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'No matter the language, no matter the genre' - Rockford songwriter pushing the limits

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Antoinette Harris
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A Rockford songwriter is taking her art to another level, or -- you could say -- another language.

D’naiya Benford,19, goes by the stage name KBN, which stands for Known by None. She said the name comes from the idea that as an artist she must be vulnerable, but she doesn't want people to see everything.

“I think everybody experiences that to different levels,” she said. “You know, you don't show your boss the side that you show your friends. You don't show your friends, the side that you show your mom. We all have those different levels to ourselves, kind of like an onion.”

Benford said she’s always loved poetry and wrote her first song when she was 12. Her mother bought her a pink guitar to help fuel her passion.

“Although I wasn’t taking the guitar very serious, my mom's client, her daughter had broke[n] it. Had smashed it. And I was livid. I was so livid,” she asserted. “And I couldn't — back then I couldn’t understand why. But knowing the career path that I took; I can understand why it meant so much to me.”

Benford, who is also a twin, is the youngest of five girls. She said she her older sisters flooded her ears with 90s R&B but listening to different bands sparked her love for all types of music.

“No matter the language, no matter the genre. So, the language barrier was never a problem for me,” she said. “I've listened to Spanish music; I've listened to French music.”

She’s studied those two languages and is now learning Korean. To take things up a notch, she started writing in that language, initiating her desire to create Korean pop lyrics, also known as K-Pop. Benford said writing in this language is much different than writing in English.

“With Korean, there’s just so much emotion. And like I said, so many things can mean other things,” she explained. “So, with puns and everything, and once you like, get a person to dissect it. It’s just mind blowing how they say one thing and it is the literal meaning but it means something else too.”

At first, she used a Korean app, which allowed a teacher to look over her creations. But now, she said, she doesn’t need the extra help.

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Ziah Marie
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D'naiya Benford

Her favorite Korean artists are Dean and DPR – that stands for Dream Perfect Regime, a hip-hop artist.

Benford is Black but said she has Korean individuals in her family.

“And they never spoke Korean to me. I just knew that they were Korean. So, when I saw them again after pursuing the language, they appreciated that I was taking the time to learn,” she said.

Her interest in this language caught the attention of a producer she met during a Clubhouse chat. He invited her to write for a demo that he was putting together. Benford said another writer on the demo is a certified songwriter for the Korean boy band BTS.

“Despite you know, not being able to pitch successfully, my first opportunity was with such a big writer,” she said, “BTS is huge, you know, so for me to be able to, for him to have chosen me to write with her along on the demo that he was sending out was an honor in itself.”

She’s planning on moving to Korea to study television and film this year. But before that, she wants to showcase her performance ability by releasing a couple of songs.

She recently showed her talent during Makin’ Magic Productions Network auditions that took place last month in Rockford. A city, she said, full of musical mentors, leading the way for her light to shine. And one Korean lady, who inspires her, named Ms. Kim. Benford has a special message for her “너무 사랑해요 할머니.” That's Korean for I love you grandma.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.