David Banner: Outside The Rhymes
Raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Banner found his first commercial success with 2003s Mississippi: The Album yielding the radio favorite Like a Pimp. Since then, he has gone on to collaborate with music industry heavyweights including Lil Wayne, T.I., Chris Brown, and Snoop Dogg. Expanding on his talent portfolio, Banner is also trying his hand in film, playing roles in films such as Black Snake Moan, This Christmas, and Days of Wrath.
Though many of todays rappers have been successful at becoming triple threats in the entertainment world, Banner has also quickly become one of the most outspoken figures in Hip Hop-- a much needed threat to the cycle of destruction within the African American community.
But as with any road less traveled; it hasnt always been easy to navigate. In 2007, Banner testified in front of Congress at a hearing about African American stereotypes within the media. In his opening statement, Banner was applauded by several in attendance for boldly declaring, "I can admit there are some problems in Hip Hop, but it is only a reflection of what's taking place in our society. Hip Hop is sick because America is sick." However, when he echoed that same sentiment at a recent symposium at South Carolina University, multiple celebrity gossip websites blasted the entertainer for what they labeled as hypocrisy.
Recently, David Banner sat down with HipHopDX to clear-up the SCU controversy, and have a candid discussion on what many believe to be the real roots of Hip Hops problems: inherent issues within media portrayals, the excessive pressure put on celebrities, big-money corporations, and the ever-increasing purchasing power of young fans. Sounding off on everything from Chris Browns media scrutiny, and black women perming their hair, to President Obama, and our forgotten soldiers in Iraq, David Banner is out to prove that despite obstacles from almost every corner -- he refuses to be silenced.
HipHopDX: At the South Carolina University symposium you were quoted as saying "Most problems that you have in Hip Hop can be directly connected with something that is actually going on in society." How do we begin to recognize, and then stop that cycle of destruction? A lot of people are still in denial that theres even a problem to begin with.
David Banner: Exactly. We have to figure out that theres a problem in society, period. But in Hip Hop, many people arent brave enough to talk about whats really causing our problems. The social system [of America] has been set-up way before Hip Hop.
DX: You were also criticized heavily for the things you said pertaining to African American women straightening their hair being a form of "black on black crime." Some even labeled you hypocrite because the women in many of your videos seem to have permed hair. How do you respond to that?
David Banner: When black people first started their integration after slavery, some black women would perm their hair to have more opportunities. The closer you were to being white --whether it was perming your hair, or bleaching your skin, or changing your name to Jane-- the better. And thats the same way it is today. So although we have progressed, the basis of those problems have stayed the same whether we want to admit it or not.
What we need to understand is what these gossip sites are looking for. Those websites dont talk about the charity work I've done, or how every Christmas Im out fighting for kids to get something to eat. Those websites dont print that because America feeds off of negativity.
The media takes one aspect of a persons career and talks about it. You can ask anybody that works with memy biggest fight is just to get dark-skinned women in videos, period. I'm one of the few artists that try to make that one of my demands; you have to give me at least one dark-skinned woman in the video. So I cant sit there and say, "I want only dark-skinned women, and only women with natural hair, etc., etc."
DX: Why not? As an artist, how much creative control do you actually have over your videos?
David Banner: I have a lot of control, but were fighting so many battles. Were fighting budget battles, were fighting to get our videos aired, and were fighting to get artists in the videos. There are so many battles to fight that we cant always focus on them all. Plus, how many women with dreads or natural hair show up to video shoots anyway? I love women with dreadlocks; I got a thing for women with dreadlocks! But if they dont show up to the casting call; I cant pick them! People will find anything to complain about. I like women with natural hair; thats my personal opinion. That has nothing to do with my business as an artist.
DX: But as an artist shouldnt your business reflect who you really are? Isnt that the true definition of keeping it realstaying true to who you really are?
David Banner: I dont believe in keeping it real. Thats just me personally.
DX: You dont think artists should stay true to themselves? If youre not staying true to who you are through your music; youre not a musician, youre an actor.
David Banner: Not necessarily. The artistry just reflects certain aspects of your personality. I personally say, I like women with natural hair. I also like dark-skinned women. I also like women with big ol asses. [Laughs] Just because I make that statement doesnt mean thats what I want to focus on the most in my music. People only focus on one thingthats not the focus of my life. What you have to understand is that theres a difference between Lavell Crump and David Banner. There are parts of my personality that I dont want revealed in my music. Thats when people run themselves crazywhen they try to make the two into the same person. Thats whats wrong with Rap music; we try to "keep it real" when were supposed to be making stuff up, and telling stories, and give people whatever they need at the time. If you dont separate the person from the artist, youll get ate up by it.
We have been brought up in a system that crucifies our leaders for doing wrong, and now were doing the same thing to our own people. Back in the day Ebony magazine and Jet magazine knew that certain leaders had [personal vices] but some things we kept in our community. We loved our community so much that we kept certain things to ourselves.
DX: Isnt that a dangerous slope though? Obviously, no one is perfect, but when we start sweeping issues under the table, doesnt that do a terrible injustice to society?
David Banner: How?
DX: This is womens history month so Ill use us as an example right now: According to statistics, 96% of teen prostitutes were sex abuse victims. 66% of teens who get pregnant in America were molested as girls, and 75% of rapists were once sex abuse victims. So if theres someone who has committed a sex crime and that fact comes to light; it needs to be talked about. Not by crucifying that individual, but by using it as a teaching moment to talk about the bigger picture -- preventing future occurrences across the globe.
David Banner: If somebody has broken the law, then yes maybe it needs to be talked about. But anything that people want to put on me as an entertainer should be put on everyone else too. People shouldnt judge us every minute of the day, looking for a reason to talk or try to find something to use against us
DX: Thats not what Im saying at all. I agree that gossip sites shouldnt be digging into peoples personal lives and airing their private business. But I also think that we, as a society, need to have more open dialogue, period. Not just when a celebrity does it. But as public figures, of course more people will talk when a celebrity is involved.
David Banner: But the thing that really pisses me off is that [the media] usually waits until a young, Black man does something, and then turns him into an example. Theres been a problem of violence against women and sexual abuse against women across America since the inception of the United States! But the media will wait until a black star does it. I can name 10 white stars who have hit their wives, and its never made [Oprah]! Look at Michael Vick! Dogs have been abused for years! White folks have been fighting dogs for hundreds of years! But theyll wait until a young black man is involved in the situation to make a big deal of it. We all have vices. We shouldnt be crucified just because we choose to be entertainers.
Speaking as candidly as I do does nothing but hurt my business. Thats what hurts me the most. For example, some Americans will criticize [Barack] Obamas stimulus plan all day, but wont talk about the fact that [George W.] Bush put us in this situation in the first place. We have to identify the root of the problem. When I talk to young people about the struggle of America or even about black women perming their hair, we blot out slavery, and we blot out racism. Some people believe that just because a Black man is president means oppression has stopped or racism has stopped.
DX: I understand where youre coming frombut you also have to understand that entertainers become the people the public wants to relate to, whether they signed up for that or not. We need to recognize that people do wrong things and that we need to have positive discussions about how we can prevent that
David Banner: Yes, "people," but not just entertainers. Thats where the conflict comes from. The media doesnt want to help solve problemsthey just want ratings! These TV shows want high ratings; they dont want to help the kids!
DX: How do you feel about how the media has handled the situation between Chris Brown and Rihanna?
David Banner: All I wanna say is that both Rihanna and Chris are children. And the way everyone is acting towards two kids who may have made a mistake is pitiful. I know they sell millions of records, but it doesnt stop the fact that theyre young. We get on our knees every day and pray for forgiveness, and this is how we act? What if God judged us the same way we judge celebrities?
DX: I have an idea about negativity in music right now called American Apple Pie Theory. The negative music in Hip Hop is a lot like apple pie: It tastes good to some people, and in moderation its fine, because all of that exists in life. Its reality. But if you consume too much of it, you might end up sick. And if youre diabetic (meaning the at-risk youth or otherwise impressionable people) you just may end up in a coma. So, the problem isnt that detrimental music existseveryone has a right to freedom of expressionbut there needs to be a better balance of media coverage in terms of the messages being sent by rap music. The problem is essentially in the mass mainstream media not providing the public with enough healthy choices. Whats your take on that theory?
David Banner: Hip Hop is exactly how its always been; the only difference was that years ago there were more options. You had a choice. The problem is that once big businesses got involved in music, they began to focus mostly on whats commercially hot. And most record labels dont know how to break new artists. They only throw money at what they perceive as being [commercially] hot artists. I dont think there should only be positive rap either. Life isnt all positive. But life isnt all negative either. And none of these artists are all positive or all negative.
I'd say 60%- 70% of my albums have always been positive. I call my albums "Bibles with Playboy covers on them." [Laughs] But the problem is that the media only talks about [commercial hit] singles. I said on Cadillac on 22s [click to read] : God, I know that we pimp/ God, I know that we wrong / God, I know I should talk about more in all of my songs / I know these kids are listening/ I know I'm here for a mission/ But it's so hard to get them when 22 rims are glistening when artists that are perceived as gangster rappers speak on politics or spirituality it usually falls upon deaf ears. I remember hearing Too Short [click to read] say, "I've made records about the ghetto, politics, and other positive subjects. But people seem to only remember biiitch! Our appetites need to be better. As much as people talk about the content of some of our music; when rappers make more conscious music, people dont buy it.
Its no different than McDonald's. Theyve tried to switch up their menu and have tacos and all that other stuff, but most people still just order a number one. So they go back to the original menu. All we need to do is start purchasing better things. There are opportunities when artists try to do better things and we get burned in most cases. You can get a million hits on your MySpace, but that doesnt necessarily mean youll sell records. We have to show people that different types of [rap] music have buying power. People are so emotional, but it really all comes down to money. If we purchase more positive music, record companies and artists would generate more positive music.
DX: Well, that leads us to another possible part of the problem--In 2006, according to Forbes magazine, 12- to 19-year-old Americans possessed $192 billion in purchasing power and have substantially more control over buying decisions than they used to. Many feel that we, as a society, are now catering to the wants of children because of their purchasing power. People say, "Well, this is what the kids want," but would you give your child apple pie until he or she vomits if thats what they want?
David Banner: We have children running the household! Whos controlling the ability of these kids to get the money to buy whatever they want? It really amazes me that a lot of kids are running the households these days. When I was a child, I had requests, not demands. My daddy didnt play that.
DX: The lack of balance created by media-monopolies definitely creates a bitter divide between the mainstream and underground Hip Hop worlds. What do you think it will take to bridge that gap? The Internet has helped greatly, but theres still been little to no change on TV and radio.
David Banner: Hip Hop in general is mainstream now. And youre underground until a lot of people start liking you, and then youre pop. Pop music just means "popular music." Hardcore gangster rap was underground music at first, until lots of people started liking it. Let me ask you a questionwhat song did I get popular off of?
DX: Like a Pimp.
David Banner: Right. So when people ask me to change my music, they're actually asking me to turn my back on the people that fed my family when none of the rest of yall would pay attention to me. I put out Cadillac on 22s, and I got no label support. I put out Play [click to read] and what happened?
DX: People loved it.
David Banner: Right. I went back and tried to be more positive. Nothing. I did Get Like Me. I flossed, and what happened to my career?
DX: Back up again.
David Banner: Boom. Went right back up. If you want music to change, then buy that type of music. As much as we would like to change the worldthis is still a business. If I dont sell records, I wont have a deal. If I lose my deal, I lose the ability to speak about any topic to the masses.
DX: Do you feel that people in the public eye should try to have some degree of social responsibility? Like you said, youve visited troops in Iraq, and done charity work. But there are other people in the public eye who choose to do nothing, or even become a part of the problem.
David Banner: Just because youre an artist doesnt mean that you should do charity work. I do what I do because thats the type of man that I am. I dont want anybody to do anything thats not in their spirit.
When I was in the streets I was doing the same type of [community service], when I was a teacher I was doing the same type of work, when I was SGA President at Southern University, I was doing the same things- standing up for black people, women, etc. I set up walk programs for women so that they didnt have to walk alone across campus at night. Thats the type of man that I am- that ain't got a damn thing to do with me being a rapper! Thats the problemwe put too much pressure and responsibility on entertainers. Most of these artists that are asked to be in a debate on CNN havent experienced enough in life to debate about anything. They are rappers and their job is to sell recordsnot to be political. Put me on TV! Put me in front of Rush Limbaugh! Put KRS-One [click to read] in front of him! Put Bun B [click to read]! They dont put the most qualified people in front of the cameras to speak on the topics at hand!
DX: How has your time as a hustler shaped the way you view the Hip Hop community today?
David Banner: Im able to look at it from all sides; thats been my blessing. I have a pretty well rounded view. Right now Im right in between the kids and the older generation. I'm right at the cusp of all the things that people talk about. I understand the other side, so Im better able to articulate both sides of the argument.
DX: You recently spent some time with the troops over in Iraq, what was that experience like?
David Banner: That experience changed my life. As much as we may think we have problems; there are troops who are experiencing situations we couldnt imagine. Going over there really humbled me and put life in perspective.
DX: Im not sure if you talked to any of them about this, but how do they feel about being at war while the media focuses on insignificant headlines?
David Banner: Well, some troops really feel like people have forgotten about them. When I went over there, a lot of troops were happy to see me. A lot of Rock and Pop acts have visited, but not too many people that the young troops were interested inonly because thats not what they listen to. It really excited them to see somebody from their generation. Things are really hard over there and the Bush Administration really tried to hide the real number of suicides in the Iraq War. There have been multiple thousands of suicides.
DX: Wow, I had no idea about that
David Banner: And I dont personally agree with the war, but that has nothing to do with supporting the people who are putting their life on the line, or dying over there, or fighting that war. They feel like people have forgotten about them.
DX: Will those types of visits become a regular thing for you? Will you continue to travel and speak even after how people recently reacted after SCU?
David Banner: Oh yeah. Im going to continue to do whats right. As long as I continue to do right, Ill be just fine. Ill continue fightingso many things are happening that people arent talking about, so I have to keep saying it. I feel that its my job to articulate the plight of those who dont have the ability of being heard. Its a shameTheyve really duped us.