Benjamin Hey!
Credit: Sharon Kilon Han

Benjamin Hey! has tons to bring to the table in the music industry. Good looks, great vocals and a ton of self awareness could make him the next big thing.  Upon first listen to his record “LAX”, its very clear that he is bringing back the three s’ to the music industry: sexy, smooth and sophistication.  In a time where music is running high on stale material, Benjamin Hey! could easily be a fresh spin on what’s going on right now.

I spoke with Benjamin Hey! a little time ago in Hell’s Kitchen and got to understand his passion for his music, which he goes into at great lengths below.  Take the smoothness of Usher with the charismatic flavor of Trey Songz with a hint of Michael Jackson and the solution is him.  Here’s why.

What was the driving force that got you into the music world?

I think my family was the driving force for me. My family surrounded me with music from every angle. Growing up in Red Hook, Brooklyn…. I had access to my extended maternal family since most of them lived close. Mom would play everything from Fleetwood Mac to Nancy Wilson. My older sister would sing loudly through the house while I was quietly singing and rapping. Dad would play artists from his home country Ghana. At my grandparents’ home, my Uncle Matthew, would be in the bedroom playing everything from Eric B to Queen Latifah. My Uncle Charles would be playing mostly Motown. My Aunts Josephine & Martha would be playing everyone from Boy George to Stacy Lattisaw. The soundtrack to my life was melodic and it got me through a lot of drama! Music is like therapy and I knew that I wanted to be just like those artists I saw on album & CD covers that brought smiles to my face. I was obsessed with music and music was obsessed with me!

Do you have any musical heroes that inspire the music you create?

Michael Jackson hands down was and still is my ultimate musical superhero! The way he created was so intricate and I loved his competitive spirit. I’m blessed to say I was alive when MJ was and witness the impact his music still has today. With artists around him like Rick James and Prince, Michael knew he had to BRING IT. He was the King!

Thriller is the most powerful example of that. He studied classical greats and that focus shifted his way of creating melodies from his vocal placement and song selection. I learned recently through Pooh Bear who produced Justin Bieber’s “Purpose” he and other talented writers and musicians created 800 songs and narrowed it down to the final 9 songs we love from that album. Michael was a BEAST. If you look at everyone from Usher to Chris Brown to Bieber you will hear a MJ influence within! Those artists even inspire me as well.

While I borrow from Michael’s discipline to create. I write a song every day no matter what. Prince gave me permission to be different. So when I write, I don’t think about gender or genre. Prince crossed genre lines like no other and was so talented musically. The sexuality & the sexual androgyny he brought to the table was unapologetic. When I experiment with my hair, I think of Prince and how he wasn’t afraid to be pretty and handsome simultaneously.

Stevie Wonder & Mariah Carey helped me stretch my range. Both of their riffs and runs inspired me to be a little more acrobatic. Even though Mariah’s an alto, her 7 octave range inspired me to sing high and low.  I do my best with my 3.5 octave range…4 in LA where it’s warmer! And she’s a dope songwriter, people sleep on MiMi. Her melodies and word choices are like ear candy. When I wrote my song California Ave, I had her in mind for it but then I got attached to the song and I kept it for myself.

Now when it comes to hip-hop, the controversial Foxy Brown changed my life. I liked hip-hop before her but I loved hip-hop when she came on the scene. From being dark-skinned and beautiful to the subject matter she rapped about… I loved the confidence she had on a track. She’s so underrated but I know what she brought to the game. With Jay Z & Nas behind her she was just MAGIC! She helped them as much as they helped her.  LL Cool J made me want to get in the gym and acting. When I see rappers like LL, Will Smith & Ice Cube (to name a few) cross over into acting it’s a reminder for me to not limit my creative talents.

Let’s talk about your stage name, Benjamin Hey!  How did that come about?

How did I get the name “Benjamin Hey!”? My first EP release was under the name Benjamin. I did it with a talented Brooklyn producer by the name of Craig Levy. At time I was married, straight and clueless about life. As I went through my separation/divorce I got depressed and didn’t know who I was or where I was going. I realized that I wasn’t so straight and I had an edge to me that needed to be expressed. Music was my anchor!

My manager at the time linked me up with two amazing vocal coaches, Craig Derry & Clurel Henderson. Clurel later became my musical mentor and main collaborator. When we started writing together I became a little more confident and my sound and songwriting started getting bolder. When I would rap on our songs I would chant “Benjamin…. Benjamin… Benjamin… Hey!” to hype myself up. It was as if I was my own Flavor Flav lol.

One day Clurel says to me, “If you keep saying that then people are gonna think that Benjamin Hey is your name.” When he said that something in me clicked! I grabbed a pen and paper and wrote down the name Benjamin. Then to the right of that… I wrote Benjamin Hey. Benjamin Hey visually and sonically grabbed me but still something was missing. I added that exclamation point and it was a wrap! Benjamin Hey! was perfection for my shift. I started growing my hair, exploring my sexuality, traveling and deepening my spirituality. It was like I was being rebuilt stronger. Now look at me. I’m black, blonde and bold baby!!  My music is colorful & has edge to it!

I listened to LAX, it’s fantastic with a great R&B and urban vibe.  Is that the angle you were going for?

Thank you! I worked hard on LAX. Truthfully I’m still curating it. You’ll have to tell me your favorites so they don’t get cut lol. When I release it next year, I want people to appreciate my baby. It’s my first full album and it’s following my last release, an EP called “Superhero.” Superhero was more pop/electronic and I wanted to stand out and show I wasn’t the average brotha lol. I even had a woman who does wardrobe on Broadway make the costume for me. I was getting my GaGa on with that project lol. With LAX, I went back to my first love which is R&B. Contemporary artists like Tamar Braxton, Sevyn Streeter, Bryson Tiller & SZA remind me how much I love R&B. When I started learning piano at the beginning of the year and doing songwriting challenges,  my R&B voice started dominating more and more. But don’t get it twisted, I can sing in any genre I put my mind to even Rock & Heavy Metal. My go to song for shock value is Panic! At the Disco’s “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.”  R&B just happens to be my foundation.

Do you have a favorite song off of it, and why?

My favorite song on LAX?! Wow..That’s like me putting my imaginary kids against each other. It’s a tie between “Safe Word” & “Scene Of The Crime.”

I’m a Scorpio, so sex is my favorite go to subject. Its emerging in my songwriting more and more. I really need to find out who the music supervisor is for the next 50 Shades movie. “Safe Word” explores BDSM in a relatable way. It will get stuck in your head and your bed lol!”

Now “Scene of The Crime” came to my main producer Jonny On The Rocks (JOTR) and I so easily. I moved to LA for a part of the summer. I moved in with a friend, jewelry designer Kimberly McDonald and songs were coming to me at her place left and right. I’m very spiritual and there’s so much creative energy in LA. I took a nap after my workout and “Scene” woke me up to write it! I brought it to Jonny and he banged out chords on piano and they song created itself. I’m a bad boy on this one! In this song, I’m elevated to a sexual detective but I’m also a pervy perp at the same time. I can’t wait to make people’s jaws drop with this 1-2 punch combo. Prudes won’t approve lol.

Are there any dream artists you are dying to work with?

There’s so many artists I would love to work with. I have a song that has a LA funk vibe to it that Snoop & Kendrick Lamar would destroy! I’ve got a song I believe could be a  #1 hit for Florida Georgia Line or Luke Bryan. Those guys bring out my inner frat boy. No one would ever expect me to write a country song. I didn’t even expect it.

I have Dancehall/Reggae tinged songs that would work for Rihanna or Nicki.  Can I tell you I’m loving Cardi B & Tamar Braxton. They’re two of my favorite artists out right now. They’re underdogs who I want to win so bad!  I’ve been writing loads of female driven songs lately.

I have a song that I believe could be a #1 hit for Jennifer Hudson or Jessie J. I have a couple songs that would work well for Fifth Harmony or a K-Pop R&B girl group. I have J.Lo‘s next big hit. A song I believe could be her “Despacito.” I have a song that Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson & Carrie Underwood would catfight for lol. Beyonce I got you Queen B. Britney, I got you too boo!

Last but not least….Diddy. That man is like my imaginary big bro lol. His ear, his marketing and vision are INCREDIBLE!  I’ve learned so much from him and when we collaborate it will be way bigger than music!

In conclusion, what are you most hopeful for in your quest in the music industry and beyond?

There’s so many ambitions in me! I’m hopeful for my journey in this crazy entertainment world. Here’s my pie chart broken up.

-In the music business, I want at least one Billboard Hot100 #1 credit as an artist & songwriter. That’s my #1 dream! I want to produce my own girl group. Girl groups are so fascinating to me. I also see me writing and licensing songs to many artists, tv and film. I see my music taking me all over the world. I’ve never been to my Dad’s home country, Ghana. Another place I want to see is Australia. My music will take me to those places and beyond!

-In the film biz…I have a screenplay that I’ve written, loosely based on my music journey that I want to see made as a full length movie. It’s a dramedy. That’s all I can say about it.

-In fashion, I want to do men’s jewelry, footwear and sweaters. I love high-top sneakers and boots and a sick cable knit sweater!

-Spirits are a big industry and I love what Diddy is doing with Ciroc. I would love to do a drink that is alcohol and non-alcohol.

-In publishing I want to write a self help book that I would like to be published. It will inspire anyone overcoming hood mentality, getting through divorce and going after your best life. Also I gotta talk about sex in there too!

Lastly, I want a talk/variety show. I love people and people from different walks of life gravitate towards me. I think it’s my optimism and positivity. My show will be something like Arsenio meets Wayne Brady meets Oprah meets Dan Savage. I want to give the underdogs a voice from the black community to the LGBT community. There’s too much separation and ignorance that doesn’t need to exist. Music will help me bridge the gap. My followers who I call the “Hey! Team” will reflect the diversity that’s in my life!

For more information on Benjamin Hey!, check out his official website.