Brite Winter 2016 Artist Spotlight: FreshProduce
By Rachel Hunt
What’s in a name? That which we call a performer by any other name would sound as sweet. Individually, Brittany Benton and Samantha Flowers made a name for themselves as Red-I and Playne Janye performing separately as a DJ and in the group LMNTL, respectively. They’ve had many monikers and worn various hats throughout the years, but they wouldn’t have the mix of talent quite as right as FreshProduce. does today.
“My family always had all the records,” says Benton about the way that she became acquainted with music and later developed an interest in DJing. “We always had everything when it dropped. There was my grandmother, her sisters, my Mom; they all had extensive music collections. So music had always been with me.” Even when Benton’s family couldn’t afford the “loner” instruments through their school’s affluent after-school music program, Benton still saved up lunch money to buy new cassettes or CD’s.
“I think the origins of hip-hop, or any music that is still really considered black music, came out of a place where in the 70’s, they took musical instruments out of the schools. So you look at the late 70’s and early 80’s and people are using tape decks and drum machines, synths, processors, old records and making it new. Even for me, I was born well after hip-hop started, but my situation was the same. I loved music but I didn’t have the proper means to play it and express it instrumentally.”
Flowers, a.k.a “Shorte”, played her first show with LMNTL when she was barely in her teens at the long gone Cotton Club on Miles Road in 2003, supporting breakout basement dancehall-star Sean Paul. With the support of her brother and Mom to continue writing, their first recording was done when Flowers was only 14. “I recorded a song called ‘5 Foot Giant’,” she says. “After that, I really just got into it and it became less of doing it because it was fun, to doing this because it’s is who I am and this is my identity. It’s how I connect with myself; it’s beyond just being a cool rock star-rapper.”
You can hear the passion that both women feel for the music and the sincerity behind the stories they create in their debut We Are FreshProduce. The moment you press play, starting with “More Like You” featuring local singer Lauren Ashley, any doubt that the release isn’t a truly personal reflection of themselves as black women recedes. “As a woman, no matter what color you are, there’s always somebody telling you who you’re supposed to be. At a certain point, just let me speak for myself,” stresses Benton. “I’ll let you know what I’m feeling and where I’m coming from. What I’m going through. Being black and also being coupled with being a woman, it’s like you need that strength to push forward. Me and Shorte, we’re not the same. We’re in the same group but we’re not going to say the same things.”
They have been praised locally for the LP put out in October of 2015, but FreshProduce. already have their follow-up album DUCE in the works for release sometime this year. “DUCE is like what came out when we actually marinated and got to know each other. As far as sound and [on a personal level], We Are FreshProduce. is like our demo. I love We Are FreshProduce., you can play it from track one to track nine and it grabs you. But, this one we really got deeper in the concept and ideas,” Flowers comments.
“The whole rawness of We Are FreshProduce. was actually intended,” supports Benton when asked what they purposefully did to make it feel familiarly old school. “We wanted to make it sound like something that could have come out twenty years ago, or it could still come out twenty years from now, or it could come out today. We wanted it to sound like you popped a hot tape. We wanted some of the levels to bleed and be analog, because we wanted it to be really emotional. […] I think that’s part of the appeal. Sometimes when it’s so digital and processed, it can get kind of cold. I think hip hop and pop, all types of music in general, have gone that way.”
Benton and Flowers’ collaboration is still at its rawest and freshest stage, but the two knew each other for years before making the connection to see where their mutual experience would take them. “I met her at a show at Now That’s Class. LMNTL was opening up for Muamin Collective, and I was there to see Muamin but I saw Shorte with LMNTL and I was absolutely blown away,” says Benton. “Then it was at last year’s Christmas party called ‘Red, Black, and Green Christmas’ I just reached out. I said, ‘Yo, I have these beats. Your art is blowing me away onstage and I just want to do a simple collaboration.’ FreshProduce. started from there.”
Since then the duo has incorporated local DJ Candi Fresca (you may recognize her from Brite alumni Archie Green’s live set) to scratch and spin for them during their performance in order to maximize their presence equally on stage. “Shorte wouldn’t let me DJ our sets,” says Benton, “She was like, you might have started out as a DJ but you need to be in front of the booth. So Candi just fell right into place. She understands our sound, what we bring to the table. Her scratches and the way she paces her mixes, I mean, I think it really rounds out FreshProduce.,” she explains.
FreshProduce. has received a lot of attention since October and to those who don’t know their story, it might seem like luck, but it’s truly a product of the hustle that Flowers and Benton have put into their individual projects. Benton performs as DJ Red-I just as much as she does with FreshProduce., while Flowers is getting ready to open for Casey Veggies with LMNTL at The Rock Hall after more than a decade of being in the group. “At this point, FreshProduce. has taken us a lot further than what a lot of my other projects might have, so I feel like we’re just continuously nurturing that,” Benton says candidly.
“I personally feel like it’s important for us to still do [other projects] because to me the rawest part about our group is that we stand strong separately and then when we come together [it’s that much better],” Flowers expounds. “If you ask anyone that knows us separately and you tell them we got a group, they don’t even have to second-guess it, they know it’s raw.”
Benton jumps in: “A lot of people say that they’ve tried to DJ or do performances, but the thing is, is that they might have given up after a couple of years. With anything, if you’re freelancing or independent, you know you got to grind at least two or three years. When it manifested and grew into FreshProduce., everyone was like: I want that. Everybody had recognized that we were there to stay individually, so for us to come together, it was tight. When you’re talking music, you’re worried about words, sound, and power, and I feel like each of us represent that. You automatically know.”
So while a rose is still a rose no matter what name it goes by, it might not smell as good as what FreshProduce. has cooked up for Brite Winter. “Where there’s blues, jazz, reggae, funk: you just always feel this spirit in there,” Benton whimsically suggests. “I think that’s why they call it soul. Anything that comes close to black music, even if it’s not done by black people, they call it soul food because they know it’s just an energy that comes from the struggle and the pride of our people that we’re going to represent every time.”
Catch FreshProduce. at 8:30 PM on McCarthy’s Stage.