Local rapper Transit sounds reinvigorated on new album

Remaining “authentic” might be the most persistent struggle for rappers; it’s essentially served as the unspoken motif since the movement’s inception. The University of Connecticut’s Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar brilliantly summed it up when he wrote “from its beginning hip-hop has been as obsessed with artistic authenticity as the United States has been with race.” And although it seems impossible the value of the mission only seems to have risen in stock this past year.

Rick Ross was slammed by critics and fans for hiding his former occupation as a correctional officer while Chief Keef was largely defended because of his “real” representation of South Chicago’s poverty. Danny Brown Kendrick Lamar and Joey Bada$$ were all heralded for their raw take on life in their rhymes. And that’s not even mentioning Lil B and his adopted tabby cat Keke who’s likely the realest gangsta to ever approach the mic.

Dan Bennett more commonly known as local rapper Transit has been sandwiched in the middle of the debate both as a rapper and a white dude. But for the 23-year-old his skin colour doesn’t disqualify him from belonging to the historically black culture as long as he continues to tell true tales that represent his perspective. He describes his newest full-length album Stale as the rawest and most “authentic” version of him yet.

“That’s the whole thing of hip-hop: everyone has a struggle just be honest about yours” he says. “Whether your struggle is being a college student or whether your struggle is growing up in the ghetto… people don’t like when you’re fake. I used to always hate rap like Chief Keef. And while I wouldn’t listen to it or call it good music if he’s being who he is it’s hip-hop. So for me being who I am is hip-hop.”

A quick listen of Stale reveals that Bennett has changed plenty since the days of “Reese’s Puffs” and even “I’m So Indie.” He’s now a university graduate working more-than-full-time at the Boys & Girls Club and marriage is on the horizon with a wedding planned for the summer. The confusion that comes with all of those things — not to mention struggles with faith addiction and meaning — is integrated into the album too.

He describes it as his darkest yet most hopeful work. That’s certainly true: his introspective rhymes have reached a new level of significance delving into topics as various as bullying celebrity obsession and predatory religious practices. Themes are more defined with a narrative of sorts emerging through the 40-minute record. It works well with Bennett declaring in Stale his willingness to walk down the same narrative-focused often self-deprecating path as Slug Macklemore and Grieves.

“A lot of people don’t like the title of Stale and that’s what I love about it: in hip-hop a main word is ‘fresh’” he says. “But where I was at with my relationship with my career with my friends around me with my faith with everything in my life it all felt stale. It was one of those moments where I was like ‘I’m not excited anymore. I don’t want to wake up or go onstage anymore. This seems old.’ Out of that came this brutal honesty.”

Out of it also came a substantial leap in quality. Bennett’s rhymes are more professionally written with improvements in both timing and annunciation. Adding to that is an improving ear for beats with producers including Rhymesayers’ Grieves who also rapped a verse and sung the hook for the same song and Marcus D who’s also built tracks for the legendary Royce da 5’9” being brought on board for the project.

But while Bennett’s ambitions are widening Stale is still a hyper-local project. Most collaborators on tracks call Calgary home; Joe Nolan — who’s “broken kind of old-man-sounding voice” appears on the album’s best track — was a staple at this year’s folk fest and Jaynova and New’l are two of the city’s brightest young emcees. Then to top it off it was all recorded in a basement studio.

“I just like the personal vibe” says Bennett of the recording environment. “I don’t like being in a big studio with a bunch of people I don’t know. I like there being pizza boxes and beer cans. It’s hard to share your soul around a bunch of people that you don’t know who just want your money and who are charging you by the hour. It’s just awkward for me.”

Bennett readily admits the challenges of remaining “authentic” in the industry despite taking careful measures like recording in a familiar setting. There’s even a track on Stale titled “Hiatus” in which he describes his struggles with the often parasitic industry. But it seems that his fans many of whom contributed to his Indiegogo project to assist in funding Stale will serve as enough of an incentive to stick true to what he knows.

“I don’t think it’s like a regular scene where it just happens” he says of the city’s burgeoning rap scene. “It’s almost resembling of a revolt a revolution where we’re taking this city over. Stale ’s a really ‘of the people’ kind of feel.”