One of my first extensive interviews came when David Banner’s manager agreed to an impromptu meeting following the Mississippi rapper’s performance at Atlanta’s Lenox Mall in the summer of 2008. Banner is without question one of the most passionate and opinionated artists I have ever met. In our discussion I could hear traces of disappointment over a preceieved lack of acceptance from fans for his lyrical ability. He was banking on his Greatest Story Ever Told as his breakthrough project, but it resulted in another disappointment as it garnered mixed reviews from fans and critics alike. The creative chip is still on his shoulder today as he prepares to drop a collaboration album with 9th Wonder entitled Death of a Pop Star.
David Banner knows about struggle. Since his last album, 2005’s Certified, the rapper/activist had to deal with the traumatic effects of Hurricane Katrina on his native Mississippi, attacks on Hip-Hop from the federal government, and his father’s death from cancer in 2007. Despite these hardships and thoughts of retirement, Banner has persevered. He was one of the few artists to testify before Congress last year defending Hip-Hop lyrics, and did so again recently on BET’s Hip-Hop vs. America.
Now with a new album scheduled for release on July 15, David Banner explains the apathy and hypocrisy of our culture, and why his will remains unbroken.
Ismael AbduSalaam: How have you approached this record differently, if you have, from your last albums?
David Banner: It’s strange because initially my approach was just (making) hit records. Being that I produce myself I was trying to put as many back to back hits as I could. I know that nobody that’s on the level that I am is as close to the streets as I was when stuff got bad for me. So I was able to come back to the street and listen to what kids wanted and give it back to them.
Katrina had hit and the support still wasn’t there for music with political content. I thought this was what the world wanted from us? But then I realized they were a bunch of hypocrites so I just said fuck it I’m gonna focus on just hit records.
But then here comes George Bush and all of his antics and then this high ass gas. People on the streets I know never cared about politics start coming up to me saying ‘yo Banner we now understand what you talking about. We know you gonna bring it on this album. We can’t wait!’
And I ain’t have no politics on the album (laughs). It was straight stuntin’.
Ismael: So you felt you had to go back and modify it?
Banner: I trashed that whole album and made a new one called 13, which is like Outkast on crack. But then I realized the best David Banner is a synthesis of everything: the political, street, and experimentation.
The album is 22 tracks. And Universal is mad because I don’t have standard, mechanical tracks. But I was like fuck that we’re gonna give the people a quality album.
If anybody says The Greatest Story Ever Told isn’t the greatest, there’s something they can do. They can close their eyes, pucker up, and allow me to push their face into rhinoceros balls…sweaty rhinoceros balls.
Ismael: Do you feel quality albums are missing in today’s market?
Banner: One of the reasons why music is so fucked up is that people have been putting out so much trash lately. If people don’t buy into The Greatest Story Ever Told I don’t wanna hear these rules and regulations about how Hip-Hop is supposed to be and you want it to better. Naw, you just wanna continue to dickride.
This is the album people have been waiting for. If they don’t get it, I’ll go do a movie.
Ismael: You recently produced the RZA for his Digi Snacks album. Being that you’re a formidable producer in your own right, what did you guys pick up from each other?
Banner: It was a learning experience. With the lack of record sales everyone is coming back to their senses. It’s humbling for all of us. The conversations me and RZA had were amazing, and I don’t think we could’ve had them say 4 years ago.
I told him ‘dude let me produce you. I know you’re a great producer but I got ideas that can work.’ The problem with Hip-Hop is that everyone is Pro Tools or let me send you the track. That wasn’t the case with RZA, we were in the studio together and I think it will be a beneficial relationship for years to come.
Ismael: Katrina’s lingering devastation on Mississippi, New Orleans, and Alabama is out the public consciousness. Do you feel it’s due more to general apathy or the media just pushing it away?
Banner: I told everyone this would happen. We’re only concerned with what the media spoonfeds up. We’re concerned about Sean Bell as long as it’s on CNN. We don’t seek anything on our own. The truth is we’re only emotional or speaking out if it’s on TV. So if they (the media) want it to stop they just turn it off.
And then us (Hip-Hop media), we follow the big media outlets to keep our numbers up. And that’s some bullshit.
Ismael: On the BET Hip-Hop vs. America men’s panel, you stated that there was a lot of ego-stroking being done, and when the cameras stopped everyone would just go about their business. Did that happen or were there steps taken to initiate action after the show?
Banner: Everyone exchanges numbers but there’s no follow up, but I knew that was what was gonna happen. That’s why I said it. “Y’all ain’t gonna do shit but talk.”
Ismael: Do you feel there have been any ramifications from you speaking before Congress last year about lyrics in Hip-Hop music, or that it was mostly posturing on Congress’ part?
Banner: If we wouldn’t have stepped up some shit would’ve happened. We showed that there are intelligent black people in rap that will protect our form of music. But what I don’t understand is the people who do that type of music the public won’t support them.
We don’t do shit but talk and support the people who treat us like shit. You repay us by purchasing our music.
But we see that all the time. Look at the families of Malcolm X and Tupac. They should be financially rich beyond belief for all that they’ve done for us but they’re not and everyone continues to eat of their legacies.
Ismael: How did the mixtape with Whoo Kid come about?
Banner: Whoo Kid is a funny motherfucker. We’ve been cool for a minute since I had went on tour with 50 about 3 years ago. I don’t know if you heard the mixtape, but he put his foot in that shit. Like your grandma from Mississippi does when she’s making gumbo.
I got Chris Brown on there. People are gonna be surprised at the partnerships I’ve had that I’m finally showcasing.
Ismael: As an artist closely tied to the people, how much does that weigh on you when you’re making music since your constantly keeping their struggles in mind?
Banner: Every artist that’s a real artist is crazier than a motherfucker, all of them. Something ain’t right with me, Wayne, TIP, T-Pain, and 50. Andre 3000? Loony as a bat. But that’s the blessing. It’s Ying and Yang. God blesses us to think on a different frequency and to act on it. And it’s not just in music, it registers in all facets of your life.
I wish I could make records like Eminem and Andre 3000, but if you don’t have Jimmy Iovine or LA Reid behind your project that shit is gonna fail unless you push that shit on niggas.
People fronted (on the first single) “Get Like Me (Stuntin Is a Habit)” until people like Big Von (KMEL), Stan Branson (JMI), Leo and Ms. Kitty (XM Radio) got on it.
People say they want something different but they don’t support nothing different until it becomes mainstream.
Ismael: Do you feel that the tension that existed between the East and Southern Hip-Hop fans has finally cooled off?
Banner: A lot of times it takes a New York nigga to say some sh*t is hot before we say ‘oh it’s hot.’ Niggas heard me on that Nas record (“Middle Finger”) and all of sudden it’s “oh David Banner’s rapping and political now.” Nigga I been political! That verse I spit on “9MM,” if Biggie would’ve said it it’d be a Hip-Hop quotable. But it takes me to get on a record with somebody from New York before y’all will hear or listen to it.
Think about it. A southern rapper has never really gotten true credit for being a lyricist unless a New York rapper said it. People started accepting Wayne when Jay-Z said he was dope. Same thing with T.I.. It happened to me with Nas. Nah, don’t filter me through another nigga. Accept me being dope for me.
Why haven’t Andre 3000, Bun B, and Twista gotten their proper credit? Why are Scarface, Eightball, and MJG not in the top 10?
Ismael: Now that the album is finished, have you been able to relax? Or does the fact that you say Hip-Hop fans don’t support different styles of music cause anxiety and resentment?
Banner: Man, I don’t give a fuck anymore. With (my last album) Certified, that shit almost ran me crazy. I went through a really bad depression. I just knew that that album was the one. But that also showed that God was telling me “I tell you what’s the one, not you.”
I did the best that I can and for the first time I’m proud of myself. If they accept it, great. But I know what the world is about. I know the world is a bunch of fucking hypocrites.
Look at Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, and Andre 3000. White folks will jump on us and give us our praise first. I want me my people to love me, but who have we shown that kinda love to before they died?