Ben Reilly grew up in New York on comic books and hip-hop, with lyricists like Nas and Rakim among the first artists to grab his full attention as a child. He’s always been attracted to things that take effort to dissect, and he enjoys going the extra mile to find the deeper meaning in it all. Maybe partly because of that, he never saw himself as the kind of artist who would have a viral moment on TikTok, an app seemingly designed for, well, not overthinking.
“I like TikTok,” he tells me over Zoom from his new home in Atlanta. “I hop on there, watch little funny videos, send videos to my friends and family and stuff like that.” He knew other artists were getting big breaks on the platform, but the way he saw it, at least at first: “Bro, I’m not about to do these corny dances… I take myself way too seriously as a rap artist.”
The born and raised New Yorker had been taking rap seriously since high school, but always as part of a group called Abstract Media. When the pandemic hit, isolation forced him to focus on his first-ever solo project, FREELANCE.
After hearing time and time again that all artists need to take advantage of TikTok—plus being reassured that it didn’t need to be goofy dances or viral trends—he decided to give it a shot. On a whim while he was at work, he posted a clip from his song “Maytag.” He was thoughtful about it, as he is about everything related to his music, and teased the perfect snippet of the song with a 14-second clip from the music video. The next day, it had a million views.
Despite that video being seen almost six million times to date, I didn’t hear about Ben Reilly that way. I heard about him through his manager Kei Henderson, who worked closely with Atlanta A-lister 21 Savage during his rise, before taking a break from rap. She sent over the music video for “Townhouse,” explaining that this was the artist who got her back into hip-hop. I loved it, dug into the whole FREELANCE project, and told her I’m interested in covering this on P&P. “Ben writes all the treatments,” she said. “Very hands on creatively. You’ve gotta hear the inspiration behind this project. [Ben is a] really intentional guy.”
Ben’s intentional nature is obvious in the music, and evident in every topic of conversation that comes up. He is meticulous about everything—from the birds on his project’s cover to the meaning behind his name to the way he maps out his career path. At the beginning of 2022 he wrote down his goals for the year, and in less than a month, half of them were already crossed off. After 10-plus years of rapping, things are starting to come together, and much faster than he imagined.
Still independent, Ben is now having meetings with people he never thought he’d meet, taking trips to Los Angeles (he’d never been before this year), and for the first time in his adult life, he’s not working a regular job outside of music. He’s a full-time rapper, and he doesn’t take it for granted.
“I’ve been through a lot and I know now I’ll be able to handle whatever’s thrown at me,” he says. “Of course, I know there’s going to be ups and downs—that happens, but I’m super prepared for whatever comes next.”