We met with Swiss keyboard player, musical director and former rapper Benjamin Keys from his new home in North Hollywood. After completing his Jazz studies in Switzerland, he moved to Los Angeles 2 years ago. We spoke to him about his knowledge of American Hip Hop and his long history of working in the Swiss rap business. Here is what he had to share with the readers:
Please introduce yourself:
My name is Benjamin Keys and I hail from the relatively small town of Basel in Switzerland. Even though I have always been interested in music, when I was younger I wanted to become a movie director like prolific Swiss filmmaker Marc Forster. However, my deep interest in music never left me -so when I was 21, I decided to fully go for it. Now I am 27 and playing music has brought me to the place I have always dreamed of -Hollywood!
Tell us more about your connection to Hip Hop.
I really fell in love with hip hop at around the age of 16. One day I decided to type “old school hip-hop” into the old software Limewire and discovered many songs form the 90s that musically totally resonated with me. Artists like Nas, Pete Rock & CL Smooth and A Tribe Called Quest became an integral part of my music listening experience. So shortly after, I started making my own beats and writing my own rhymes. I released two solo albums under the pseudonym Kuzco and played shows with a full live band around Switzerland until I retired from rapping in 2015. I decided to really focus on my keyboard playing at that point. On this rather short but intense journey I have met many people I used to look up to and was fortunate enough to work with them.
How did you get involved in the history of Swiss rap medleys?
In 2016 I toured with the eclectic Swiss rap group Jas Crw and met famous rap artist Knackeboul. After the tour he called me to musically direct a televised medley of 20 years of Swiss rap songs. It was a great opportunity to assemble amazing musicians and go back in history to re-listen and learn a lot of the classic songs. We also did a second part many months later. And then in the fall of 2017 we played a huge live show with many well-known guest MCs in Zürich, as part of the Red Bull Weekend Festival. The evening was led by Knackeboul and Ugur and a lot of important artists like Skor, Manillio, Mimiks, EKR, Lo, Black Tiger and many more showed up.
What’s the difference between Swiss and American Rap?
There’s only a handful “professional” rappers in Switzerland, meaning the vast majority of them has to have another source of income to survive. So since most of them can’t spend 100% of their time to invest into their craft, the level obviously can’t keep up with the American gold standard. As far as producing, there are many amazing producers who could definitely place beats in the American market if they really went for it.
What have you been working on in Los Angeles?
I have been mostly playing shows with different artists like Ollie Gabriel, Cody Lovaas, Asal Hazel and Old Man Saxon. It was a great experience to play in all the legendary clubs in LA this last year. Now I’m preparing to play tours.
Well, we can’t wait to hear what you are working on next Benjamin. Thanks for your time!
Thank you as well.