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Rap ♥’s unabashed extravagance: Bugattis, Armand de Brignac Champagne, Swiss Watches, Goyard bags, Rothschild wine, $1,000,000 Jewelry, etc. However, one prosaic theme has been commonplace throughout rap for almost two decades: Benihana.
Benihana was founded in 1964 by Hiroaki “Rocky” Aoki, father of electro house musician Steve Aoki (Shouts to Dim Mak Records). Rocky “worked seven days a week selling ice cream in New York City and studied restaurant management at night.”¹ He wanted to give American diners something different and believed seating them at communal tables, cooking the food in the Teppanyaki (hibachi) style with highly entertaining chefs would be the way to go.
There are certainly more expensive, more famous and more exclusive restaurants and eateries out there. Why is this everyday Japanese restaurant chain such a fixture in rap? Is it the fact they serve only the finest of crab meats? Is it their Express Lunch starting at $7? Is it their reverence for Sake etiquette? One thing we can say for certain, the onion volcano almost certainly plays a prominent role in this love affair. Hit the jump and let us explore why rap has such a lady boner for Beni Han Han.
Good For Punchlines
The earliest known reference to Benihana is as hotly a debated topic as “Who shot Tupac?” and “Why didn’t Soulja Boy win a Grammy for Zan With That Lean?” Though Lord Finesse technically first mentions Benihana in his 1995 song “No Gimmicks,” DJ Quik refers to Benihana in his 1998 song that is all about a time period in 1991. Mindfuckery, I know. However, with Benihana becoming ubiquitous due to franchising and chefs wielding knives, there is plenty for rappers to reference.
Lord Finesse — No Gimmicks ft. KRS-ONE (1995)
I cut that ass like the chef at Benihana’s
DJ Quik & AMG — Used To Know Her (1991/1998)
Now who gon do the honors
I hit the liquor next to Benihana’s
Gang Starr — Make Em Pay (1998)
Drop you for your spot with the blazer then I blast you
Slice precise like Benihana’s when I come to bring the dramas
Beastie Boys — Putting Shame In Your Game
I’m the Benihana chef on the SP12
I chop the fuck out the beats left on the shelf
Four highly respected, Golden Era of Hip Hop icons name drop the restaurant; what great marketing. It should be noted that up until this point no one has explicitly stated that they have eaten at Benihana. This trend would continue. Where as the first punchlines involving Benihana were about a cutting/chopping and doing bodily harm, later uses of its name would draw on the obvious steak/beef and cooking/manufacturing drug aspects. Who better than Mr. Cam'ron and Mr. Snowman to do the honors?
Cam'ron — Can’t Hurt My Style
Been into plenty drama, Flame it like Benihana
Young Jeezy — The Real Is Back
Same dramas on my momma I served em like Benihana’s
Young Jeezy — Thug Motivation 101
Kitchen’s fumed up, niggas jamming 2pac
Get my Benihana’s on, working 2 pots
Herbal T (the identical twin of YouTube Star/Def Jam artists Wax) drops one of the best multi-syllabic punchlines with:
Herbal T — Long Time Coming
Me and Wax on that raw Carpacchio
Fire Department beats stay kicking like Ralph Macchio
Hot Hibachi flow on some Benihana Chef Shit
Legendary crew not many want to mess with
Great for Nefarious Meetings
Much like in Beverly Hills Ninja, Benihana is a perfect place to meet with your gang to discuss illicit activities and nefarious plans of actions. It gets loud at peak times with the clashing of Chef utensils, fires (and the subsequent screams of frightened toddlers) and conversation so outsiders/snitches can’t eavesdrop but it’s also unlikely for there to be inconspicuous surveillance and bugs.
50 Cent — Ghetto Qu'ran (Please Forgive Me)
In a conversation over shrimp and lobster
At Benihana’s, heard Chico stopped boxing, and started robbing diners
Signifier of Wealth
Urban poets often flaunt the fact they eat regularly at Benihana. With prices ranging for dinner from $15 to $50… it doesn’t really make too much sense. But, time and time again, rappers juxtapose Benihana with claims of wealth.
Perhaps the most puzzling Benihana reference belongs to The Gooch. Anyone know what he is even saying? I think “monotoly backe” is code for “I skeet diamond dust,” but I may be wrong.
Skyzoo – The Necessary Evils
And you the next contestant
Your life could go from Mickie D’s to Benihana’s, Tameka to Rihanna
Dom Kennedy — Grindin
Eating, I ain’t talking vegan
We at Benihana like twice on every weekend
Chip Tha Ripper — Fat Raps
Cut the AC back up, gettin' kinda hot in here, Benihana leftover
But we smokin' I’m in here
Chip Tha Ripper goes so far as to say that in a perfect world where he has everything he would require superfluous amounts of Hibachi gourmet be accessible at all times.
Chip Tha Ripper — Mansion
Back to all the beautiful bitches attacking me
Sippin' them daquiri’s, couple of hoes fannin' me
And two bitches laid out butt naked up on the canopy
Back to them Lamborghinis and the Bugattis
And enough of that Benihana’s bet I can do karate
And, back to my mansion like you promised me
I'mma see my grandma, and she proud me
Im on the streets of gold, you can’t stop me
Please doctor, don’t shock me
Perfect for Dates
Benihana is also the perfect location to take a side chick, main squeeze, wifey, heaux, skip-skop skank, scallywag or respectable lady for several reasons:
- The prices are moderate (unless that bitch gets Surf & Turf).
- If it isn't going well you can strike up convo with the people at your table.
- Not too upscale to send the wrong message or just upscale enough to impress.
- Heauxs find Japanese food exotic.
- If you know how to use chopsticks, it's guaranteed you'll get them drawlz.
- If she isn't sure about sushi, assure her she'll like it then order crazy stuff, save on bill.
Devin The Dude — Broccoli and Cheese
We pulled up in front of the restaurant-a
Ah yea Benihana's
Chose a table by the window
So we can look at the stars and shit
He made our plate, We ate,
Got back in the car and dipped
Here, Theodore Pain not only takes his bitches to Benihana, but tells us that he has so much money it doesn’t even matter.
T-Pain — I’m Sprung 2
I told my homeboys I’ll holla
I got plans for a date, my girl want steaks
And she prefer Benihana's
We can go from Monday to Sunday, don’t even matter ‘bout the money
Kendrick Lamar — She Needs Me
Paparazzi spot ‘em out shopping, Tuesday morning brunch, Benihana’s
Hoodie Allen — Can’t Hold Me Down
Sittin' in my 97 Honda,
Yolanda, be cool, she just want to go to Benihana
Nipsey Hu$$le — Keys to the City
Eatin Benihana’s daily, drive my baby, momma crazy
Immortal Technique — Parole (Evil Genius Remix)
But now I’m free, hit the block, eatin Entenmann's
Benihana in and out, flow to eat to enter in
Chet Haze — West Side LA
It’s a bet, Blackjack
Me play it at Merango,Pechanga
Indian casinos, then Benihana
Lying Ass Rappers
It should be noted that not only did I scour the menu one item at a time, but I also called the two Benihana restaurants closest to me (Dulles & Bethesda, Virginia) and the one in Beverly Hills, CA to confirm that the restaurant in no way, shape or form has wontons. Big Sean is a lying rhyme opportunist who deserved to be served by The Lame.
Big Sean — My Last
Up in Benny Han Han eating all the Wonton
Moo Goo Gai Pan is an American-ized version of a Cantonese/Chinese dish. Mac Dre, you do know that although all Orientals look alike their cuisine is distinct? Oh, you didn’t? Wow. You are so racist. I also doubt the validity of your claim that you are capable of “speaking Japan.”
Mac Dre — Something You Should Know
I said the hell if we are I’d rather Benihana's
She said what’s that for I said for any drama
Now look little mama it’s a quarter to ten
Can’t be out all night I got to stop when the song ends
At the restaurant I am feelin like the man
Spoke Japan give me moo goo gai pan
Ate drank got too full and burped
So... Why Beni?
I can’t think of another restaurant with as many name drops and references. Nobu? No, boo. Sue’s Rendezvous? Uh uh. Delmonico’s? Nah. Mr. Chow’s? Nope. Morton’s Steakhouse? Not even close (though I did have a co-worker run into Young Jeezy there in Atlanta.) If you notice who name drops Benihana, and where they are in their career, you’ll notice a motif: Middle-Class Luxury.
None of these rappers are at a Kanye West, Eminem, Jay-Z level of wealth, which means that amongst their low-income level peers Benihana is like a 5-Star restaurant. Though not necessarily stunting, these rappers are letting us know that they now have enough money to pay $100 or more for a meal… everyday if they so choose. However, it goes way beyond that. For many of them, Benihana holds a place in their heart that equates to a simpler, more pleasant time in their life:
That time where their grind was starting to pay off, and, all of a sudden, they have the financial means to start buying/getting the things they want, where they can take care of the people in their circle. Imagine being able to take your man’s and them to Benihana, getting your own table and acting a fool. Or a nice evening void of paparazzi with no disturbances:
Childish Gambino — So Much Better
Most rappers want the drama, but I don’t want the drama
I just want a quiet night down at Benihana
Benihana is not highfalutin, though rappers treat it as such. In reality, the restaurant acts as the training wheels on a rapper’s boastful bars bicycle. It is many rappers' first interaction with “elegance.” Since a majority of artists stay in the middle of the pack instead of achieving “Janye” status, Benihana serves as their go-to recognizable name drop. Benihana has that faux luxury swag: Impressive to those of little means, while low-class to those with even a modicum of affluence.
What’s the verdict from you guys? Is Benihana worth the praise? Ever taken a breezy there? Is it your favorite Japanese Steakhouse? Ever tried to do an Onion Volcano at home? If you could only have one restaurant’s food for the rest of your life what would it be? Leave many comments below.