Naples and Brooklyn might be on different sides of the globe, but young people in both cities face the same challenges, feel the same longings, and move to the same beats. Language barriers mean little to a sensitive listener like Benedict Sinister, the Brooklyn transplant who has made himself famous in UK club circles for his inspired English versions of French songs. “Only Sixteen,” his latest single, applies the same treatment to a confessional art-rap stunner originally released in Italian.
Not too many North Americans paid attention to “Autostima,” the smoldering, emotionally intense 2019 underground club single by Italian hip-hop group Psicologi. Benedict Sinister did. He heard a song that was powerful enough to resonate on both sides of the Atlantic — and he acted accordingly. “Only Sixteen” reconstructs the slow, brooding “Autostima” beat, and brings back the frosty synthesizers and late-night ambiance of the Italian original. The French/Australian vocalist and auteur has translated the song’s two verses phrase for stinging phrase, and he’s added another of his own. The result is a combination of northern chill and Mediterranean heat, and further proof that good artistic ideas belong to the entire world.
It’s also another demonstration of Benedict Sinister’s vocal skill and the immersive quality of his performances. The Psicologi original was smooth as a train ride on a flat plane; Benedict Sinister, by contrast, roughs things up, and digs, deeply, into the narrative complexities of the literary lyric. “Only Sixteen” tells the tale of an ill-fated teenage romance — it’s full of observations, particulars, and nagging regrets, and it ends with a plea for a reunion. The young rappers in Psicologi hoped that their solicitation would be met with a friendly reply. Benedict Sinister knows better.
Part of the reason “Autostima” became a sensation in Italy was its winsome video. Psicologi matched the song to grainy footage of fetching young women on a seaside holiday. The effect was melancholy rather than exploitative: these girls seemed to linger somewhere just beyond the viewer’s reach. Benedict Sinister has done something similar for “Only Sixteen,” but he’s added another dimension. In the role of his object of desire, he’s cast Jude “No Gender” Karda, a nonbinary model whose identity itself appears to shift with the camera angle. The artist shoots Karda with the same care and admiration that Psicologi directed toward the girls on the beach, simultaneously bringing out his subject’s beauty and ambiguity.
Not content to deliver just one visual masterpiece to the world, Benedict Sinister has included the stunning “Spitting Rhymes From Debbie Harry”, a tribute to the lead singer of the legendary new wave band Blondie, as well as the iconic Robert Palmer video “Addicted To Love” .These shocking lines “When I was dealing with depression / There was nothing better than heroin” are the opening and chorus to the track as well as a quote from Harry’s recently published autobiography ‘Face It – A Memoir’. The video features our masked hero in a way that only a “one of a kind” creative like Benedict Sinister could conjure up.