If you watched the 2013 season of America’s Next Top Model, you saw him there; if you’ve seen Ariana Grande’s video Into You, he’s the starlet’s love interest; he’s even been linked to the eldest Kardashian sister, and his own music has featured on MTV and iTunes Overall Top Songs chart. Born in Chicago – the South Side, which is also the starting point of two other notable Americans, the President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama – Don Benjamin has called several states home, but spent his formative years in Minnesota, where his love of music was ignited.
Aside from modelling in campaigns around the world and walking top runways, he’s on a mission to reinvent rap and R&B stating, “Nobody is building girls up. I wanted to do that.” In an exclusive interview, we talk to the LA-based, Wilhelmina-signed, cross-industry powerhouse who is changing the landscape of music.
Hi Don, how did you get into modelling?
I got my start on Americas Next Top Model, then signed with Wilhelmina.
What’s it like working with an agency as renowned as Wilhelmina?
It's a blessing. They are an amazing agency and it's like a big family.
Who is your favourite designer to wear and which designer would you most like to model for?
I don't really have a favourite, but I would love to model for Balmain.
What kind of music do you like to listen to?
I listen to hip hop and R&B.
Did music help you get into modelling or vice versa?
I was doing music before I went on the show. The modelling has given me a platform to get my music out to a larger fan base.
How did you end up in Ariana Grande’s new video and what was it like filming with her?
I booked it through my agency. It was a great time, she's a great girl and it was easy to work with her.
Any style tips for the summer? What are you wearing?
Light layers are always good. A nice jean jacket or a cut-off sleeve button down.
You have a lot of tattoos. When did you get your first one and are there any good stories behind any of them?
I got my first one at fifteen. I played basketball and thought it would be cool to get a tat (laughs). I went to get a basketball, but because I was under age they only let me get something religious so I got a cross instead.
What do you like to do if you’re not modelling or in the music studio?
I like to chill with friends, maybe go bowling or to the movies.
Favourite film has to be Friday. It's a classic
Do you have any pets?
I have a dog – a pit bull/Dalmatian and I have a lizard – a bearded dragon.
Are you working on any projects at the moment?
I’m working on an EP, hoping to drop it the end of summer!
Any finally, any tips on how to stay fit?
Hour of cardio + twenty minutes in the sauna.
Watch Don Benjamin's video for his current single Hit the Snooze featuring Grammy-nominated singer songwriter, Eric Bellinger.
Words by Courtney Blackman