Lyrical Lemonade’s Cole Bennett Documented a Moment in Hip-Hop. Now He's Creating a New One

In the opening credit sequence of Into the Wild, Sean Penn’s 2007 adaptation of the John Krakauer book about a young man who gives up all his possessions to live in the Alaskan wilderness, that young man—played by Emile Hirsch, wide-eyed and half-prepared—treks up the snowy mountain where he’ll hunt, scavenge, brace against the elements, and eventually die. While he climbs, a simmering Eddie Vedder song swells: “I’ve got this light,” Vedder growls, “and the will to show/I will always be better than before.”

A little over a year ago, Cole Bennett, the 27-year-old music video director, sat down to watch this scene and was struck by inspiration. “It feels like this big feat, this big moment,” he says, lounging on the patio of Soho House in West Hollywood. This is a few days before the release of All Is Yellow, a compilation album credited to Lyrical Lemonade, the music blog Bennett founded in high school, which has since unfurled into a multimedia and live promotion company. Bennett and a pair of friends are inconspicuous among the wealthy, well-dressed crowd, save for the black hats with “ALBUM” emblazoned across the fronts in bright white letters.

The Vedder/Hirsch ascent, Bennett goes on, was more than a metaphor: it was an emotional and sonic blueprint for the way he wanted the Lyrical Lemonade album to begin. “I need Sheck Wes shouting shit!” he remembers thinking. But also: “I need it to feel beautiful! Then there needs to be a buildup—and then the beat needs to drop a minute into the song, and we need Ski Mask [the Slump God] to come in and come crazy! And then there needs to be a wild bridge. Then I need J.I.D. on it!” What Bennett is describing is exactly what came to pass on “Fly Away,” All Is Yellow’s grandiose opening song. The latest in a string of records patterned on the slow-building dynamics of Meek Mill’s now-classic “Dreams and Nightmares,” it’s staked on tension and release: ornate until it’s animal, considered and then instinctive.

“All these ideas came together so purely,” Bennett says of the rappers and structural tics he knew he wanted to comprise “Fly Away.” While this may be true, the process of putting together All Is Yellow was endlessly complex and required him to call in some favors and trade others, leverage Def Jam’s money and infrastructural know-how and, presumably, coordinate a collection of iCal pages as complex as the Dead Sea Scrolls. All told, 34 rappers and singers appear on the LP, with nearly as many producers contributing work behind the boards. It’s a compilation album that Bennett was determined would defy the popular image of one—that of spare parts slapped together, obligation the only discernible throughline.

In discussing the record, Bennett is remarkably evenhanded. He is, of course, in salesman mode; custom hats aside, this is someone who parlayed a music obsession and a digital camera into a central role in one of the definitive hip-hop movements of the 2010s, to say nothing of the reach and profitability that Lyrical Lemonade and his live events have garnered, all without rapping or producing himself. But he also confesses that, in trying to wrap what he refers to as the “visual album”—videos for half of the 14 tracks have been released, with the other seven coming—he let linger some transitional hiccups that he now believes could have been ironed out, and he’s not wholly satisfied with the final sequencing.

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