Fonzworth Bentley—once famously known as Diddy’s well-dressed butler and later known as the dandiest of artists signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint—was supposed to release his debut album, C.O.L.O.U.R.S., four years ago. Last Sunday, a mixtape by Bentley (born Derrick Watkins), bearing that name, finally made its way online. BET.com called up the Southern gentleman to find out what he’s been up to. Mr. Bentley revealed plans for his long-delayed album, gave an update on the status of G.O.O.D. Music and why he thinks hip hop should say it’s sorry.
So a lot of people probably haven’t heard from you in the last couple years. Where have you been?
Well, I got married, for one.
Thank you. Yeah, I’ve been in what they call cleaving mode. You know, when the two become one? So I’ve been just trying to enjoy the married life and all that goes into that. Finding a place, moving, all of that stuff. And I’ve been in the studio, working on music and preparing for Resurrection Sunday, which is when I put the music out. It was supposed to be Good Friday, but there were some technical difficulties.
What was the delay with this project? It was essentially your first album, right?
Well this is a teaser. This is the appetizer that feels like a meal. I think we all know a lot of artists go through their own journeys with their music and the industry. What happened with me, back in '07, Kanye [West] had a meeting with the president of Sony Urban, which was about to be dissolved, and he was able to get his artists out of there. Some of the guys went and signed deals at other places, but I wasn’t interested in jumping into another deal because I saw that things change so quickly. So I took my time with it in terms of wanting the right situation and being able to own all of my intellectual property. I put out “Everybody” on iTunes and self-released a video for it, and it got a really great response. So through that I was able to secure an EP deal with Entertainment One. In addition to the mixtape, I’ve got a Web series, a DVD and a full album also titled C.O.L.O.U.R.S. in the works.
You know, people hadn’t seen me in a while and now, with this past holiday, it just felt fitting.
It was definitely a resurrection for you as well.
Most definitely. I’m excited by this music and for people to have it. I make art to be viewed and heard and meditated on. With this project, I really feel like no two songs are alike, just as no two colors are alike. I sequenced it and when I listen to it, I even forget what’s coming up next. And I got to work with a lot of really great people. The Dungeon Family, who are the founders of Atlanta hip hop. Slim Cutta Calhoun. Cool Breeze, who a lot of people don’t know invented the Dirty South—literally; that’s his term. He’s on another level. Big Boi and those guys, they don’t even see Cool Breeze anymore, so I was really blessed to get a verse from him.
I didn’t see credits, but the production definitely stands out. Who else did you work with?
A lotta new producers. Rashad Smith, who produced “Woo-Ha” and a lot of other classic records are on there (“Pies” ft. Cool Breeze). Micheal Angelo, who is also very established, is on there. But I went to a lot of new producers to make this project. One of the things I’ve found is that the technology has been so leveled that all of the sounds that you hear in your head and the things that you really want to have when you’re creating as a musician, they’re really just right down the street. Some kid's got that sound, and he’s saying, “Please listen to my beats.” A lot of times as artists we can be too distant or too rockstar or whatever, but I take all of those CDs that people give me and make sure I stay in touch with them. I may not hear the sound I’m looking for, but I hear the message that they’re trying to convey. With my track “Runaway,” back when MySpace was hot, a young guy sent me that beat. He heard my song “C.O.L.O.U.R.S.” off the Can’t Tell Me Nothing mixtape and he sent me the track, and said, ‘Bentley, you’re the only one who would know what to do with this.’ I had the beat for a while and I played it one night in bed with my laptop about to fall asleep and the melody for the whole song just came to me. After that, I took some time and really carefully wrote the verse, because I wanted the song to inspire other young men in tough situations that want to do better. Sort of like what I did with the Vh1 show From Gs to Gents. That song is about “gangsta chivalry.” That’s a new term—that’s a buzzword.
There’s a refrain on “Fireside Chat” where you say you’d like to apologize on behalf of hip hop. What are its transgressions?
You know, hip hop was a voice from the streets. The DJ used to be the most important thing in hip hop, and to MC, you had to really be good enough not to mess up the groove. If you look at the history of hip hop, almost every album has a song with a conscious element. Even NWA, who invented gangsta rap as we know it, had “Express Yourself.” I think people have forgotten that element. Growing up, I used to actually learn a lot of history from hip hop. Listening to Public Enemy and Fear of a Black Planet, I learned a lot of lessons from that. We’ve lost that level of quality, not just in hip hop but in American culture. We’ve turned the heat up on everything that’s crass.
I saw you at the G.O.O.D. Music showcase at South by Southwest (SXSW). There’s been a lot of turnover at G.O.O.D. What’s up with the team?
Well, I think any conglomerate has its growing pains and that sort of thing. Quite frankly, it definitely needed some reshuffling and new direction. Because I think G.O.O.D. represents a really good idea, which is getting out our dreams. And if you think about anyone who’s been a part of that clan, that’s been their story. It’s just the way it is. When artists run labels, it’s really difficult to jump in and out of being an executive, A&R and a producer and then at the same time be working on your own art. You look at a different regimes, it’s just very difficult to manage artists and be an artist yourself. It has to be up to the artists to really make things happen on their own. Kanye said on MTV years ago that I was the kind of artist who would have his own branches, and I know I’ve definitely done that.
Do you have any more music planned? Any other projects tucked away? What was the Web series you mentioned?
The Web series is a video series with some documentary elements that will really lay out the meaning of C.O.L.O.U.R.S., (Cool Outrageous Lovers Of Uniquely Raw Style). Each one has a meaning, even “Of.” I didn’t just use it for the O. And I’ll be talking to other people about what the colours mean to them, as well. There will also be an apparel component as well so stay tuned for that.
And what about the proper C.O.L.O.U.R.S. album? Where are you with that?
I’ve got a lot of the songs done. I’m still taking my time with the mix and I’ve got some features to do. Gotta make sure the whole picture is well painted. It’s all in the mix.