Everybody is dealing with the COVID-19 quarantines and restrictions in different ways. While there's no single right way to cope — social distancing and staying TF home aside — connecting with friends, family, and neighbors is a good place to start. You can contact your loved ones on your own, but you might also be curious how your favorite strangers in Pittsburgh are coping, so Pittsburgh City Paper is reaching out once a day to artists, activists, workers, and makers to see how they're doing.
Today's profile is a little different. Acclaimed hip-hop artist Benji. has been, like the rest of us, quarantined for weeks. Only in his case, he's more than 650 miles from home, staying in a studio in Atlanta, Ga. CP spoke to Benji. about the surreal challenges of life in quarantine away from home. (If you know any other Pittsburgh artists who are quarantining outside of Pittsburgh and unable to come home, please email email@example.com)
How long have you been in Atlanta? What brought you there?
I've been in Atlanta since March 13th, so pretty much a full month. I flew out here to help with a collaborative album for a collective called Spillage Village.
When it became clear you couldn’t come back to Pittsburgh for the time being, what ran through your mind?
Honestly, at that point, I was a little worried just because of the rest of my family being there, and not being able to go back to familiarity for a while caused some anxiety, but I was pretty settled in the house with everybody out here. We have everything we need, we've been very productive with our time as well, so for me, I still looked at it as a unique opportunity I'd never get in this form or fashion probably ever again with these circumstances, so I still need to take advantage of it.
What’s a food/dish/restaurant in Atlanta that’s brought you comfort while you’re there?
American Deli for sure. There was also a Jamaican spot we ordered from that I can't remember the name of, but it changed my life. We have the fortunate privilege of having very talented hands in the kitchen with us during quarantine so it's very comfortable over here.
What’s your day-to-day routine like now?
It's pretty free and open honestly. It's not much different from when I was back home just because I've always been a homebody kind of guy and just went with the flow of the day. But since being out here every day, I've just been building better habits with my time. We spend time with ourselves early in the day, meditating, reflecting, etc., then we all come together at some point in the afternoon and fellowship, eat, play Monopoly and other games, then it's usually work-mode after that.
What piece of art/film/comic/book/TV/music is bringing you comfort/inspiration at this time?
I've been listening to Thundercat's new album It Is What It Is like crazy. We've been hooked on Ozark, the movie The Gentleman is great too.
What’s an object that you have with you that has particular significance to you these days?
I have a bracelet that was gifted to me from a fan after we performed in San Louis Obispo, Calif., on the Earthgang tour. It was for good luck. I've worn it on my left wrist every day since then. I don't usually put energy into things like that but this one was different. Found her on Instagram too after she commented on one of my posts, so I had to thank her again for it because life has definitely been something since then.
Recorded it. It’s fire https://t.co/1FreawYufk— Benji. (@AvatarBenji) April 7, 2020
Judging from your tweets, you’re still creating. What’s that process like away from your home base?
Way better. We have three studios in the Airbnb that we've been staying in so work is constantly being done. New ideas are always flowing, everyone is always working, from writing, producing, recording, helping each other out with individual work, as well as coming together for the collaborative album. It's an environment that stretched my potential out even further just being around such amazing artists and seeing their creative process for the first time and being able to contribute to that naturally. Nothing is ever forced. We've made some crazy songs from scratch with 10 to 15 people in the studio, no egos, just making great music and bouncing ideas back and forth. Some sessions are more isolated (especially with quarantine). I'm able to engineer my own sessions so my workflow doesn't really change other than the fact I have way better equipment at my disposal than what I have at home. A lot of beautiful music will come from this house when it's all said and done.
What are you most excited to do when you get home?
Play with my dog Izzy, be around my friends and family again provided that it's safe to do so. Swan dive into some wings from Streets On Carson or mac & cheese from Soul & Sea. Overall though I'm definitely still just gonna be in the house creating and staying ready because by the time I'm able to go home, some pretty big things will be underway and I'm very excited about that.
What’s an organization or charity that you’d recommend supporting at this time?
I haven't found one specifically yet but if there's an organization or charity that directly helps and benefits essential workers then that's what I'd recommend. They're the real MVPs during all of this.