/ Music

Text by Molly Simms . Photography by Skyler Dahan . 07/13/2017

Benny Cassette

Benny Cassette’s taste in music is diverse to say the least. Just ask him to list his favorite albums: “That’s so tough,” he says. “Some days I can’t stop listening to Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. Others, it’s Kanye’s first album, College Dropout; a Tribe Called Quest; the Beatles. Last month I was listening to What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye over and over. My taste is all over the map—I love Tribe, I love N.W.A, I love Zeppelin. I love R&B …”

Looking at Cassette’s diverse résumé, his hesitation seems logical. He’s worked with John Legend and the Band Perry, co-written songs for Miguel and Mary Lambert and even had a hand in producing Kanye’s Yeezus (he’s signed to Kanye’s Very G.O.O.D. Beats). But his musical obsession didn’t start as a child. “I used to paint and draw, then I got into graffiti, just doing art and murals,” he says. “I really only got into music in my later teens—I definitely wasn’t some child prodigy.”

Raised primarily by his grandmother in L.A., Cassette says he was “a little bit of an outcast” growing up. “I was living in a Mexican and Salvadoran neighborhood, then getting bussed to all-black schools,” he says. “So I learned how to assimilate to different cultures to survive.” After getting into some trouble in his teens, Cassette joined a performing-arts youth group. “It was a faith-based group, and in the summer we traveled across the country performing in juvenile halls and prisons,” he says. “That’s when the light bulb went off in my head: How do I make a living doing music and connecting with people like this?”

After scraping together cash for musical equipment, Cassette started making and selling his own beats, attracting some attention. And then in 2013, he got the call that changed everything: Kanye West, inviting him out to Paris. “I played him what I was working on and he asked me to stay in Paris and work with him on what became Yeezus,” he says. “Kanye really gave me the confidence to do what I’m doing now. I thought, ‘Wow, the guy with some of the best taste in the world is giving me that cosign, and it’s making me feel like I can do anything.’ ”

Cassette spends his days writing, recording and producing, and preparing to release his first full-length album, Broken Hearts & Dollar Signs. “Growing up, I never knew exactly where I fit in,” he reflects. “But as I got older, I had all these different influences and cultures and styles to draw from. I didn’t grow up doing music, which frustrated me for a while; sometimes I think, ‘Man, I wish I’d started playing piano when I was little.’ But then I’m like, ‘I was looking at art and being in the city, running around—that’s what I bring to the table.’ Now it all makes sense.”