“. Now for a quick history lesson, Donny Hathaway was a jazz/blues singer from Chicago whose career had just as many highs as it did lows. Hathaway committed suicide at the age of 33.
“I arrived on the day Donny Hathaway died / an extension of a man with the ego aside”
Contrarily to the freestyle, Benjamin spits his lines on “Shook Ones 3” a little more angrily, as if he was shooting his words directly to the rappers who did not have “Petals like concrete” making their rise to fame harder. It is no secret that Oswin has spent several years becoming the Cypher artist he is today, that he climbed through the oversaturated boroughs of rappers in NYC to earn notoriety in the industry.
His remix also pays homage to the late Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, one-half of the infamous hip hop group Mobb Deep, as explained in the Soundcloud description.
“In this tribute to the late legend Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, Oswin expresses the importance of being an individual while paying homage simultaneously to the MOBB DEEP constituent in a cleaver way. Rest In Peace to Don P, the Queens bridge representative and May his legacy live on.”
These three tracks are an invitation to redetermine your worth, praise your weaknesses and acknowledge that there will always be a push/pull from good and evil – or morality and practicality. And if the message doesn’t light a fire, just envision Uncle Phil screaming at you every time you decide to be anything less than great.