The City Magazine Since 1975

Starr’s Power

Starr’s Power
February 2019

A Water Album delivers an impactful, enraptured performance

Benjamin Starr recorded A Water Album live at the Charleston Music Hall. Watch for the album to be released at

A Water Album, debuting early this spring, could have been created the way most records are: in the studio with plenty of time to correct errors. But hip-hop artist Benjamin Starr—who released an LP, Free Lunch, in 2015, and then joined Very Hypnotic Soul Band in making 16EP—bucked that trend. He opted to record the work live on stage at the Charleston Music Hall last September.

“I wanted to challenge the limitations of art,” says Starr, who delivers his socially conscious rhymes in a style reminiscent of a beat poet. An impressive lineup including the band FOUR20s and female vocalists Shaniqua McCants, Niecy Blues, and Poppy Native joined him for the show produced by Very Hypnotic and hosted by Mika Gadsden of the Charleston Activist Network.

“I wanted to have an experience that hearkened back to the black church, the spontaneity and the spiritual energy,” he explains. “I wanted people’s reactions, the affirmations, the screams, the shouts.”

Starr recorded A Water Album with help from musicians including Shaniqua McCants, at right.

A short intro sets the tone for the material to come as Starr speaks of living in a city surrounded by water. “Resurrection” is an album standout, benefitting first from Starr’s talent as a songwriter and second from the dynamic live-band performance of his written word. Hearing the positive feedback from the audience enhances one’s listening experience. Concert-goers also gave a resounding response to Starr’s rapid-fire delivery of “Sublime.” For “War,” Niecy Blues provides the powerful backup vocals as he raps that “my life is like cognac neat on a jazz beat.”

In recent years, Starr’s life has been very much devoted to activism; he’s spoken and performed during community events such as the NEA Big Read collaboration with the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, the premiere of Vesey’s Resistance, and Emanuel 9 Rally for Unity.

The Pineville, South Carolina, native says he settled in Charleston in 2017 to make an impact. “I wanted to move here because I thought it was important for young black audiences to understand the power of our culture and our history, so that going forward we can be confident to build and experience a new renaissance of art and creativity,” he explains.

To say he’s accomplishing his mission is an understatement. With entertainment value fully intact, A Water Album is timely; challenging; and above all, thought-provoking.


Images by (2) Mia Al Taher & (album cover) Samia Miche