Two years ago, an ingeniously simple Tumblr featuring the copy-and-pasted text messages of a “17-year-old white boy who thinks he’s a Crip, works at Amoco, has a girlfriend named Mercedes, and is one of the most unintentionally funny and brilliant souls on the planet” almost broke the Internet, so rapid and immense was its popularity and reach.
If you don’t know what we’re talking about, we can only assume you were hanging out under a very large rock during late 2011, because Texts From Bennett just might be one of the defining Internet memes of our time.
The Tumblr, which instantly whipped the world wide web into a frenzy of delight, horror and speculation as to whether or not Bennett was a fake, turned out to be the creation of Kansas City rapper Mac Lethal (aka David Shelton) who felt that his wannabe gangster cousin Bennett’s loveably crass and mostly inane texts were too good not to share with the world. Now, Lethal has turned the popular Tumblr into a novel. We checked in with the rapper/author in between stops on his “Texts From Bennett Tour,” during which he’ll be signing copies of the new book and performing live.
When you first started Texts From Bennett, did you have any idea it was going to be such an insane phenomenon?
I had no idea it would be this huge. The world wasn’t ready for a 17-year-old Crip with the inability to speak coherent English.
How did you get the idea to start the Tumblr?
I needed a place to collect the screenshots because my phones kept breaking and losing them all, so I started it with no intention of it ever being big.
People seemed really pissed — like weirdly pissed — when they found out that you were a rapper and Bennett’s veracity came into question…
People get more upset and impassioned about Texts From Bennett than they do about me bashing religion, making political statements, etc. It’s really annoying to see how lame and pointless some people’s lives are. It’s a wannabe gangster with a stuffed bunny rabbit. Is it that serious?
So you really don’t even embellish his texts at all to make them funnier?
I don’t know how I could? I don’t know how to text message myself.
Then, the most obvious question is, how is it that Bennett didn’t come across the Tumblr right away?
People like Bennett (there’s a lot of them) don’t have access to the Internet. Bennett goes outside and is social with people. Which is strangely ironic considering all the detractors of the blog just sit around drinking Mountain Dew floats all day, playing Call of Duty.
He must know about it by now, though. How did he react when he first found out?
He just wanted to know if he could get cute girls with “big titties” because of his newfound fame.
And he keeps texting you these crazy things, after all this time…
At this point I have to weed out any of the ones that seem like he’s putting on a show. I still catch him off guard here and there, though.
What’s the book about — is it just a collection of his texts or is it more of a narrative?
It’s a single narrative about Bennett and his mom, my Aunt Lillian, coming to live with me for a summer.
What’s Bennett like in real life?
Gentle. Tattooed. Surprisingly supportive in all aspects of life. He’s the type of kid who would rather come along for the ride to something you were doing, and be happy for your good experience, than try to impose his own experiences on you. He has a big heart… just misled.
Do you think this exposure has helped your music career or hurt it?
I don’t know, in 2013 it’s hard to gauge if careers can be helped or hurt. Most of them exist, have peaks and valleys, become hot, become cold, become hot again. Miley Cyrus is the hottest thing in the world right now, but we can’t say that it’s necessarily helping her. ZZ Ward was this huge, promising female vocalist a year ago, and is nowhere to be found now, according to my friends who listen to her. So I try not to focus on reputation or keeping track of my blemishes. Some stuff works, some stuff doesn’t. All I know is since 2002 I have never had a year that wasn’t more eventful than the one before it. So it’s all been good.
How has it changed your life, in general?
Not trying to be a greaseball, but I’ll save this for the book. Because the answer is in it.
What are you prouder of, the sensation that was Texts From Bennett or the sensation that was your “Pancake Rap” video?
Both were amazing. But I’m most proud of how they blew up at the exact same time and were massive. That’s unheard of.
At this point, would you say that people recognize you more for Bennett or for your music?
It’s hard to say. Fans of my music are connected on a much deeper level than fans of Texts From Bennett. So, they make themselves known and communicate with me and latch onto the songs I write because it enables them to process pain. Texts From Bennett is more for fun than anything else.