David Banner Deems Last Album "One Of The Best Albums Since The '90s," Explains What Inspired "Swag"
Exclusive: D.B. admits that he is part of the issues that inspired "Swag," not a certain Oakland rapper. The veteran also claims that critics and fans were scared to champion "Death Of A Pop Star."
For a decade plus, David Banner has laced Hip Hop with contextual relevance littered over vast arrays of scoliosis-inducing audial glory. And while his catalog is loaded with quantities of quality, arguably his finest offering - Death Of A Pop Star, produced entirely by 9th Wonder - is criminally under heard. Released just four days before Christmas, 2010, DOAP emerged in one of few periods where Hip Hop’s 24-hour news cycle steps away from the keyboard, and a week or two too late to creep into most year end, “best of...” conversations. By the time the calendar rolled over, the hype machine had already rolled on to the next one.
HipHopDX spoke with David Banner at length about Death Of A Pop Star in this interview. He explained it’s polarizing effect on his fans and the importance of it’s message during a polarized America. Banner revealed a dark period directly preceding it’s creation and the unfortunate timing of it’s oft-delayed release. David also admitted a complete focus on lyricism and all of the additional components that never made it to market. The emcee/producer also provided information about his next project, Make Believe, and why “Swag” is not about that certain female rapper from Oakland, California. This is David Banner, 100% aware, brimming with perspective, smothered in the type of contradictions that defines all of us as humans.
David Banner Says Fans And Critics Understated Death Of A Pop Star
HipHopDX: Death Of A Pop Star is by far my favorite album in your catalog and one of my favorite albums of the past two years. I think that album spoke more directly to what’s happening in America from a micro and macroeconomic standpoint while still being entertaining. That’s a very difficult balance to maintain in any genre. Leading up to it’s release, you and 9th Wonder did several interviews commenting on the direction of the project and how it was intended to address the change in the way music is sold and the way people download music, but the album went much further than those initial descriptions. Was that intentional? Or did people misunderstand the overall aim of Death Of A Pop Star?
David Banner: I’ll say this first: it always amazes me how people are always scared to say that Death Of A Pop Star was better than most of the albums that came out in a very long time. People would always make comments like, “This is Banner’s dopest album,” or “This is one of the dopest albums,” to be certain that they wouldn’t rub other people that put out albums that year the wrong way. People will never say that it was one of the best Hip Hop albums in a really long time. For me, I thought it was one of the best records that came out since the 1990s. Being that it was the type of album that it was, those were the kind of comments that we needed in order to help the album along it’s way. A lot of magazines and a lot of websites are afraid to give good reviews the same way rappers are afraid of getting bad reviews.
I always knew what Death Of A Pop Star was. I never looked at as something that was going to [sell] three million [copies]. I never even thought about numbers with Death Of A Pop Star. Financially, we just didn’t want to lose money. Death Of A Pop Star, for me, was something that was from the soul; something that I felt like was needed; something that I could afford to do given my other business ventures. People don’t know that we put down our own money for Death Of A Pop Star. The only thing that anybody paid for other than me and 9th Wonder was the second video and radio promotion. Past that, we paid for everything. I hear everybody talking about they want better music, but when we do it [they don’t support it]. It was a risk for me because my fans honestly didn’t want to hear that. You know it.
DX: I think it’s interesting that you say that because you’ve always been really diverse. I feel like [Death Of A Pop Star] is only different because you subtracted the 808 [beats].
David Banner: What do my people want to hear? [Laughs] My people want to hear that bump, homeboy! And I don’t really care. I’m a visionary. I’m one that’s led by the spirit. And I think I did that. It was time for me to do something for me and not for everybody. Everybody says do the record for the people and give the people something to listen to and something to strive for. Yeah, that’s true, but I did that for me. My soul needed that. Also, I wanted to show these niggas I can rap better than most of these niggas that’s out here. There’s not one wack line on Death Of A Pop Star. That’s the reason why I didn’t understand some of the reviews because I literally, mathematically sat down and said, “Every beat on this thing is gonna be jammin‘,” and I went verse for verse and line for line and made sure there wasn’t no wack verse on there so I could say, “Let’s see what somebody can say now!” I asked a couple people and they couldn’t even argue with me about it! I got a couple of crazy reviews and went to them and said, “Show me where it was wack.” And on the joints where you may not have liked the beats as much, I made sure I overcompensated on the rhymes side.
For me, I never want people to say from this point on what David Banner is not. I felt like I’ve given a wide enough range of music in my career - whether it’s Crooked Lettaz, whether it’s [Mississippi: The Album], whether it’s Death Of A Pop Star. I’m always giving back to the craft. I’m always giving back to the craft.
DX: I understand what you mean. But would you say that the album opened people’s perception of you for those who are outside of the South? You’re on some boom-bap heavy beats. You open the album with, “Dreams of screaming demons hearing death whisper ‘hello‘ / My shell’s strong / My soul is Green Lantern wearing yellow...” That’s some real lyricism for the first bar to open up the whole project.
David Banner: “...Hella weak or Hell Week / Pledgin for Heaven’s gate...” [Laughs]
DX: “...I got a nine for Satan / Swimmin’ in Hell’s lake...” Come on, man. That’s real.
David Banner: Right. You know, but if you think about it, bruh, I always let people think what the want to think. But I honestly don’t think I was rhyming any more or any less on that record that I always have. What 9th Wonder gave me was the ability to just concentrate on a verse. Where usually I got to handle the business. I’m the one with the guns. I’m the one doing the politics. I’m A&R. I’m everything. So somethings fall to the wayside just because I have to rock so many hats on a David Banner project. When we did Death Of A Pop Star, I let 9th handle the beats. He told, “Banner, if you make it to Carolina, you ain’t gotta worry about where you’re staying. You ain’t gotta worry about where you’re eating; where you’re recording. Your recording time is in my studio. Just concentrate on your rhymes, dude. And we got the rest of it.” And I was able to do that, bruh. No bullshitting, as serious as the album sounded, me and 9th Wonder are so fucking silly, dude.
DX: I saw the behind the scenes [of Death Of A Pop Star].
David Banner: He doesn’t act like that normally. I don’t act like that normally. But when we get together, we’re like two fucking kids. We had so much fun. But whether I got a certain level of respect for that - it matters, but then it matters not - because if you respected me, then you’d go out and buy it. That’s the only thing that counts in real, grown man business. My dad taught me that. People can talk, but it doesn’t matter until you do something. So if you respect me and you care and all that kind of stuff, help me feed my family. Help me have the opportunity to put out another Death Of A Pop Star. I don’t know if me and [9th] would decide to take that same kind of risk again. That was a risk, homie. For real. Financially, socially, everything. Even the Ludacris video [“Be With You”]. For me as what people perceive as a gangster rapper, for me to get up in that video and have as much fun as we had, that was a risk.
DX: You were reluctant to make “Be With You.” You didn’t want to put that one on the album.
David Banner: Nah, I didn’t like that song at all. When I initially did Death Of A Pop Star, I was going through a lot mentally. I had disdain for the music industry. I had disdain for music, period. I didn’t do beats. I didn’t listen to radio. I didn’t do none of that. I hated music. My previous business situation had put me in a space where spiritually I just didn’t like music. No kind of music. Not Gospel music; not Jazz; not nothing. Not Rap. Nothing. I didn’t want to hear the sound of melodies at all. Everybody around me knows that. My mom get in the car, she cut the radio off. I had let these people take my love for music away and it’s something that I promised I’d never let happen again. Rap, to me, is no longer for the streets anymore. It’s no longer for the people. It’s corporate. At first I used think that rappers were not businesses, and now we’re too business. There’s no balance. Everything is done to sell a record. We used to do music and the music would sell because it came from the streets because the people felt it. Now everything is constructed. Everything is a scheme. Everything is a game. Everything has an angle. We’re at war right now. Occupy Wall Street. Folks is dying, you know? My favorite rapper just died and I don’t hear no songs about that. We’re still at war. I don’t hear no music about the war. I don’t hear no music about Occupy Wall Street. I don’t hear no music about the politics. We’re in a recession. Every song I hear, everyone is all happy and rich. That’s a lie. Music ain’t selling. What you happy for? Where’s the record store at? Majority of the people from where I’m from don’t have no laptops, but there ain’t no record stores. So where’s the music selling?
DX: Even Best Buy is in trouble now.
David Banner: Even stores like Best Buy only sell the Top 20 records. They ain’t selling no underground records in Best Buy, homie. And even if you do get something in Best Buy, they can’t hold the back-stock for long. That’s our fault, bruh. One thing about people, folks always say it’s a recession. It’s been a recession for Black people. It’s been a recession for Black people, homie. So, “recession” is only for other races who haven’t shared in the grieving of America for so many years. But we’ve been in a recession. In saying that, we buy what we wanna buy. And the thing is we want to get record deals.
This may fuck your head up: anything that has to do with black people making money has either been diminished or has been regulated. In sports, any other sport that’s not dominated by Black people, you can go straight to the league when you’re 15 [years old], 16, 17, straight out of high school. Basketball and football, it has to be regulated. You gotta go through the college system and that slave college market and, “Give us some of your money and some of your time before we let you go into the league and get your paper.” Only basketball and football. Hockey, tennis, golf, anything else [and you don’t have to go through the college system]. Rap music: gone. Look up on the TV screen now. You don’t see but two or three Black actors. At these movie awards this past year, I was watching. I didn’t see no Black actors, no Black hosts. Look at music now. The most dominant music is becoming trans and dance music. That’s not black controlled, homie. We’ve given it away. We’ve given away our music.
I was telling somebody yesterday, we’re scary to them. I know it. But they used to have to deal with us because Black people are the biggest consumers. We’re only 13% of the population but we buy the most stuff in America. But now we don’t buy and support ourselves. So if we don’t show that we’re commercially viable, why should we get movie theaters? Why should we get record deals? We’ve got to stop being emotional. We’ve got to get back to supporting and buying whoever it is. It doesn’t have to be me. It doesn’t have to be David Banner. Anything. Anybody. Then what they do is they use one or two exceptions to the rule [as an example], but that’s not the whole industry. When they do play videos on TV now, people get whole blocks of hours. It’s not even a diverse scope of entertainment. It’s scary. We talk about Occupy Wall Street or we talk about the greed of America, it’s the same thing in the music industry. There’s no difference. The middle class is the the 500,000-sellers. They’re gone. The 250-700,000 sellers, they’re gone. Just like the middle class in America. You’re either rich or you’re poor. You’re either selling 20,000 or you’re selling one million. The middle class is gone.
DX: What’s interesting about what you’re saying now is that you did an interview with The Village Voice in 2008 and they wanted to talk about the planned Banner/Lil Flip collaboration, but the conversation ended up covering a much broader range. This was before Obama was elected, before Occupy Wall Street, and you said almost that exact same [metaphor relating the middle class to the music industry]. Are we at a point now where that might change because of things like Occupy Wall Street?
David Banner: What I have to say, brother is that - this may be a little bit strange to you - but I call myself and people like me “time benders.” I’m from Mississippi, dude. I could’ve never dreamed that I would’ve done the things that I’ve done. I would’ve never dreamed that America would be in the situation it’s in right now - both good and bad. So, in saying that, I believe anything is possible. But I just hate the process that we’re going to have to go through in order for it to get better. Notice anytime anything that’s happened in America that’s good, a lot of people have been hurt. Things have to happen because, what you have to understand is anarchy in America is money for other people. Anytime that the American public feels threatened, they try to find a savior. And whoever that group of people are makes billions and billions of dollars. That’s what you have to understand. There’s a group of people in America that’s benefitting off of us hurting. There’s people who got money that’s loving the recession right now; who don’t want the recession to go away. You can even look at the airport, America wants to be able to continue to go through your bags; to go through your mail; tap your phone calls. They’ve forced America into fear. They have scared us into giving away our power and our money. Even in Rap music, they want us to stay stupid.
I just saw an interview on Pimp C yesterday and he was talking about getting all the young rappers together in Houston and compare notes to see how these people are taking advantage of us. As individuals, rappers are some of the smartest people, period. They may not be book smart, but they’re savvy. They’ll pick themselves up by their bootstraps and become internationally important. That’s crazy coming from the hood. So imagine if these websites stopped being sloppy and stopped gossiping and really start putting out real information. It ain’t got to be all serious. It ain’t got to be all political. But just start talking about something that really means something or figure out a way to put this all together and make some real money. Not this bullshit. When I look at Forbes and all this kind of stuff, I don’t see nothing that has to do with no entertainment. Imagine if the basketball players said, “Fuck the owners. We’re gonna start our own league.” That’s the type of shit I’m talking about.
DX: They’re starting to do that on a smaller level, now. A few of the players are touring, playing in exhibition games during the lockout.
David Banner: Yeah. Let’s make this money, bruh! Let’s really be free, homie.
DX: In 2007 you did an interview with The Great Hip-Hop Debate right after you finished speaking before Congress and you talked about how you’re not sure if you changed anybody’s mind but you definitely changed their perspective a bit just by the way your were talking; the way you addressed them. But in that same interview, The Great Hip-Hop Debate asks you about artists coming together and forming a league of some sort and you seemed incredulous. You said, “...if T.I. does that, I’m with it. If Nelly does that, I’m with it. These are people that are in the cusp of what’s going on right now...” You sounded a bit skeptical about the success of that type of coalition.
David Banner: I always try to be honest with people, bruh. That’s one of the things one of the ladies said at Occupy L.A. when I went, they just want some transparency in politics; transparency in the people that run the top finance companies. Just be honest. I know that’s hard to ask of people who are doing crooked shit, but just be real with us. We can deal with it better if we know the circumstances that we’re under. The thing is you have to have success around in order for people [to believe you]. It takes somebody like a Pimp C in Houston; it takes somebody like a David Banner in Mississippi; it takes somebody like Nelly in St. Louis; it takes a person of success to be able to control and move people. You have to understand the psyche of the average human being. You have to have somebody of success to even get people to the table first.
DX: In my opinion, the last verse on “Something’s Wrong” is the most visceral verse on Death Of A Pop Star. I think it’s completely to the left of static Hip Hop commentary because of Hip Hop’s homophobia. When you’re telling the story of you questioning the gay dude, on the last verse you kick, “David Banner, I remember when he raped me / Taped me to the bed / Binded both legs / I blanked out / Woke up in a pool of red / That changed my whole world / I guess my stepdad thought that I should’ve been a girl...” That’s brave to even include commentary like that in an industry and a medium as homophobic as Hip Hop.
David Banner: The funny thing about “Something’s Wrong” is that sort of really happened when I was walking in the park. The thing is, a lot of people will try to take that situation and try to make it a blanket statement. That was one person’s situation. The thing that I was trying to do with that song is let people understand is that there’s a story behind everybody. It may be small. It may have a bully. He may have been bullied all his life and that turned him into a bully. You never know why people are the way that they are. And if we took that into consideration, people would be a lot more patient with each other.
I honestly don’t give a shit what people think about me or my music. I just want them to think, bruh. Sometimes I say stuff to purposely piss people off just to make them think; just to make them consider; just to make them pause for one second and be like, “Damn, I never thought about it that way.” I don’t wanna change nobody’s mind. I don’t give a shit about that at all. I just want you to think about the stuff that you do. I don’t think America thinks anymore.
It’s scary, bruh, when you look up on the TV and the highest grossing person on TV ain’t even an actor. You look at reality TV and you look at music, it’s all the same. Reality TV has taken away jobs from real actors, people with real talent. And if you’ve noticed, 96% of the reality TV stars can’t get no job after they leave that situation. That’s just corporate America being greedy, putting low quality TV that doesn’t take but about $40,000 or $50,000 to produce, doesn’t have to be scripted, and you don’t need to be an actor out there. All these people are out of a job and they put people up on TV acting a fool, simple-dumb TV, and people go for it. For the highest grossing person on television to not be able to act, to not be able to dance, to not have no talent - and that’s what we want out of America? For an average rapper nowadays to not even be able to stay on beat, to not be able to rap - everything about a rapper [these days] has nothing to do with a beat or a verse. Who they fucking? Who they beefing with? Most R&B singers, if they stood up by themselves, they can’t sing. If you took away the beat, if you took away the Auto-Tune, they can’t sing. How are you an R&B singer and you can’t fucking hold a note? Is that what America has been reduced to? I’m not flipping on people getting they’re paper, but that’s the same thing that happened to America. America became so greedy, it started spending money that didn’t fucking exist. How do you have a credit with money that doesn’t exist? And then we wonder why we’re in debt. Everything is plastic. At some point it has to stop or we’re going to implode.
The thing that I fear, dude, - and it scares me because things I’ve said three years ago comes back and it ends up being that way - if America doesn’t change something soon, it’s going to implode in a very bad way and it’s going to start in our biggest cities. We have to start identifying the real people and the real problem and stop using blanket statements. “Oh, look at the rich rappers and the basketball players,” but these are not the people with power. We have to really identify who’s causing the problems in our communities and in America and identify them, point the finger at them, march to their houses, go to their cities.
David Banner Reacts To The Occupy Movement
DX: In your opinion, who is causing the problems in our cities? Who is causing the problems in America?
David Banner: What I will say, brother, is I’m still doing my research. The thing is, you have to be careful as individuals when you don’t have the backing of the people. When you start naming the people that I’m talking about’s names, that’s when you start disappearing. You gotta be careful. I’m a lot smarter than I used to be. It has to be a social movement because if you look at any of our movements, when it was about the person...that’s what I like about Occupy Wall Street, is that it’s not about “me.” It has to be about the people. When it becomes about “me,” like [Malcolm X] or like [Martin Luther King, Jr.], they’re gonna kill your ass. In my personal opinion, the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X set us back further than the things that they did for us. And our enemies know that. “Oh yeah, let ‘em talk. Put ‘em on TV and when we mow ‘em down, that’s gonna set them back ten times greater than they were before.” That’s why we have to be about movements. We can’t be about individuals. It’s not about be “me” and what I perceive as the problem. It’s who the people perceive as a problem as a whole. Until we do that, hey, brother...I’m tryna be here in the present, homie. I’m not trying to be Malcolm and Martin. I’m trying to do powerful things and live. [Laughs]
DX: One thing that’s interesting about Death Of A Pop Star were the choices of singles. “Slow Down” and “Be With You” are great songs, but with everything you speak about in your interviews and everything you represent and everything you talk about on the album, those two songs seemed a bit outside of that. For example, on “The Light,” the content is more in line with what you speak about frequently and the beat is banging. But you came with “Be With You” and “Slow Down” which are two closer to relationship joints on the album. Why were those two chosen? Why not “The Light” or “No Denying” or “Strange?”
David Banner: Honestly, until “Swag” , my new single, people have not shown me that they’re gonna support that. As emotional as we want to be, bruh, one thing that I’ll never do is risk my place in Hip Hop for my emotions and for what I believe in. The truth is, as much as we talk about Death Of A Pop Star; as much as we talk about “Cadillac On 22s,” and those type of records, I’m standing in front of you because of “Play,” because of “Get Like Me.” I have to keep us in front of the camera. I’ve gotta keep me hot. I tell 9th that all the time. I’ve gotta keep us hot so that we can afford the situation. One of the things that made me most happy was when Eminem came out with “Stan.” That was not a conventional radio record, but Eminem was so big and had such a backing that it didn’t matter what he dropped. The same way [2Pac] was. 'Pac could drop “Dear Mamma” because he was so fucking hot. For me, I couldn’t gamble that much to put out a single like “The Light.” As jamming as that was, people haven’t shown me up to this point that they’re gonna ride with me unless there’s a record like [“Play”]. Every time I try to put out a “Cadillac On 22s;” every time I try to put out a record like that - with the exception of “Swag” - [the response isn’t there]. And “Swag” is bumping so fucking hard, that people may not even be messing with it because of the message. It may be because of the beat! [Laughs].
DX: You’ve been great at putting both together.
David Banner: Well, I honestly think this is the best I’ve ever done with it. “Swag” was the best. The visual matched. The visual was still hot and had to do with recent stuff that was going on in the world. It was still hot and flashy. The swag on the record was still dope. We threw in some dope punchlines. I think it was the best balance that I’ve ever had. But you have to understand, I am so much more than just a revolutionary. I am a son. I’m a brother. I’m a man. All of this - a provider for so many people. I can’t be 100% emotional about my music. I’m still the CEO of a company. I’m still putting up all of this money on a Hip Hop record during a recession. That’s the thing that people will not acknowledge. This is running a label. This is me and 9th Wonder, homie, putting out a Hip Hop record during a recession. The biggest singers in the world ain’t yielding but 20,000 copies sold. The sacrifice is already there. To go all the way with wasn’t necessarily the smartest thing for me, bruh.
Let’s say “Be With You” really jumped off - the single with Luda, then I could’ve gone on and did “The Light.” But that only did average. So after putting in all this money, you have to learn when to cut your losses, homie. That’s why I keep telling you about support. Everybody wants you to do all of these amazing things, but then people are not doing there part. If I would’ve gotten the 5 mics [from The Source] that I deserved, then people would’ve called it the classic it was, then I could’ve stepped up even on a hype basis. But everybody was sitting back waiting to see what the record was going to do, and I don’t feel like they did their part to support a movement that everybody has been asking for - the type of music that was needed. As a man, I watched what happened to Martin and Malcolm. I watched the sacrifices that they made for our people and then the way that their families are living right now. I refuse to let my family live like that, homie. As much as I stand for the movement; as much as I will sacrifice my personal self - David Banner - I’m not going to sacrifice my family. I’m not going to ask 9th Wonder to sacrifice his family for something that I believe in. We’ve gotta be successful, homie. We’ve gotta be able to finance all of these things that we’re talking about and stop being emotional. And that’s where I was.
I did the best with what I had, and honestly; and I don’t know if I’ve ever said this before, but I was very proud of myself. I was very proud of 9th Wonder. I was proud of eOne’s attempt to try to support what me and 9th Wonder was doing. It was an amazing situation. I’ll tell you something else, we had a comic book that went along with that record. If the numbers would’ve been any higher, we had things that went along with the record. It was a movement. Death Of A Pop Star could’ve been an example of how Hip Hop could be successful again. There was a short film that was connected with Death Of A Pop Star. That was around the time that Kanye [West] dropped his film [Runaway], so I with the warm success of Death Of A Pop Star, so I was like unless people really really show, I’m gonna save this for another situation or maybe if we decide to do Death Of A Pop Star again.
DX: In 2008, you said: “What I’ve found out was that in most cases, it doesn’t really matter how good your music is. It’s about timing.” How much of role did timing play in the warm success of Death Of A Pop Star? It comes out four days before Christmas. In my opinion, it was the strongest album of the year. It’s only 30.5 minutes long and seems to only get better with repeated listens. But it comes out four days before Christmas, just a little too late to make it into most people’s year end lists. It was delayed twice in 2010. Did timing play a role in all of things you felt you weren’t able to do with the project?
David Banner: I was in a situation where if I had delayed it any longer, we would’ve had to pick the buzz up, shoot another video. I had put so much money in Death Of A Pop Star, homie. You wouldn’t imagine the money that I put into that record which is in a genre of music that I’m not familiar with anymore. I know how to put a club record together, homie and get it poppin’. I’m a get out in the streets grinder. I’m just learning this Internet shit. I believe in touching people. So in saying that, I had to decide - this was one of those CEO decisions - do I bleed more money out of my pocket? Or do I just drop this shit and get it poppin’. I think I made the best decision with what I had to work with. Everything on that record was a component that I felt could stand on it’s own. When we designed the album cover, we wanted it to be a piece of artwork that - even if you didn’t like rap music or even if you didn’t like David Banner or 9th Wonder - that you would buy that piece of artwork by itself. The beats - even if you didn’t like David Banner, but you loved 9th Wonder, you could get the instrumental album. The epiphanies that David Banner was having vocally, I believe that Death Of A Pop Star was strong enough for you to make a remix album or if a producer wanted to make a remix album, [they could]. I think the idea was there, bruh.
I’m going to tell you something, and I haven’t told many people this, but the truth is you can’t show me one creative album in history that didn’t have one powerful person behind it forcing people to work it. You had L.A. Reid behind Outkast. You had Jay-Z behind Kanye. You had Kanye behind Lupe [Fiasco]. You had Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine behind Eminem. Anything that was creative always had those button pushers that kept it in front of people’s faces until people got it. Death Of A Pop Star was one of those albums that if we had kept in front of people’s faces long enough, they would’ve got it. But we didn’t have that button-pusher, homie. And that’s just real.
DX: There’s only like five button pushers left anyway.
David Banner: [Laughs]
David Banner Says That "Swag" Is Not Inspired By Any Specific Rappers
DX: You mentioned “Swag,” and you’re right, the joint is killing it. It bridges everything that people down South love about David Banner with some of the best lyrical aspects of Death Of A Pop Star. On the hook you say, “A White girl call us 'nigger' and we just sit back and laugh.” Is that in reference to [a certain female rapper from Oakland]?
David Banner: That’s for anybody, bruh. That situation is what sparked the song, but it was not about [V-Nasty]. That’s a little young girl, bruh. Like, c’mon, dude. She’s catching the responsibility for something that’s so much bigger. If I had a problem with her I would call her name. I would say her name. If I have a problem with anybody, I’m a grown ass man. You ain’t never known me, never in my life to be no beefin‘-ass nigga because I don’t believe in that. If I’ve got a problem, I’m gonna go see you personally. Physically. I think music is way too big. We’re getting way too much money to be beefing. Beefing is so high school to me. We’re grown getting millions. I don’t give a shit. But I do care about the respect for Black people. I do care about the fact that I’m from Mississippi. My family hung from trees, you know what I’m saying? For us to just not care about nothing no more, dude, that’s what it was about. It was about us. It wasn’t about her. It was about what we stand for as people because if people felt like they would get their fucking face ripped off, people wouldn’t say it. But Black people have become so fucking lax that people do whatever the fuck they want to us because they know we’re not gonna do nothing. We just gonna go “Swag. Swag.” That’s what it’s about. If you noticed, I said “we” - including fucking me! I’m talking to all of us. I’m not talking to them because they can get a Hip Hop record and go back to their folks. We gotta stay with that pain, homie. “Swag” was about us.
What are we gonna stand for as a people? What are we gonna stand for as so called Hip Hop website and whatever Hip Hop magazine that most of our people don’t control anyway? I’m talking about deejays who can’t play their own music; that can’t make choices about what they play. C’mon, dude! We don’t even control our own culture anymore. But we so “gangsta.” We so “pimpin’.” That’s a fucking lie, nigga. We high-priced workers, nigga. That’s what “Swag” was about and it’s painful. It’s so crazy that they took such a powerful message and reduced it to a beef song. I don’t beef, homie. I fight. I’ll smack your fucking lips off, bitch. I don’t play, nigga. I’m grown. I’m a grown ass man, nigga. You’re not going to disrespect my people. What is enough? I said in an interview yesterday that if killing kids became the hot shit to do in America, watch how many niggas gonna make songs about killing kids. C’mon, when do we stop, homie? That’s some bullshit. We gotta stop being high-priced hoes. What do we say no about? My father told me that being a man ain’t about what you will do. It’s about what you won’t do. It’s what you’ll say no to that makes you a fucking man. There are certain things I won’t do. And think about most of the things that we talk about in music. We don’t got no business talking about that shit, homie. If there’s something we do in the streets, we know it ain’t right. I’m not proud of it. Even if I talk about it, I’m not proud of it. At what point does it get back to what our parents taught us what our souls say? We’re all human. We all do a little bit of something, but damn, when does it stop, bruh? You mean to tell me it’s alright for white folks to get on records and call us “nigga?” And then they use the excuse that we call ourselves that. Well, I can call my little brother a punk ass mutherfucker, but if you do it, I’ll rip your face off.
Any other culture in America, if you say something like that regardless of what they say about themselves, you get dropped out of movies and lose your record deal and lights start going off. C’mon, homie, we know what it is. But then it goes back to what I said: black folks ain’t gonna do nothing. It is what it is, homie. That girl’s a child. Don’t even put her name in my interview. She’s a child. She don’t know no better, homie. But that don’t stop the responsibility. Whether you know it or not, you’re gonna have to own that responsibility. You have to think about it, she hasn’t traveled the world yet. She hasn’t done a show in Mississippi and pulled that word out and seen what happens. Then you have so many other rappers that’s just about money, they’re not even really looking about it from that perspective. They’re just like, “Yeah, that’s dope.”
Part of the problem is that those of us that the younger generation had respect for, we left the game because there wasn’t anymore money in it. We went and started acting and open up businesses. So quite naturally, young folks took those spots. They didn’t have nobody to go to. They didn’t have nobody to talk to. They didn’t have nobody with a message in music to give them any guidance. We left them. It was partially my fault because I did the same thing. We stopped making music! Think about all the people that the youngsters respected, what did they do?
DX: They turned into industries now.
David Banner: Right. They left. We left the kids sitting there by themselves. We left them to figure it out for themselves, bruh. A couple of us should’ve stayed here for them, dude. At least come back sparingly and drop some shit to make people think. You’ve got certain rappers and certain entertainers that people straighten their back up when they come around. There isn’t many of them. That’s one of the reasons why I came back. I really felt like what I had to say was needed. I may be wrong, but I felt like what I had to say was needed. That’s what my spirit told me, that it was needed.
DX: What are you working on now?
David Banner: I’m working on the Make Believe album. Honestly, bruh, I’ve got so many records, dude. The thing that I do now is I work once every week and I think I’ll do that for the rest of my life.
DX: Work once a week?
David Banner: Yep, whether I have a project or not.
DX: That’s not bad. A six day weekend every week, that’s not bad.
David Banner: [Laughs] Nah, I’m doing other things. I’m scoring movies, acting the rest of those days. I’m working on my brand. But what that does is it keeps me sharp; that keeps me constantly working on Hip Hop and it gives me an opportunity to make a catalog. So when it is time to put out a record, I don’t have to rush and cram all of my emotions into two months. I’ve been working constantly, never stopping. But I have so much music now, that reflects so many aspects of my life at so many points in my life that it’s actually amazing, bruh.
DX: Whatever happened to MTA3: The Trinity Album? There was talk about that for a while.
David Banner: I think I may come out with that next, maybe. But I just think that the Make Believe album and the concept for the Make Believe album fits more to where America is now. The Trinity Album was more me taking it back to Mississippi and kind of like my first album on steroids. I was gonna put a lot of cats I’ve been thinking about in Mississippi on there, but now I feel I’m strong enough to carry an album now and not have to do a million features and all that kind of stuff. It was going to be this whole big thing and this whole big movement, but now what I think is more important now is just the state America and the state of music period is that it’s all make believe. All this shit is make believe. The way that I’m feeling now, I think the Make Believe album describes it a little bit more. I think it’s something that I have to do for myself first before I’m able to do the rest of it.
It’s an amazing, amazing album, bruh. I love the diversity in it. On the Make Believe album, I came off the 9th Wonder album and I wondered how Death Of A Pop Star would be with David Banner beats. It’s sort of like me coming off Death Of A Pop Star feeling the way that I feel lyrically. So what I do is, when I’m working on beats, I just work on beats. And then I get a group of beats, let them sit for a minute, and then I just write as if someone else did the beat. It’s sort of like coming off of the [Death Of A Pop Star] approach with David Banner beats.
DX: I was watching the Country Music Awards the other night, and Lionel Richie was performing along with Darius Rucker, Little Big Town, and Rascal Flats in promotion of his upcoming country album, Tuskegee. It stood out to me for two reasons: one, anytime anybody Black is on the Country Music Awards it just stands out. And two, Lionel Richie was talking about how he realized later in life how growing up in Alabama, he was influenced by Country music a lot more than he thought. Taylor Swift is currently on tour and seems to bring out a different rapper on every stop (T.I., B.o.B., Nelly) and Kid Rock recently released a country album. Growing up in Mississippi, are there any other genres of music that influenced your sound; your craft?
David Banner: Similarly to what Lionel Richie said, being from the South, we can’t help but be influenced by other music because we didn’t honestly have a choice. Think about it: until like 2002, they weren’t really playing our music - the music we listen to in our car - on the radio stations in the South. We were listening to Three 6 Mafia, 8Ball & MJG, you know what I’m saying? The stuff that we were buying in the mom and pop stores, that wasn’t really stuff that they were playing on the radio stations. Even on MTV, one of my favorite groups is The Police. People would always ask why and it’s because early MTV wasn’t playing no rap, so we had to listen to Ah Ha. We had to listen to Phil Collins, The Police, Culture Club, whether we wanted to or not. Like Lionel Richie said, whether we know it or not [we were influenced]. There wasn’t but one urban station. Even when you were flipping the channels, you had one, maybe two urban stations. The rest of them was country music anyway. I was trippin’ because, you know how you go to the little bars in New York and they’re playing the Hip Hop instrumentals? You never get that shit in the South. We had to listen to the country records when we were in the restaurants or wherever we were. That’s one thing I do like about the South. A southern rapper can rap over any beat. It’s hard for a lot of other regions to adjust to our beats. We listened to everything. We went through New York’s movement. We had to be fans of LL Cool J and A Tribe Called Quest. We went through the West Coast movement. We listened to the early Twista when he was Tongue Twista, all that. So by the time it came to the South, we was influenced by everything, including country. Our parents, with the blues and B.B. King and all that kind of stuff. Whether we like it or not, we have a lot of stuff to pull from.
DX: My last question is a standard question I ask anyone I get a chance to interview who has perspective. You’ve been releasing music for over ten years. You’ve produced for people all over the place. You played “Mo” in This Christmas which was the most hilarious movie feature I’ve seen you in. You’ve traveled the world with your music. After a decade, what still surprises you about Hip Hop?
David Banner: What still surprises me about Hip Hop is it’s ability to still touch people all over the world. When I came out, the album that sold the most copies in my career, that was my independent album [Grey Skiez by Crooked Lettaz]. I was gonna put that album out on the streets and sell it for 10 dollars. I can say it now. I maybe recorded that album for $20,000 because I didn’t think I was gonna get no record deal. That wasn’t on our mind. They wasn’t fucking with the South like that at the time. To be able to come out of my truck and sleeping in my van and be able to touch people all over the world, that’s amazing. For my father to let me take over his front room and I produced all those beats with a turntable, MPC, and a ASR10 and to be more jamming than people that spent a million dollars on their record. Some of that record was done in my van. I set up a studio in my van. To be able to do that and for people to hear pain and be able to connect with that pain and that joy and that laughter and all that and be able to touch people’s soul, that’s amazing to me, dude. But on the flip side of that, it’s amazing what we choose to do with it.
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