Taylor Bennett, Solange & The Importance of Telling Your Story

No matter the relative, we all have a path, and it isn’t when we get there but how we arrive.
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Seeing the capitalized text in his response, it’s safe to assume that Taylor Bennett was irritated by a Complex tweet—which they later deleted—about his new project that failed to mention him by name. One of music’s biggest online mammoths opted instead to focus on Chance—the more renowned rapper—and minimize Taylor to the “brother” and “sibling.” 

Restoration Of An American Idol is his project, this is his moment, but he wasn't awarded validation. To ask why this continues to happen is a fair question, but Taylor knows the answer. He is creating music during the height of his older brother’s popularity, a peak that continues to ascend with his every step forward. They have the same last name, share an uncanny resemblance, and even vocally there are similarities in their music―it is impossible to escape him. Taylor could very well be a twinkling star that will shine bright, but Chance is the rising sun.

What Taylor wanted, and what he rightfully deserved, is recognition for his work. It’s important to acknowledge the rare predicament of being an artist on the rise in a generation being defined by his flesh and blood. Imagine trying to be an actor with Denzel Washington for a brother or yearning to be a writer with Anais Nin as a sister; some talent is large enough to swallow an entire artform, and even overshadow passionate, potential-filled siblings.

Taylor isn’t overshadowed by his brother per se, the younger Bennett is on his fourth full-length project and has slowly started to cultivate a following of fans who will be leaving their homes to see him live during Taylor’s first headlining tour. Coming into the industry as someone’s younger sibling isn’t a curse, but you will be required to earn your name. Currently, his name isn’t able to stand alone, at least in the media's eye.

The shift that he desires begins with one simple question: Who is Taylor Bennett?

I thought the answer would appear on Restoration, Taylor’s latest project. Based on the features by the likes of Chance, Raury, KYLE, Lil Yachty and more, it's easy to conclude this effort is meant to be the big one. To be honest, it wasn’t the features that caught my interest, but Taylor’s announcement that came before the project―the courageous act of confessing his bi-sexuality on Twitter in mid-January. For Taylor to be rather young, yet brave enough to share such a secret put him in a different light for me. In that moment, like many others, I saw him as more than Chance’s brother and more than a rapper; he's an individual who shared his naked truth without fear, someone who wanted to help those who may be struggling with a similar internal battle.

Bennett seemed to have a story to tell. I wasn’t expecting Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion,” but I was hoping that he would delve deeper into himself, that he would bring a level of vulnerability into his music that has yet to be explored. Sadly, Restoration Of An American Idol doesn't touch on that part of his life, and the personal anecdotes he does deliver are given in doses, bits of truth sprinkled between jubilant flows and multi-syllable rhymes. The short project shows another capable rapper in hip-hop, and this is something I will never frown upon, but I was hoping to hear the unbridled story of Taylor Bennett, a man who has something much deeper to offer. 

"Something that I always try to do is leave very open perspectives for anybody. Like I said, when I write my music, I try to write it for everybody. In the future, who knows? I think it's all about experience and I try to write real-life situations, so if it happens, then of course. But if not, then I wouldn't do it, ‘cause it wouldn't be true. [Laughs.] But I mean, in the future, like I said, there's infinite possibilities, but you know when I wrote that song, I wrote it specifically about a girl and a relationship I was in." - 'Taylor Bennett Is Finally Ready To Be Himself,' The FADER

What will separate Taylor from Chance, from other rappers, and from all the people on this burning planet is his personal story. It is his to claim and his to express, the most powerful weapon he can wield in this industry. It's a heavy weapon, one that isn't easy to swing.

Taylor and Chance remind me of Solange and Beyoncé, two siblings who share a similar story of being singers in the same music industry. Solange is the younger sister, she wasn't even a teenager when her sister started to become famous as the star of Destiny’s Child. To witness her climb from the perspective of a little sister and a close spectator could’ve easily discouraged the younger sibling from following the already trailblazed path. 

Instead of going a different route, Solange followed in those gigantic footsteps. She co-wrote “Upgrade You” when she was only 15, a sign of her potential to pen big hits, but her debut R&B album at 16 wasn’t embraced and failed to make a lasting impact. She was more known for being Beyoncé’s sister than her own music, her own artistry. This didn’t discourage the younger Knowles, art was a part of her life, and she continued down the path less traveled.

Instead of going major, Solange decided to go indie. Instead of making music of the times, Solange followed her heart into Motown’s past, or into putting her spin upon neo soul’s yesteryears. Her taste in fashion, her taste in music and her overall lifestyle was the underground to Beyoncé’s mainstream. Instead of being another star in the sky, she became the moon to her sister’s sun.

“Solange Knowles is on a never-ending quest to find her niche in the indiesphere,” a hipster blog wrote in 2012, a quote that appears in Solange’s interview with The New York Times from the same year. She was damned if she stayed fighting for a place in the mainstream, and damned if she went to find her voice as an indie artist; some could only see her as the little sister who couldn’t. Even the Times' article is aptly titled, “Life on Her Own Terms for Beyoncé’s Little Sister,” meaning even a story focused on her life and accomplishments couldn’t include her name. Imagine how that must feel. I'm sure Taylor understands.

There’s no escaping being connected to one of the world’s most beloved goddesses, but as Beyoncé states in the Times’ piece, “She’s her own woman.” The beauty of Solange's evolution is how with each stage, she expressed more of herself through music and various other mediums. From the clothes she wore to the art she bought to the videos she shot, everything about Solange seemed to give you more and more of who she was as a woman and as an artist. The climax of her music career, A Seat at the Table, is a personal, vulnerable, powerful body of work that perfectly embodies and represents Solange Knowles.

13 years after her debut album, Solange achieved a No. 1 album, critical acclaim and unwavering support from all the fans who had been with her leading up to the monumental moment. A moment she could claim as her own; there was no need to speak of her sister, even Beyoncé would have to stand in the background this time.

Ms. Knowles bristles at the accusation. “There’s always going to be a bit of mystery as to how two people who grew up in the same household have different interests,” Ms. Knowles said, referring to her sister. “I’m younger than her, and even in five years, there’s a total gap in how you’re exposed to musical things and fashion and art.”

Despite her familial advantages, Ms. Knowles still has a younger sibling’s stubborn streak. While she has helped to write several songs for Beyoncé — “Get Me Bodied” and “Upgrade U,” among them — she has declined any professional help from her more famous sister.

“My sister will not record with me,” Beyoncé said. “She’s her own woman.” - Life on Her Own Terms for Beyoncé’s Little Sister

Solange is the artist many should look up to―a woman who won the game by her rules. It was a longer path, a strenuous road, but the sweetest victory. Her success has a lot to do with the story that’s told throughout A Seat at the Table―from the black pride to the empowerment of women, you can feel how much of her soul she poured into each song. She took time away from music, found a story that needed to be told, and sprinkled her entire essence into the album. This was her story, but also the story of many, and by being so honest and pure it created a web of connection that drew in more listeners than any of her previous endeavors. Solange won by being herself, by being unapologetically Solange. 

Inside Taylor Bennett there is also a story, an inner truth that has nothing to do with his brother. He’s young—it takes time to understand yourself well enough to find all the right words. I believe that he has it in him, the way that Solange had it in her, but it begins with exploring individuality and embracing the person that you are. His name will be connected to Chance for an eternity, blogs will treat them like Siamese twins in headlines, but that doesn’t mean Taylor can’t stand out as his own man.

I could be wrong, maybe the industry is big enough for two Bennetts to dominate simultaneously. Playing Taylor’s album, the overall feeling is more mature, 10 Day-esque lyricism atop Surf-esque instrumentation―a combination that will win many over. The kid raps with style. He doesn’t have Chance’s animation or exuberance, but there are signs of a budding wordsmith.

No matter the relative, no matter the industry, we all have a path, and it isn’t when we get there but how we arrive. I hate Taylor's quote in The FADER piece about wanting to make music for everybody. That's how you end up being careful, safe, and constantly thinking about pleasing the masses. Art has to be honest and unmerciful. It has to bleed and occasionally cut. It has to cause elation but also cause souls to be shaken. Give me art so honest that it hurts, rather than giving me art so safe that it causes me to slumber.

I’m unsure what table Taylor will be sitting at when it's all said and done, but I hope when he’s ready to pull up a chair, it’ll be a story so riveting that we’ll end up calling Chance The Rapper the brother of Taylor Bennett. I say this because I lived to see the day where Solange, for just one second, was the most popular Knowles on this planet, a feat I never saw coming. 

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By Yoh, aka Yohlange Bennett, aka @Yoh31

Photo Credits: InstagramMikael Jansson

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