The industry can treat artists a lot like prize fighters. You’re only as good as your last hit and if you go too long without one you get knocked out the game. At least that’s what would happen to most people. But only the toughest fighters can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And as far as artists go, they don’t make them much tougher than G-Unit’s own Lloyd Banks.
The G-Unit of 2010 is a shadow of the juggernaut it was five or six years ago, but so is the music industry. And after Banks was released from his solo contract at Interscope and the house the 50 built left the safety of the IGA umbrella, a lot of people thought Banks, along with the rest of G-Unit was down for the count. But with the success of his summer smash, “Beamer, Benz or Bentley” fans, critics, and even his former label saw that Banks still has a lot of fight left in him. With the release of The Hunger for More 2 on G-Unit’s new home, EMI, Banks hopes to show that the world his best is yet to come.
HipHopDX: There was a video of you being pranked by 50 and Eminem where they questioned you about some statements you allegedly made in regards to having Em’ on the album. What was going through your mind before they told you they were just playing?
Lloyd Banks: To be honest with you, what was going through my mind was “What the fuck is going on?” It’s been a long career; It’s been 10 years we’ve been working together. A lot of things have happened. I’ve seen a lot of things go on and I’ve seen similar situations. Things were said [in the past where] it wasn’t a joke. I’ve seen those situations where a confrontation happened and it affected the bigger picture five years later on and you don’t even fuck with somebody. It’s happened to me before. The Game was running his mouth off about me and shit I supposedly said. So they really had me sold with it. Like I damn sure didn’t know I was being recorded or nothing. But I should’ve known something was funny because you never hear [Eminem] speak first. So when they started talking I was like, “What the fuck is this about?” But it was cool. I appreciate the fact that I was even on their minds enough for them to do that.
DX: You’ve known 50 Cent for years now. You’re a long time friend as well as being signed to the G-Unit label. Have there ever been times where you two have seriously bumped heads and if so how was the situation resolved?
Lloyd Banks: We’re all like brothers. Me, 50 [Cent], and [Tony] Yayo. No matter what way you want to match it up, business or personal, we’ve all had points where we disagreed with certain things. How you handle them is what determines how strong a relationship will stay. We grew up with each other, so it would have to be something big enough to bother even you for us not to get past it. Financially, we always been straight. Musically, we just show people the music. There have been times where 50 will be like “Nah, I don’t think you should do…” and I’ll say “Okay, let’s try it.” We never shoot anything down, we just try it. A lot of people don’t know, but I write a lot of the R&B choruses and the cadences and stuff like that so when it’s time to get references I try different people. There’s definitely been times where we bumped heads though. But those times were only due to lack of communication.
DX: G-Unit was known for their aggressive energy when it came to music and when it came to other rappers in the industry. Looking back, do you feel like that same aggressiveness and “take no prisoners” attitude that helped cement the G-unit brand also helped lead to the decline?
Lloyd Banks: I think what you just said was on the button. The way people hate, but I don’t even really want to call it “hate” because I don’t really hear anybody say they don’t like my music or they don’t like 50’s music. I think it was more the aura that was around us. Like you said, we came in and just were dominant. We were like the [Los Angeles] Lakers…the Lakers that didn’t even say “What’s up” to the other team in the hallway on the way to the [locker room.] It was just a little different for us. We came in the industry as friends. We were friends that knew how to rap and that’s what we did in place of our leisure. When you come in, come from the hood like that you have a different point of view. Plus, we had a different situation going on everyday as our “day-to-day.” It wasn’t like niggas didn’t appreciate the other music that was going on it’s just we didn’t fuck with people in general. There was so much going on around us…well I know I really didn’t have time to. Plus we had such a big circle that everything we needed was in our camp. If you needed an R&B reference, you had Nate Dogg because he’s under that Dr. Dre umbrella. If I needed some west coast shit, I holla at Snoop [Dogg]. If I needed a certain kind of record, all you had to do was holla at Dre or holla at Em. There were some many things around to use plus there was everybody that was on the G-Unit roster so we didn’t need anything. I guess that was taken for arrogance and people just wanted to see something else. But you also have to look at the fact that music doesn’t stay one place forever. I can name 10 different companies or movements that had the title for the summer or the winter or for however many years, but eventually, it always changes. Another thing too is it’s the success sometimes that overshadows the talent. I think everybody looked at me like I was the rich kid that was going to be straight regardless if he rapped ever again.
DX: How’d that affect your outlook on things?
Lloyd Banks: I had to sit back and analyze that at one point and say, “Okay, this is why people are saying this and that,” but it’s wrong. You’re looking at somebody who’s been doing this since he was 10 or 11 years old, so when I felt people were thinking that way it would bother me. So I used that as fuel to get me where I am right now.
DX: It’s several years later and the G-Unit brand is in a kind of regrouping period. Whether it’s due to those same attitudes you spoke of or maybe some residual resentment for your past success did you find it difficult to get people to want to collaborate with you on this project?
Lloyd Banks: There’s different ways to handle the business. There’s different ways to get the record to happen. Sometimes you bump into people at a show or whatever and chop it up, sometimes you reach out on the phone. A lot of the songs I recorded was when I was out of town but I was able to make most of the features happen with just a phonecall. Like I was able to get Lloyd, Raekwon, Styles P, Pusha T…The success of “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley” is what led to [The] Hunger For More 2. The success of that record led me almost immediately into writing an album so it wasn’t like I had a long time. Up until that point, I was just creating mixtape material. It went from not being in album-mode to being able to put together a classic. It wasn’t as much time as I would’ve wanted but I have the relationships now so going into my next project I have those relationships in place and you use your relationships to make new relationships. I got a record [“Start It Up” ] with me, Ryan Leslie, Swizz Beatz, and Fabolous. That just came from linking up with artists just floating around Manhattan. So I’ve got some relationships and working on new ones.
DX: Styles P once said in a rhyme “All you need’s a hook and a beat, no talent.” You came up on the mixtape scene and distinguished yourself from your peers with your punchlines and wordplay. Do you feel like rappers still take things like that seriously these days or is it like what Styles said?
Lloyd Banks: I feel like a lot of artists nowadays are only listening to their own music. They don’t step out their box as much. Once again, this is just my opinion. When I was coming up, when I first got turned on to Hip Hop there was Rakim, there was Slick Rick, there was Run-DMC, there was EPMD, Pete Rock & CL Smooth…there was a lot of different reasons for me to be in love with Hip Hop. I know my history. Like when it was going on I really wasn’t old enough to understand the Run-DMC era but it was all around, in our face. I remember the hats, I remember the shell-toes, I remember Jam Master Jay, may he rest in peace. And as I grew older I had knowledge of what was going on at the time. You had Mobb Deep coming out of Queens, you had Nas from Queens, later 50 came out, there were so many things over the years that I picked up and discovered on my own. Things that when I listened to them it made me want to do this. I think that today people take that for granted. Go on a site, go get a mixtape, take in what you can so that you know what direction you need to go in. I think that’s what’s stopping the next generation, being so stuck into ourselves. Back in the day, people who participated in music were music heads. Now it’s just like dudes just wake up and say, “Aight, I’m going to do this shit ’cause…” They’re rushing to get nowhere. If only some of these artists would just sit, chill and listen to everything they have around them…go pick up [Notorious B.I.G.’s] Life After Death, go get Ready To Die, go get [Jay-Z‘s] Reasonable Doubt, go get [50 Cent’s] Get Rich or Die Tryin’, go get [my] Hunger For More. Get these albums. Go get [Dr. Dre’s] The Chronic, go get those N.W.A. albums. If you don’t believe me, go to the books and look up the anniversaries of some of the classics. Go look at how they’re celebrated and then go listen to them and you’ll have a good idea of where music should go.
DX: Interscope released you in 2009. Then you drop “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley,” which was a huge record. Then Interscope reaches out in the hopes of re-signing you. Personally, I’d feel like I just drove by the chick that just broke up with me in a new Bentley. What was that conversation like and how did it feel?
Lloyd Banks: It definitely was that feeling. But the feeling only lasted a couple moments once I realized I would’ve been making the same mistake. When I came into the game I was blind to a lot of things. We came in the game straight off the love of rapping in the basement. That’s what got us here – rapping in front of hundreds of thousands of people. I think, in the early stages, you kind of just want everything to stay how it is. We never got told the part of the story where shit just gets crazy. In the beginning everything is all gravy. I think that once you realize this thing is 90 t0 95% business, you start to expect more. They came in on the middle of “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley.” They wanted to pick up the project and keep it in the building. I can’t blame them, that’s a good business move. The part where I feel good is where they thought I was over and now they asking to get me back. But the feeling only lasted for a moment because the reality of the business kicked back in. We tried to handle it business-wise, but they didn’t have the best situation for me at the time. And I also wasn’t trying to be stuck in a “relationship” with a major record label for another three or four albums.
DX: Needless to say you, as well as the G-Unit imprint landed at EMI. Is there any significant difference to not having a machine like Interscope behind you?
Lloyd Banks: It’s real hard to differentiate between the two because of the times now. There’s way more outlets now and there’s so many different ways to rate artists now. When the G-Unit albums and my albums were coming out, you were rated by how many physical units you sold. Now it’s less about the CDs and more so on the digital sales. With the internet there’s so many different ways to market an artist. It’s a little hard to say, ’cause you’re used to seeing poster boards, stickers, and a shit posted all over the hood. Now everything is on the computer. Everything is just different these days.
DX: You mentioned all the differences between the way things were when you first came out and now. What are some things you’d change?
Lloyd Banks: I think we as artists, critics, and fans need to find a new way to rate artists. We have to put it all into one pot. Performance, energy, music, the “it” factor, all that. Because right now, if you have all those things, you can have a big record with nobody behind it. Like there have been times I’ve done shows overseas and some places in the U.S. where a dude will come on and he’ll have people screaming like it’s my shit. I won’t name no names but it was crazy. You can have a big record, have that complete package, and watch the music be sold. That’s the direction I’m going in right now. Keeping my core fan base and go out and generate as much new support for my music as I can. So we need to start putting everything together, then rate. Like when you do those Top 10 lists, put it all together then rate.
DX: I personally hate those lists because you’ll look at the order and why and wonder who’s putting these lists together and what the hell are they thinking.
Lloyd Banks: At this point, I understand that those things are all political. At this point, I almost don’t want to be on any of those lists. The reasons will be some shit like, “Well this guy had the best dance to go with his song,” or some dumb shit and I’m looking at it and I don’t understand. And after year after year of that I’ve kind of become frustrated as an artist. There was a point I was just blocked out to the industry. I just put myself in my studio and the only thing I’d pay attention to was what the people were saying on the sites. That was the new way to understand where I should go direction-wise. I put a record out and you can go to 10 different Hip Hop sites and read the comments. My goal was to make the people leaving bad comments start to dig my shit. And eventually I started to see a change in the comments. I’m still the same artist. I’m not an artist who was on the tail end of his career and got an independent opportunity. If anything, I played possum. I was somebody who was counted out but I’m fully capable. I want to do music like I’ve never done before. Me having this opportunity and being 28 going on my third album, I feel like I got at least three to five more albums before I want to call it quits.
DX: When people do sequel albums fans seem to hold them to a higher standard. Just like when Raekwon did Only Built 4 Cuban Link… Pt. II or Jay-Z did Blueprint 3, fans go back, listen to and compared the albums. Did you go back and listen to The Hunger For More while working on this project or did you just do records and start putting the pieces together?
Lloyd Banks: I definitely wasn’t crazy enough to just go off of the new energy. I got the plaque for The Hunger For More in my studio. So when I’m recording I always just sit and ice grill that shit. Not to go back to that time but to bring that with me to where I am now. Like I tell my niggas all the time I’ll rap circles around that nigga. That was 2004 Banks. This is Banks six years later. From the beat selection to everything, I feel like this is my best work up to this point. I knew what I was up against. That was my baby. Your dream come true as an artist is making that first album but you can’t your entire life out in 60 minutes. It’s a continuation and depending on where this one goes, that’ll determine where my next album goes.
DX: Like I mentioned before, you and the G-Unit brand are in kind of a regrouping phase. What do you think the future holds for the G-Unit brand and you as a solo artist?
Lloyd Banks: Me as a solo artist, I’m feeling like this is the second part of my career. Like if you closed the Hip Hop books today, I feel like we’re in that book as one of the biggest entities, one of the biggest movements, one the most talented groups ever to do it. The group’s history has been solidified but me as a solo artist, this is my second wind. To even have what people considered a classic album, my first album, I feel like I have an opportunity to make more. To generate a new energy and to reach more people. I used to go by the “P.L.K.,” the punchline king. But I feel like I’ve evolved into something else. I got the punchlines, but the word play and all that has also gotten stronger to go with those punchlines. I don’t want to be put in one category. I feel like I have a lot more to offer and I don’t think people have seen that yet. People have yet to see the full capability of Lloyd Banks and I think people will begin to see that in the near future.
DX: While you’re talking about people not getting to see all your talent, I heard you sketched all your tats and even designed some of your jewelry. Do you do graffiti too? Would you like to get into designing the cover art?
Lloyd Banks: I thought it was dope when Em’ drew the album cover for The Re-Up album. When he did it I was like damn, that’s a good-ass idea because I know how to draw. I would’ve loved to have done something like that but maybe sometime in the future. Right now I’m working on some things but that side of my talent takes a little more dedication of time than music. Like I can write a verse right now while playing NBA2K10. That just comes natural to me. But I have to sit and really concentrate in order to design, draw, and sketch things. I can do it all. I can do graffiti on a wall or sketch your face but it just takes a lot more time. But it’s definitely something I’m going to tap into more in the future. But I drew my tattoos I designed all my jewelry. I drew the G-Unit spinner piece freehand right there at the table. I drew every single every detail, every single diamond. It’s crazy how my thoughts got brought to reality in a $100,000 spinning chain. And a lot of people don’t know these songs are like mini-movies. You have the capability to make a movie. You can take your creativity so many different places. I see Swizz getting into the art and design thing so I’m definitely trying to get into that in the future.
DX: Brian Pumper has stated on numerous occasions he wants to get signed to G-Unit. If, by some miracle, that happened would you be able to accept him as a G-Unit soldier?
Lloyd Banks: That’s one of the funniest things that happened this year. The whole Brian Pumper situation. But I’ve seen funnier shit happen. The dude…the “rapist in the window” song, this nigga sold like half a million songs or some shit. So those kinds of things happen. I don’t know how long he’s been rapping. I know how long I been hearing him rap and how long we’re going to hear him remains to be seen. That will probably be the deciding point in whether or not people accept him. If he keeps going and people be like “Okay, let me listen because he’s not going away.” I’m too comfortable in my seat to try and shoot somebody down but still…nah, you got to ask 50 that question. [Laughs]