Dubstep has been moving its way into the mainstream music charts throughout America and Europe for some years now. For every song on YouTube, you can find numerous more dubstep remixes, often put together by aspiring producers in their bedrooms. Benga has always been at the forefront of dubstep, with some crediting him for its rise long before the likes of Skrillex and Nero. He started off creating music on his PlayStation, and he’s gone on to remarkable success, knowing well of the exposure that can come with remixing popular songs. His remix of Example’s “Dirty Face” has had over 1.6 million views on YouTube. Benga’s not an artist that’s often accused of moving away from his roots too much, and he’s always been able to be innovative and create exciting new music, but adventurousness seems to be lacking in Chapter II. It’s Benga’s first major label album and it shows, with Chapter II appealing to the newly converted dubstep listeners over the hardcore dubstep/electronic listeners. In this respect he does a perfectly decent job, but there’s nothing that makes the album special. While there’s nothing wrong with an artist exploring new avenues and using diverse styles, it seems Benga is possibly being carried by the tide and not forging his own paths and directions.
The opening track, “Yellow”, is a brilliant beginning to the album. It’s enjoyable, it makes you think of summer, and it makes you think of losing your morals in a grotty club somewhere. It’s immediately followed by “Smile”, a song featuring Charli XCX, who hit the top 10 in the US after featuring in Icona Pop’s single “I Love It”. It’s a decent song, but you can hear the influence chart music has had on Benga. The formula of established producer/artist + dubstep/bassline beat + female vocalist = chart hit, seems to have rubbed off on him. This formula is again seen in “Higher”, featuring Autumn Rowe. What makes “Waiting”, featuring Happiness, different is that you sense from the off it’s not meant to be a chart banger, and it’s genuinely what Benga feels will work with the beat.
Special mention should be made to both Kano and P Money, who feature on the angry, dark tracks “Forefather” and “High Speed” respectfully. Both tracks, especially “High Speed”, are wonderfully exhilarating, and once you’ve got passed Kano referencing Jessie J he really starts to deliver. In these two tracks we can see how Benga can incorporate various styles, mixing together grime and dubstep; he executes it perfectly.
Vocalless songs such as “Click and Tap” and “There’s No Soul” might be skipped by many but they are two brilliant tracks that will appease many of his hardcore fans. Saying this, I don’t think the tracks will be enough to satisfy their desires for the old, original, exciting Benga. “Waiting”, the closing track of the non-deluxe album—like the opening track—is perfect. It really feels like the album has come to its end and the vocals from Happiness convey the perfect vibe. “Waiting” almost makes you forget the flaws in the rest of the album.
What has made Benga so successful is that he’s created music out of dubstep, something that’s gradually being lost as every song in the charts has the same dubstep elements. While Chapter II is arguably a decent album, it seems like Benga needs to reassess who he’s targeting. For his hardcore fans, the album might be seen as a big disappointment given that they know how great he can be. While it would be unfair to say the entire album is “pop” and “mainstream”, it’s probably got enough of those elements to attract new fans with at least certain songs, but you sense they’d be confused at the tracks where there aren’t words or a big chorus they can hear loud in a club.
Chapter II is enjoyable, it’s worth a listen through once; as given it’s so broad and diverse, it would be hard for the listener to not find one song they could listen to again. The disappointment for many will be shining through though, and while Benga may gain more exposure, many will feel he’s compromising his art in the process.