Exclusive Interivew

The (R)Evolution of Hip Hop — My Talk with David Banner

I instantly fucked with David Banner. It takes a lot to put together a song that you can bump in the club on a Saturday night. It takes even more to have that club banger secretly be a song with deep lyrical content. So when the Saturday drunkards wake up Sunday morning (or afternoon, whatever) and start Google-ing the 3 or 4 bars from the chorus they can remember, they stumble upon an artist who combines his heart with the beats he creates, and breathes life into your soul — all while telling you an important story. Or stories in Banner’s case, because he has definitely had a few stories to tell over the course of his life.

David Banner had first entered my hip hop lexicon back in 2003 when his name/producer credit was announced before T.I started slanging bars on Rubber Band Man, which to this day is still on my HypeSong playlist. That beat IMMEDIATELY grabbed you by the hair (in the best way possible) and took your ass to the floor to make sure you got as grimey as possible. It was dripping in Southern swag. It was perfectly twerkable. It was everything you wanted in a banger. Still is.

From that song I started down the rabbit hole, going all the way back to The Firewater Boyz, which was sort of his entrance into the game. It had some fire features, some ridiculous beats (all of which were produced by Banner) and some sneakily poignant lyrics.

Despite the many layers to David’s music, do you know what his first Billboard charting hit was?

‘Like a Pimp’ featuring the biggest dripped-in-Southern-swag rapper (at the time) Lil Flip.

Right. It can feel a little confusing, especially if you became familiar with Banner’s work later in life. Being in the music industry long enough teaches you a few things, and one of them is this: The “powers that be” aren’t going to usually WANT the meaningful … especially from hip hop. The picture being painted in the mainstream has to fit a specific narrative, and in late 2003, that narrative was definitely working towards highlighting that overly blingy, rims and furs, grills that cost more than your house type lifestyle.

Which is probably why he slowly started to feel like it was killing him.

David Banner: “I have talked about my depression before, but you are the first person I have told this. It wasn’t just the time between the last album until now — I found that every time I got back into music, it forced me to sacrifice a part of my soul. Each time. The most depressed I have ever been, is when I had the most money in the bank.”
Banner is surprisingly open and honest from the jump. Immediately taking the time to put ME at ease when we first begin.

Let’s face it.. we all know I had to tell him how much I loved him. Not just the music, though I had been listening to him for about fifteen years. The entirety of his persona that I had watched grow, change and evolve over the course of those years was wholly fucking impressive. Dude went straight up Super Saiyan over that time frame, and I don’t just mean physically.

I won’t LIE though. I knew that the minute I heard him say my name I was going to melt — I can’t pretend that I hadn’t noticed how handsome he is. Plus in the interest of being honest, I knew that his voice would trigger certain very specific flashbacks…
There have been a couple (few) men in my life who may have GOTTEN THAT WORK while we listened to David Banner’s biggest chart topping hit, ‘Play’.

So when the phone rang at the scheduled time, I freaked out for a solid 20 seconds before I was able to answer it. I had to deep breathe like a muthafucka, with true intent and focus, and STILL my hand shook a little as I slid the answer key and heard that very familiar voice speak.

David Banner: Good morning love, how are you?

First image that pops into my head

*Liv melts into a puddle part one*

Resident Stoner: “Good morning! Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to talk to me, I know we have been trying to make our schedules work for a minute. I won’t lie to you, I am mad nervous so if I say something ridiculous or somehow giggle like a schoolgirl at some point, forgive me in advance.”

*Banner laughs… sexily as fuck. Liv melts into a puddle part two *

DB: “No worries, and don’t even do that to yourself mama. You got this and there’s no reason to be nervous. I wouldn’t even have known if you hadn’t said it anyway, so never let me or anyone else see you sweat. Unless it’s in a good way…”

*Liv melts into a muthakn puddle part three*

RS: “You’re right, thank you! That helps a lot. I have no idea where specifically I want to start, so I will just dive in with simple stuff. I loved The God Box, and I feel safe to say it is one of your most conscious albums. Yet it still has those hard as fuck beats and your uniquely boisterous delivery, which gives it a ying-to-yang balance, peaking at #9 on iTunes charts. How do you manage to go against the normative mainstream message (money, cars, clothes, women, or drugs) and still enter the charts like that?”

DB: “Thank you! Though it’s funny. I don’t like the term conscious music. I feel like it allows people to put you into a capsule, and then they function around you based on that capsule. It can be difficult because if you end up trying to break free from that capsule others have you in, it throws those people off. I think for me it was just about me as an artist getting even better than I was when I first came out, and the music evolving and growing along with it.”

RS: “Evolving is definitely a word that I would use for you as a person as well. I have been following you for years, and you have constantly shifted, shaped and changed along with the times. You never shy from speaking on relevant, and even uncomfortable topics. Topics that would certainly prevent many artists from getting involved. It takes a lot of courage to address things that many others wouldn’t touch because of a certain bottom line that would be effected.”

DB: “Thank you. I have spent the last six years or more just trying to be still. To go inward and look and inside to see the things that many others wouldn’t want to confront within themselves. I want to understand more about the inside, so that I may understand more about the outside. It makes a huge difference. Before I started taking the time to take part in a combination of things, including therapy and transcendental meditation… before I stopped and took the time for self, things felt a lot different for me. It was ugly as fuck.”

We HAVE to talk about how important this is. This isn’t the first conversation, and it will not be the last I am sure, that David Banner purposefully takes time to talk about things that are never normally addressed in the hip hop community.

Mental health.
Self Care.

They aren’t terms you normally here brought up in the middle of a hip hop blog, but they are so fucking important to focus on.

Born in NY in the late 70s, hip hop was about the only version of therapy that our black and brown communities had at the time. The lyrics pressed carefully onto wax were the way for people to express their shit, release their shit, or forget their shit. Eventually, as with all things, certain vultures picked up on that shit. As hip hop began to grow, the message, the culture, and the viewpoints began to be molded more by the mainstream dollars invested into the vision.

“Dear Lord, I hope we make it back.
They stole our culture and I don’t know how to take it back.
They are slowly infiltrating Lord they’re planning their attack.
They call you nigga to your face and dare you to say it back.”
— ‘Elvis’ from The God Box

It became harder and harder to be real without being… well… put into one of those capsules that Banner referenced earlier, and deviation can seriously effect the bag that your chasing. That bag causes you to make difficult choices. To make certain sacrifices. To sacrifice certain pieces of your soul.

It takes courage and strength to face that.

It should be uplifted and encouraged.

DB: “I had to cut a lot of my ego over the years. It really helped with everything. My anger included, which was definitely something that was intense.”

RS: “That’s so hard to picture for me, since I see you as one of them big teddy bear types. Buuuuut I am also a nerd and know that the name Banner comes from the Incredible Hulk reference, so clearly you have that deep within you.”

DB: “Definitely. We all have that monster within us somewhere, but mine was definitely a little more tapped in than others. Anger is the remote control for destruction, though.”

For example, when Banner Hulked out on a bouncer in Washington D.C, inevitably leading to his (bullshit) arrest. Media at large painted a picture of an artist’s ego being wounded by entourage not getting into a club, but Banner paints a different picture. One of him and his team being racially profiled while attempting to enter into the establishment.

I watched the video, and have personally seen folks get wilder on bouncers out here in Sac and STILL not get the cops called on them, but… now a days you get arrested for chilling at Starbucks. So who knows. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, you can still understand what Banner meant when he spoke on his temper.

Temper can often be confused for machismo, which can become acceptable to many, and it takes a strong man to recognize the difference. Another point in favor of Banner’s overall awesomeness.

RS: “So when you started to tap inwardly, what was it that you were finding?”

DB: “That I haven’t accomplished shit. At one point I had the big cars, the rims, the houses, all that. But that isn’t accomplishing shit. I need to be able to give muthafuckas a job. I need to be able to give MY people income. I do it on a small scale now, but I need to be able to do it bigger, and better. I spent a lot of time talking with my mentor (C. Thomas Moody) discussing the idea of wealth. About what it means to be truly wealthy. He told me….”

Banner paused there for a moment, and let the sentence hang in the air.

“Damn, I haven’t told someone this before, but alright… he told me…”

Sorry yall, that one was off record 😉
Bigger and better is also a perfect segue as we discuss The God Box. In my opinion, this is in the top #5 albums of 2017 — and you better @ me if you wanna fight about it, otherwise it isn’t real. The God Box was David’s return back into music, after a little over six year hiatus, and it was more than even I imagined it could be.

David definitely came back swinging, and those swings had the power of self-produced and self-financed hands guiding them with sniper like precision. That’s right, the entire album was paid for, produced and promoted by Banner himself, which gave him full authority to talk about whatever the fuck he wanted to.

David did exactly that.

Although the album, much like Banner himself, is heavily layered, at it’s root the album is a historical journey that reminds listeners about the struggles that our black sisters and brothers have had to endure over the course of American history. It is the musical embodiment of the phrase “knowledge is power” as Banner (along with features from Big K.R.I.T, Black Thought, and WATCH THE DUCK among others) presents a top to bottom masterpiece.

So of course, my live-music loving ass had to ask:

RS: “Does this mean I am going to get to see you on tour soon!?!?”

DB: “Honestly, I am probably not going to be touring on this one. When the fans do better, I might do a tour.”

How I felt when he said it…

RS: “Ummmmmm I take offense, I give high level love sir, and I am definitely a fan!”

DB: “You definitely have love.”

*Liv melts into puddle part four*

DB: “What I mean though is now a days artists can basically track where our fans are and where our demand is. I can only do tours if it makes sense, and right now I don’t know if it does I do get around though, you know that…”

*insert immature joke here*

What Banner is actually referring to is the fact that he has managed to trade in sold out tours for sold out lectures, spending the last few years speaking on his personal truths, in hopes it will help someone else. Right now, and for the foreseeable future it seems like that might be where I would have the chance to see him live.

Until then I can relish in the fact that I spent over two hours on the phone with a man who I would have never expected to give me the time of day because of his status. That in and of itself was a blessing. The conversation that came from those two hours, and the different ways he sort of sprinkled me with game throughout, was probably one of the bigger blessings I have had in the years I have spent in or around music.

DB: “The coolest thing I have learned over the years was how to love ME. How to put me first without it being considered a selfish act. It’s a daily process, but I am loving the journey.”
We talked about more. About A Banner Vision (his company), about his vices (video games, among some other things that he mentioned that I am keeping for myself *wink*). We talked about his schedule, his health regiment, and what is coming for him in the future. We talked about enough that if I tried to write it all out in this interview, it would probably have to turn into a full on David Banner series, and I learned more than I ever thought I would about the man, and surprisingly about myself as I took the time to sit and ruminate on the words he spoke.

Honestly, I think that was why I held onto this interview for so long. It wasn’t because I was afraid of fucking it up. The conversation almost felt sacred, and I felt like sharing it was going to take it’s power away. That was my ego though. It was me being selfish and not wanting to share, and if that isn’t antithetical to the message Banner is pushing, than I don’t know what is.

So I have to take a moment to truly thank the man. For what he does for hip hop, for what he does for the people who follow his words, and for the multiple moments he took to spend with me. The message was not lost, even if it took some time to sift through it.
David Banner is just one of the many hip hop artists that I have watched personally evolve over the years. That EVOLUTION is causing a very real REVOLUTION. One where real lyrics, powerful storytelling, and complex themes are filtering their into the mainstream, giving powerful music with a message the opportunity to truly impact the charts. Kendrick, Cole, Banner, Big K.R.I.T and so many more are accepting the mission of carrying the culture beyond the small, in some cases harmful capsule that the modern day music industry tried to put hip hop music into.

And. I. Am. Here. For. It.

I have included The God Box for you to listen to below. The vinyl release of the album JUST dropped on Record Store Day, so go cop that before they are gone. I am waiting until payday in the hopes I can track one down. (Manifestation is key)

Press play. Save the album to your playlist, and listen to it on repeat. My personal favorite is the song “My Uzi” featuring Big K.R.I.T, who I am seeing live for the first time tonight.

It all comes full circle.

Catch me tonight at Ace of Spades with a blunt and a smile.

— Olivia Monahan



Olivia Monahan

April 22nd, 2018

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