David Banner doesn’t want a hand out. While many would enjoy free perks, he’s actually opposed to the idea of getting something for nothing, especially when it comes to music. In an era of free downloads, file sharing and streaming, the world is receiving more free music than ever before and while the debate is on about its positive and negative effects on the industry, Banner is upset by it, declaring, “I don’t want nothin’ for free, homie!” His take on free music and what it has done to the music world is all in this interview, but it’s also the inspiration behind the title to his new album, Death of a Pop Star, a highly anticipated project he is releasing with 9th Wonder. Still, this isn’t only about the state of the music world.
David Banner doesn’t bite his tongue. It’s apparent throughout our conversation, especially when he talks about how we are raising a generation of soulless people. He also speaks more on his friendship with 9th Wonder and why he’s not solely depending on music to eat. He goes on to discuss the importance of his Master’s and education.
He’s not here just to rhyme. We have seen him in movies and fans of all ages have happily hummed along to his Gatorade commercial. He expresses an interest in teaching at a collegiate level and he maintains his musicianship through it all, proving that hard work is a key to opening new doors daily.
HipHopDX: Let’s talk about the Gatorade deal a bit. Your [“Evolve”] commercial has become one of the most watched and talked about commercials of year. How did that come about?
David Banner: There’s a guy at one of the biggest advertisement agencies, Chiat/Day…This guy named Jimmy [Smith] at Chiat/Day felt like there was a lot more to my talent than what I was able to showcase. He said, “I want to give you the opportunity to show people how talented you are through this commercial. Jimmy and his team, they’re called the G Team, they gave me the concept for the “Evolve” commercial. I just wrote it and stayed within the guidelines they gave me and made a dope beat. It really resonated with people. I can honestly say I’ve never had a reaction from this wide range of people in my life. Babies love this. Eighty-seven year-old Vietnamese cats like this record. For me, it was proof that people do want good music. You just gotta give it to them. You gotta give people the opportunity to want something different. If steak is all that’s on the plate, then they gon’ pick steak.
DX: There was some anonymity to the piece as well. A lot of folk said, “I didn’t know David Banner did that.” How did having that anonymity help or hurt?
David Banner: It was actually a bigger blessing because it gave people the opportunity to…No matter what people say, everybody has a bit of prejudice. Even in Rap, people don’t want nothing from me but [the track I produced for T.I.:] “Rubber Band Man.” I could produce a Broadway film score with trumpets, violas and all that kind of shit, give it to somebody and they’re gonna be like, “I want ‘Rubber Band Man.’” This gave me the opportunity to be free. It’s amazing! I enjoyed it. Once it was out there as one of the most viewed commercials, people couldn’t front like they didn’t like it. They couldn’t pull back once they heard it. It went from that to, “I would have never thought David Banner would do that.” But if you listen to my music, I’ve always done that. I’ve always had “Cadillac on 22’s.” I’ve always had that in my music, always. But, like I tell everybody, people hear 808s and go stupid. They don’t listen to no lyrics or the fact that I had a live orchestra or that I had acoustic guitar arrangements. I put together arrangements! For real, arrangements! People don’t care once they hear 808s, both good and bad. People bump to it, on the good side and then people cut it out and tune it out if they hear too much of the 808s.
DX: For Death of a Pop Star, you kept one emcee, one producer, one photographer and explained that it’s important to have a cohesive approach. Why was it important to maintain that vision throughout this project?
David Banner: For me, personally, I wanted to concentrate on my lyricism. One of the reasons this sounds so good lyrically is because I didn’t have to go spend my brain power trying to produce, trying to A&R and do all that kind of stuff. I could just totally focus on my raps, on my writing. I’ve never been this free before in my life. When I write the rest of my albums, I’m worrying about deadlines, the label, all the hypocrisy inside the label, travel, security. I’m worried about all these different things. On this album, all I had to do was get to North Carolina and 9th took care of everything else. I didn’t have to drive, cook, nothing but write dope verses, so ain’t no excuses. So, when people hear Death of a Pop Star, they’ll be like, “Damn, every verse, every line Banner spit on this album is dope. Why is that?” Because, I had that mind space. 9th [Wonder] afforded me that mind space.
DX: Back in March, 9th Wonder told me that this album would be an extension of you two, where you both meet in the middle. How exactly does that happen on this album and on what songs is this meeting of the minds most evident?
David Banner: I think the whole album. I would give 9th advice on how he should chop up some stuff and he would tell me how he thought I should rap or the cadence I should use. I can honestly say me and 9th fought a lot on this album. It was some head-butting. Me and 9th’s collaboration is a real friendship. We argued a lot. We got pissed off, didn’t talk to each other for a week or two, like real friends do, not the fake made-up stuff. It was also really easy because 9th is a platinum producer, a Grammy Award-winning producer. I’m a Grammy Award-winning producer in my own right. I’m a platinum producer. So, when he would give me a suggestion, I would always listen ‘cause he’s 9th Wonder. He had the same respect for me because I’m David Banner. Then, once we really got to know each other and became friends, it was a certain trust level. Now, he’s gonna laugh when he see this. I didn’t really like the record with [Ludacris] on it when I first did it. Luda snapped on there, but it was a different kind of beat than I was used to. 9th Wonder told me, “Just trust me, dude. I’m telling you this is a hit record. This is gonna be one of the biggest records you ever been on, just trust me.” I was like, “9th, I don’t like it, but I’ll do it.” And the Luda record is gonna be one of the dopest records. Now, I see the vision. Mentally, I wasn’t where he was at the time but I trusted him enough to do the song. Me, I’m the type of rapper, if I don’t like something, I’m just not gon’ to do it. I’m not gon’ waste my time, your time. I’m just not gon’ do it. But, I trusted him. Then, once I did it, he said, “I’m gon’ put Luda on it. Watch how this is gon’ do.” Once he put Luda on there, that’s the biggest song on the album.
DX: You said there was some head-butting. What allowed you to overcome that?
David Banner: Well, physically, I look better than 9th Wonder and I think 9th Wonder accepted that. That’s the reason our pictures are not in front of the album. It’s because I look so much better than 9th Wonder. I didn’t want to take all the shine from him. I didn’t want all the ladies to just gravitate towards me. I think that kept our friendship because I just look so much better than he does. [Laughs] No, that is true, but there’s other reasons. The other reason is because music always used to be our refuge, as black people. Now, we have brought so much drama and beef to our music. All the problems 9th was going through at home, there was a lot going on just in his city, a lot of stuff going on with me in my home, the place I was from, but when we got in the studio…Now, this is really funny. Make sure you put this in the article. Go back and look at all the behind the scenes stuff with me and 9th. If you see how happy and how much we were joking, people would be surprised to hear how much this album is so serious, conscious and lyrical. It was because we had so much mother fuckin’ fun, it was like a party. So, me and 9th Wonder, we couldn’t almost wait to get back in the studio together, not just to do Death of a Pop Star, but to be able to be around somebody who had the same problems that you had. We both come from the south, from small areas. Now, to be honest with you, most of the time, me and 9th Wonder…There’s 24 hours in the day, right? No lie, if we recorded 20 hours, 15 of those hours were me and 9th Wonder jokin’, eatin’, or talkin’ about politics. Then, in the last few hours, we’d do two songs real quick just to say we didn’t waste the day. Most of the time, when we’re together, we’re building, trying to see how we could do something better in our community and musically and as men.
DX: Now, I also wanted to talk about education, which I know is important to you. I know you got your Master’s degree. What’s your Masters in and why did you decide to take that path?
David Banner: Well, I think people got it wrong with me. I’ve been had this level of education. I was getting my Master’s when I was in Crooked Lettaz. That’s what I still trip on. People make it seem like I went back to school to get my Master’s recently. Nah, I’ve been here. I dropped out of school to go and do the Crooked Lettaz [Grey Skies] album to try to get a deal. I dropped out of the University of Maryland with a 3.9987 in an accelerated Master’s program. For me, I went for my Master’s because that’s something that I promised my mother. My mother said, “You’re smart, dude. You can do anything you want to. If you’re talented, your talent is always gon’ be there. Go to school.” My mom ain’t ever ask me not to do nothin’. When I used to get in trouble, my dad was on me real tough but my mom was always like, “You a man. I’m going to let you go through the stuff that you’re going to go through, as long as you ain’t in jail or you ain’t killing nobody.” She always tried to help me through instead of forcing me like a lot of parents do. She didn’t force me. She helped me. She said, “Since I was that way with you, I only ask one thing from you and that’s to get your education. I believe in your talent but I want you to have something to fall back on, just in case.” Having a back-up plan don’t mean you don’t believe it’s not gon’ happen. Having a back-up plan just means that. You may be the dopest rapper in history, but you may be two years ahead of everybody. That don’t mean that you wasn’t dope and that don’t mean that you didn’t have the opportunity to make it. Sometimes, the stars just don’t align
DX: What’s the Master’s in?
David Banner: Business. I always wanted to run my own business. My dream is to become a multi-multi- millionaire or a billionaire and then go back to teach classes in the hood or on a college campus. I would always be amazed at how you would have these entrepreneurialship (sic) classes and the teacher wasn’t making but $75,000 a year. How you gon’ tell me to run a multi-million dollar corporation and you don’t know how. You don’t have one. If you was really that smart, you wouldn’t be out here teaching me. You’d be somewhere making millions. I always wanted to break that mold. That’s the way that you teach, especially black kids. Black kids want to see, like, “Show me something! I hear that movie shit but I see that [Mercedes] Benz that the dope dealer’s driving. If you could show me a Benz, I’ll come over there with you.” I’ve never been able to show people that. I want to show kids a better way, not talk about it.
DX: Being that you are one of Mississippi’s greatest representatives. How has the oil spill affected you and your loved ones?
David Banner: The effects are self explanatory. Any time that you’re on a coastal region and you are affected by fishing and tourism and that kind of stuff, the effects are self explanatory, especially in a place where the economy is already bad anyway. That’s what I try to tell people. We don’t have to go into elaborate situations or talk about specifics because the economy is already bad. That’s like saying when Detroit was super booming in the automotive situation. Imagine there was a recession and GM closed down. That’s what it’s like. A lot of people were hurting before the oil spill. Now, imagine what’s going on when their main way of making money, even the little money that was coming in, has now been threatened. And then! Wait! I’m about to take it to another level! That’s coming right after Katrina! I didn’t even think about that! You just made me think about something new! That’s coming right off of Katrina! Damn!
DX: Yeah, it’s devastating, really. Now, you recently talked about how mixtapes are hurting Rap. Why exactly do you feel that way?
David Banner: It’s not necessarily about mixtapes per se. Mixtapes in their original reason were always designed to be a precursor to the album. If you get a mixtape but you don’t have no plans on buying an album, why should a artist plan on being a professional artist when don’t nobody plan on spending no money? I don’t have a problem with a mixtape with the intents of people buying something later. But that’s like you selling hamburgers and everybody don’t do nothing but come in and get the samples! It hurts everybody in the end. We have reduced our music to a download. People wonder why they can’t get record deals or why artists don’t come to their town no more or why their favorite artists ain’t putting out no records. Why should Ice Cube waste his time putting out an album when he could go make a million dollar movie? People don’t think about the effects of what they do. It’s not about mixtapes. It’s about the fact that we have allowed our music to be reduced to nothing. People don’t even feel like the music deserves their money no more. People think they deserve shit for free. That’s what happened to the game, all these free goods. People want a poster, a t-shirt, a mixtape. I done gave you $20 worth of shit before you done bought a $15 CD. Also, if you remember, back in the day, you would never put a whole song on a mixtape. A mixtape used to be just that, a mix, not a mixture of whole songs. You maybe threw the first verse, the second verse and you’d scratch it up and go to another song. So, people would get a little bit of the song and then they would go out and buy your album. This is a business, dude!
I told somebody yesterday, if you want a grown man to keep on doing music, we better find a way to make some money because we’re grown! I’m not paying all this money for Busta Rhymes to be on my album to give it away for free. I ain’t buying no ten 9th Wonder beats to give it away. I ain’t coming to your house, stealing your furniture! Let me tell you something. Be sure to put this in the article, okay? I’m 6’2”, 6’3”, right? 250 pounds, right? I can basically take sex from any woman walking down the street. She basically can’t do nothing about it, right? Just because I can do it, don’t mean that it’s the right thing to do or that I will do it. We gotta get people back to having some sense of virtue! I ain’t even talking about the women, let’s talk about men. Being a man, I don’t want nothing for free, homie! I’m a grown ass man! I pay! I earn everything I get! Hold up.
[Banner talks to a friend near by.] Let me ask you a question. Do you want a hand out? Do you want anybody to hand anything to you? Do you want a hand out?
[Friend replies] No.
[Comes back to me] See? I’m speaking to a person that I consider a man! My father told me, you don’t get hand outs! Men work for everything that they get. And, if it’s free, I’m smart enough to know something’s wrong with it. I don’t want no free TV. I don’t want no free telephone. That’s what I mean. Men done started acting like girls. They askin’ for drinks at the club. Everybody feel like just because you makin’ some money that you owe them shit. This my job, homie!
DX: I think the track you did with DJ Shadow, “Seein’ Thangs,” sums up some of your talents because the track is still relevant, no matter when it was released. It still speaks to issues folks are facing. You’ve done that throughout your career. How important has it been for you to have balance within your subject matter throughout your career?
David Banner: I don’t necessarily think it’s a balance, it’s just me. I am political. It aint like I try to be political like, “Okay, I did eight songs about this and four songs for the girls.” The only time I do that is when I get to the end of the album and if I don’t have enough political songs or radio records, then I go back and do that. But, for the most part, I just record. I talk about what the beat makes me feel like. I am political. I have been through the streets. I have fought and shot guns. I have debated in front of congress for Hip Hop. This is how I feel. It’s me. I do love poor people and I do fight for the situations that they under. That’s just me. That’s what’s so funny about me. I hopefully do more with my actions than I do with my records. It’s more about what you do than what you say. I’ll give you an example. People don’t talk about the records that was out in 1969 that much, do they? People barely talk about records I made two years ago. But, people still talk about what Malcolm X did. They still talk about what Martin Luther King did. It’s what you do that stands the test of time, not what you say. The thing that I’m doing…Think about this, dog. I make hit records for a living. I don’t do what people consider Hip Hop music. But, I’m making a sacrifice doing this record because I believe this record will shine light. I think Death of a Pop Star is more important than a hit record right now. I think people need this. People want to hear it. They need this! People want to hear it. The Gatorade commercial is an example of that. People want to hear something. They need something to resonate with their soul. We raising a generation of soulless people, bruh. Where the soul at, bro? As far as the rappers are concerned, what is our equivalent to Marvin Gaye? Who is our Curtis Mayfield, homie? Our parents used to talk about Vietnam. We not even talkin’ ‘bout Iraq. I ain’t heard one rapper dude, for the most part, talkin’ about Iraq in the last year. A couple of ‘em talk about it when it’s hot on TV to try to get a little shine. I’m talking about when it’s still going on. Katrina is still going on. It’s still affecting my people. Marvin Gaye was asking our folks “What’s Going on?” You know?