Musicians have to get their start somewhere, and for all three rappers, childhood experience was a foundation to their current work. Born into a musically talented family, Ben Shell grew up listening to his father’s favorite classic rock, his sisters singing, his mother playing piano and hearing about his father playing in a band. Jake remembers being exposed to music as early as the age of five when he started to play the piano and Ben Rubin currently still plays the piano and trumpet.
“I have notes from when I was kid that say things like ‘I want to be a singer when I grow up,’” Ben Shell said. “I always knew I wanted to do something big and something in entertainment, but I just didn’t know what until recently.”
Each of the rappers joined Soundcloud’s music scene at different times, and since then, none of them have ever looked back. Four years ago as an eighth grader, Ben Shell started releasing his music under his stage name, “Benhell.” He’s been using it as a platform where he can post his original songs and document his progress as a rapper, striving to improve his craft with each upload.
“The first song I ever made and uploaded to Soundcloud, I thought I was so cool,” Ben Shell said. “It was trash, but looking back on it, it’s kind of like when you start to play a video game, you’re really bad at it at first but as you play you get better and better — I just kept working and improving.”
Ben Rubin, who performs under the moniker “lil benito,” became more interested in rap during his freshman year. He found that Soundcloud was the best place for him to publish his work because it doesn’t require expensive or professional equipment, giving individuals the ability to start from the comfort of their bedroom.
“I thought it was really cool for someone to be like ‘I’m going to make my own music.’ That was kind of an eye opener for me,” Ben Rubin said. “Someone can make music and it doesn’t matter if they’re a professional musician or not. I don’t think I would be able to do things like this if it wasn’t for Soundcloud and new technology that is letting me record [by myself].”
The inspiration behind Jake’s rapping career began with his choice of music — hip hop. After he finished his college applications, Jake, who raps as “Jplex,” found that he had time to pursue his musical interests. Now, it has developed into a passion rather than just a hobby.
“I thought I would just drop a couple of songs just for fun,” Jake said. “I decided, you know, why not? I should just drop a mixtape and see what happens and it just so happened to turn out in a way that I’ve gotten more passionate about writing lyrics and now I just do it as something that I actually enjoy doing rather than something I do just because I have free time.”
Making the Music
Each of the artists produce and write their own songs, and the process is varied between the three. Jake has helped simplify his process, believing that there are only three aspects to creating a song: vocals, instrumentals and lyrics.
“A lot of people don’t really know what it takes to make a song, it’s actually a much simpler process than what people really think,” Jake said. “In order to make sure that it comes out the best it possibly can, I actually write my song, and then for every single line, I try to rephrase that line again. Then I choose the best lines from those two songs and make it into one original. I just find that to be the most simple.”
Jake draws inspiration from his personal experiences and emotions. He wants to create music that he believes represents himself rather than sticking with the more common materialistic topics discussed in rap.
“When you think of rap you think of the stereotypical ‘bragging’ music, like you’re kind of talking about how much money you have or how many girls you have,” Jake said. “I’d rather talk about things that are more personal to me and that I have a better connection with emotionally, and that often ends up with me putting out a better song.”
For Ben Shell, the process of creating music is time-consuming, taking three hours to mix and edit and another hour to record, not including the time spent writing his music.
“I’m still kind of working on the technical aspect in the sense that I’m still teaching myself like the mixing and mashing and the sound level,” Ben said. “Your beat could be amazing and your lyrics could be really good but if it sounds really bad, nobody is going to want to listen to it.”
Ben recognizes that the only way he can achieve his dream of being a successful musician is through hard work and consistency. In March of 2017, Ben decided to take the next leap forward and made a promise to himself that he would spend at least an hour every day working on his music. He’s kept that goal for almost a year.
“I’ve continued to get more focused on music, [because] when I turned 17 a couple months ago in November, I realized that… there are other successful artists who are 17, 18, age isn’t a limit anymore,” Ben said. “I realized that I could really go for it now. I think I made excuses in the past about age being a limiting factor and I’m not proud of it.”
Looking to the Future
The path of a musician is long and tedious, requiring hard work and drive to make their dreams of being amongst the big leagues come true. All three musicians have that dedication and are looking toward music as a possible career option.
Like Ben Shell, Jake has always looked toward the entertainment industry and is uncertain as to where his musical path will lead him. Nevertheless, he plans to “enjoy life as much as possible” and will continue his music so long that it brings him passion and joy.
Ben Shell plans on attending college and achieving a business degree to help him understand the entertainment industry. He is currently looking at schools in music meccas such as Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta in order to meet new people that will help him learn more.
Much like Ben Shell, Ben Rubin also wants to go to college for music, planning on pursuing music as part of a double major. Although many career options interest him, music is one that he hoped to keep up.
“I definitely see this as a career path, I’m definitely thinking of the business side a lot and how to make money as a musician, small time, like gigs or clubs or how to market yourself to a national audience, and this is definitely stuff I’ve talked about,” Ben Rubin said.
Ben Rubin also wants to continue to create music that reflects himself, refusing to create music that he thinks will please others.
“I started realizing that I want to make whatever music I want, whatever I’m thinking about, I don’t want to be confined to what I hear,” Ben Rubin said. “There’s endless opportunity, there’s endless amounts of talent, and now there’s so many opportunities for the unheard voices.”