Exclusive Online Interview: David Banner – “It’s More Than the Music”
From speaking at Harvard in the coming days, to preparing for the release of his album (on May 22nd), to putting together 16 music videos to accompany each single, David Banner took the time out to discuss what exactly he’s been up to. His 2M1 movement is on the rise and he discusses how the comedian Louis C.K. helped to inspire his actions towards “controlling our image.” Race, wealth, music trends, books, the 1992 L.A. riots, and Trayvon Martin were all topics of discussion in this conversation where he made sure to repeatedly note that despite his artistry, everything that he’s fighting for is far bigger than music.
I know you have a seminar coming up at Harvard soon. And Lil B was here in New York at NYU recently giving a speech. How important do you find that role of bridging the gap between hip-hop and academia?
Well, I think it’s very important because the directors and the leaders of our next generation partially come out of that. And one of the things that I hope to extract from Harvard are people that can help us, people who have vision. The brains and the problem solvers come from these universities. Cut the damn TV off, sit down with your kids and talk with your friends and other grown men and women and let’s solve some damn problems, brother. And I think hopefully we’ll start having seminars and lectures and really sit down and come up with some damn solutions. That’s what I hope.
Could you go into the 2M1 movement and its attachment to the project that you have coming out?
First of all, I’d like to explain to people what Sex, Drugs & Video Games is, because sometimes people talk about the movement and then go directly into Sex, Drugs & Video Games. The album title is asking people “if the only stimuli that we give our children are sex, drugs and violence, what do you think they’re going to regurgitate?” Not just music, but video games and television and the news. I was just telling someone that the reason why Canada has such a low crime rate is because of what they feed their people. They’re giving their people balance.
So with the 2M1 movement, we have the ability to get 2 million people activated. When we say activated, we mean people that will show that they would do something. That’s why I say a minimum of $1. And that show that you would do something. But you know if you ask people to give you a dollar, they’ll pull out their wallet and give you a $100. You just gotta get them to commit that first step. On Twitter and Facebook people can do that for free. It doesn’t take much to click a button. It does take something to trust someone with your finances, but the thing is that you have to give away nothing. Sure, you can go on LiveMixtapes.com and download the album for free. But is anything really for free? That’s what I’m trying to tell people: we have to maintain our culture’s value. So they won’t be able to steal our buildings, our television, etc. We are the major consumers in the world, but we consume without holding people responsible.
We vote without holding people responsible. We don’t hold the democrats responsible. They do not take care of our people, but they take care of everybody else, every other special interest group. That’s because we give everything away for free. Let me ask you a question: any piece of ass that you got that you didn’t work for, did you respect that girl?
Oh no, of course not. You can’t.
And it’s no different with anything else in life. That’s the reason why kids skip school. If you had to pay for school, I’m sure you’d see everybody in there. Anything free is not respected.
Earlier in the week you were talking about holding high-class brands accountable… and it reminded me of this outro of this Little Brother song, “Breakin’ My Heart.” The outro goes “Prada Jeans? $300. Gucci slippers? $500. Spending all your money to make these white folks rich? Priceless.” How would you hold these brands accountable for what we are buying and glorifying?
If we started buying our own, we wouldn’t have to hold nobody accountable. The sad thing is that we have so many black people that own clothing lines and when we get in front of the cameras, we don’t don’t wear our stuff. We don’t even wear stuff that have our name on it. And then that’s one of the things that I don’t understand. We don’t even allow ourselves to have high-priced brands. People talk about Andre Benjamin so bad when he had a high-priced boutique label. We’re criticizing an artist for trying to have well-made clothes, and we work so hard to get into Gucci and they don’t even want you in their store. I know people that work in Gucci and Louis Vuitton and they’ll tell you that they don’t want black folks in their store. At least Tommy Hilfiger was brave enough to tell you how he really felt.
Now, you’ve said that Louis C.K. inspired the format of the 2M1 movement. How did you hear about Louis C.K.?
Oh I didn’t have to hear about Louis C.K. I’m a fan. I watch his television show and stand-up. Honestly, his television show affected me more than his movement did. Couples get divorced and are miserable for the rest of their lives… why don’t do they a show about that? Now [on TV], you get in a fight and a week later, ya’ll happy and smiling and drinking a beer. That’s BS.
Have you thought of reaching out to Louis C.K. and talking to him about what you’re trying to do?
I tried, but I don’t know how to without stalking. I think if we do what we supposed to do, we’ll run across each other. I’m sure we’ll be on the same television show talking about our projects. I just gotta do what I’m supposed to do.
You know, the first thing some people say is, “well, why should I give you a dollar? Why should I pay for it?” I’m giving you 16 songs, 16 videos with Lil’ Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Chris Brown, ASAP Rocky…man, you know there ain’t been an album like this in a long time. You haven’t heard a song like “Californication” in the last 4 years. You ain’t heard nothing like “Believe” with Big K.R.I.T, in 2-3 years. And it’s all on one album and you can’t give one dollar? That’s what we feel about hip-hop? That’s what we feel about black people? It’s bigger than music. It’s about the value of our children. We see the value of our children in the Trayvon Martin case. We see the value of our music. Yeah, music is taking a hit, but country music ain’t given out free mixtapes. Pop music ain’t giving our free mixtapes. They not tripping.
I have this saying: “We don’t sell our souls no more, we just give them away.”
Do you think it’s a systematic thing or do you think it’s something that we’ve become on our own?
You know it’s systematic, bro. That’s what I say with Sex, Drugs & Video Games. If it’s the only stimuli that you feed our people, then what do you think our people are gonna become? That’s the only thing they see and hear, what do you think they’re gonna be?
On an interview with Power 105, you said that the last few years have been the best years of your life. You said you’ve been working with Gatorade, Mercedes and Marvel. Could you go into what made these last few years really work for you?
Hard work, brother. And consistency. Me following God. It was so hard for me to walk away from the system. It’s funny because I was willing to be done with rap. And God showed me that once I gave it up to Him, and once I was willing to give rap up, he gave it back to me. When I was ready to give it all up is when he decided to give it all back to me. Look, I’m putting out more videos, more content, better music, in a shorter time than I have my whole career. I put out more videos for this album – I’m putting out 16 videos. I haven’t had 16 videos my whole career. I got two videos right now. I’ve never had two videos on television. Never. Is that not a blessing?
Now, I’m not sure if you can say, but out of curiosity, how much would you say you put into this project? You have 16 videos, mad features, production time, studio time, etc.
Can I just say this, brah? I put a lot of money into it. And that’s one thing that I haven’t really talked about enough, is that this has all been my money. I put everything up for this, dude. And I don’t think I ever said this in an interview before, but I put it all on the table, brah. That’s why I tell people when they ask, ‘do I think this is gonna work?’ Oh, this is going to work. I don’t have a choice, homie. I put it all up. I believe in my people. God wouldn’t give me a vision that was not true. There’s no way.
With the $2 that you’re going to raise in the near future (Banner made sure that I rephrased the question till it was phrase affirmatively)…I don’t look at it from a money standpoint. It’s not like ‘I need $2 million,’ I feel like you’re more like ‘I wanna see how much these people want it and if they want it as much as I do.’ Is that fair to say?
Sort of. The thing that I think people are missing is that I’m not begging for shit! I’m doing songs with the top artists in the world and 16 videos and all I’m asking for is a dollar. If we keep giving and people keep taking, then it’s going to devalue our music. That’s what I don’t understand, why do you have to beg when [the audience] is getting something? That’s why I don’t say ‘donate.’ That’s why I say ‘pledge’ or ‘invest’, because you’re getting something.
I had to tell one my homeboys and I asked him, “Would you sell crack if it wasn’t selling? Would you sell weed if there wasn’t anybody buying it?” He’d say “nah.” So then, why do you think people are going to keep investing in rap and buying rap or allow black people on television when we’re not buying [it]?
It’s way bigger than music, homie. As much as people make this about music, it’s way bigger than music. This is about the value of our people. And if you take all the movement away, this is still one of the best albums you will hear in recent times. And I’ve already showed that. Look at the way we’ve been putting it out. You ain’t never seen nobody put out music like this. Every two weeks is a new song, every week in between I’m dropping a video.
Now, when Diddy talks about starting a network called Revolt, do you see that as a step in the right direction as far as controlling our image?
Of course I do. I keep telling people that this might not be the direction that people need to move towards as a whole [yet], but it will spark other people, and influence other people to do something similar. If that dude from Mississippi can do it, then shit, I can do it too. Some people say, “Fuck David Banner. If he can do it, then I’m gonna do better.” That’s what I like. It’s bigger than all us. I’m just happy that God allowed me to be near the people and step up and have the balls to even do it…to even make the effort.
Why now? Were you growing and decided that you know enough to pursue it now or is it now that you have the means to put this together?
Let me ask you a question and I need you to be very honest with me. You ready for this?
In two, three years, do you think we’re going to have a choice? This shit is dying, bro. The music is dying, our culture is dying … Whether we admit it or not, it’s never been this bad. And yeah, we have burning examples of success, but they’re all exceptions to the rule. That’s too messed up, homie. We hurting. Yeah, I hustle and got other opportunities and I’m over here at Disney, but I’m only one person. In the room that I’m in, ain’t no black people. What good is it if I’m the only person that does it? I see it. That’s why I’m stressing that it doesn’t matter if you like David Banner or not.That’s why I put all these folks on there. I was like, “well damn, dude. If nothing else, I know you like my beats. If you don’t like my beats, then maybe you like ASAP Rocky. If not him, then maybe you like Lil’ Wayne.” So at least give me a $1 for your favorite person on there.
How do you strike that balance? In a previous interview, you mentioned how you want to continue creating something that’s positive and entertaining. That’s a very fine intersection where they meet. How do you work to meet at that point and make your music portray that intersection?
Well, the thing is that it’s not just about the music. I think that’s where people get it wrong. I still love the strip club, I still love aggressive music, etc. I think the balance comes in not necessarily in my music, but by the type of man that I show you that I am in my everyday walk of life. My responsibility as a rapper is to entertain. My responsibility as a man is to our community.
On a serious notem, do you ever feel scared of what you’re trying to do? As history has shown us, whether you’re out for good, whether you’re non-violent, or you’re trying feed a couple of children…with Gandhi, Martin, Malcolm, Pac, Black Panthers…People who are out for legitimate good for their own people, ultimately trying to build their community wealth find themselves as the target. Do you ever feel scared that something might hinder you or your progress to the point where someone will try to shut that down?
I didn’t actually think about it till you said it. Let me tell you something, brother. Trayvon Martin wasn’t doing nothing to nobody. And what happened to him? When we go out to a club, whether we’re standing for something or not, what sometimes happens? If we just rolling down the street in a Bentley, we pay our taxes and get pulled over by the cops, what happens to us sometimes? That’s people’s excuse to not do what they’re supposed to do. As a black man in America, I’m a threat regardless of what the fuck I do. Even if I’m walking with Skittles and an iced tea, I’m a threat. Tell me, what could they do to me today that they haven’t done already to our people? What did they do to Medgar Evers? What do they do to black men in Mississippi all day, every day? It don’t matter. Either you gonna live like a man or die like a coward. And that’s what most of are: cowards. At the end of the day, I don’t want to die and be known for “Play” or “Like A Pimp.”
When you’re making this album and you have several artists on there, and you have these ideas and thoughts that are bigger than music … are you able to talk with artists and have progressive conversations?
Sometimes. Most of the times it’s just music. I’m being very honest – I don’t want Chris Brown connected to what I believe. What I believe is my responsibility. I shouldn’t put that on that man. And that’s peoples’ problem. The Christians want the Muslims to believe this [and vice versa]…why don’t you just go in your corner and believe what you believe in and leave everybody else alone? If they going to hell, then they’re going to hell. You just tell them what you believe and just walk away. That’s it. People know what I stand for…I live it. I don’t have to talk about it. It ain’t for everybody. And some of these dudes ain’t built for it. Some of these people don’t need to be talking about Trayvon. Just because people are good on the mic, don’t mean that they have the ability to properly dish out information to the public.
Chris Rock has a bit where he talks about the definitions of rich versus wealthy and he compares Shaq (rich) to the person who cuts his check as wealthy…
These dues ain’t making no money. I told one of them at Forbes that we don’t wanna be in the top rappers in Forbes. We wanna be in the real rankings of Forbes. I gotta do something more with music. Compared to Warren Buffet, we ain’t making no real money. We ain’t making money off of basketball. Entertainment is a pastime. I’m into oil, trading, that’s where it’s at. With basketball and football – that ain’t no real money, homie, that’s a distraction.
When you were on Power 105, you had a book that you brought, “How to Think and Grow Rich.” What other books are on your reading list?
I’m creating a library for my children, because one of the things they’re doing is that they’re destroying the books. When all the information is online, you don’t have to have references or the correct information. You have so many flawed statistics. People swear that Wikipedia is the truth. Just because you have a lot of followers and a lot of money, don’t mean that you should have the right to write about something. That’s the reason why I have so many books. I have a small library, so I read a lot.
Regarding the Trayvon Martin case – a lot of people are overlooking the police department’s role in “protecting and serving” and helping to bring justice, in my opinion. With the L.A. riots, it was a great showcase of power, movement and passion…
How do you mean?
I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but that’s BS. We didn’t tear up nothing but our own shit. That ain’t a show of power. We knew that if we went to the white side of town or to the wrong street, it would’ve been a different story. We didn’t tear anything up but our own city. We went to Wall Street, we didn’t go to their apartment. That’s the same thing about Trayvon Martin, dude. We need to start going to these CEOs houses … but we don’t do that because we’re conscious of what would happen. That wasn’t a show of power, we messed up our own hoods. Until we start telling ourselves the truth, things will never change.
I was going to tie my question in with Mos Def on the Black Star album on “Thieves In The Night.” He says that “we’re not strong, only aggressive, because the power ain’t directed.” I don’t mean to ask this in a David-Banner-has-all-the-answers type of way, but how would you want the masses to be moved, as opposed to marching and making signs and banners.
I think we have to start loving ourselves. We have to start buying ourselves. We have to start teaching ourselves. It goes back to the historically black colleges. We teaching the [white man's] curriculum. What need is there for a historically black college if you don’t try to reeducate the sons and daughters of former slaves? That was the reason for it. We’re worried about small miniscule things that have nothing to do with the end result. We have to affect their finances…and we have to build our own. We have to create our own situation. Let’s not rebuild the hoods, let’s build new hoods.
There has to be something tangible. We don’t police our own neighborhoods and we let them come in and there’s not enough black policemen to police Harlem. They don’t care about our children, they show that. We’ll police ours and you police yours, because you don’t police ours right. The important thing to tell other people is to just be honest. That’s one of the reasons why we might never solve anything, because they refuse to acknowledge that it exists. Some black people refuse to admit that we need to start treating each other better, too.