David Banner became a sought-after producer by dancing to the tune of his own drum and banging out a flurry of hits. Lately, Banner has evolved into a prolific composer with a Gatorade commercial and a few movie projects under his belt. Banner’s compositional prowess was rewarded with an induction into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame. That puts him in the company of Howlin Wolf, Jimmy Buffet, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Elvis Presley, among others. I caught up with Banner to discuss his accomplishments, his new projects and his take on the state of hip-hop. Dive in, it’s sweet.
TRU: Congratulations on being inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame. Where does that rank among your accomplishments?
David Banner: I try not rank any of my accomplishments. They all mean something. How can I say me being SGA President of Southern University, you know, or what I did with the Katrina situation? Or, you know, being honored by Congress? God has blessed me with so many individual situations. I wouldn’t want to take away from any of the blessings. They all mean a lot in the grand scheme of things.
You’ve scored films and commercials, everything from Megamind to Footloose. What other films are you working on?
You know, all the music for the advertising agency went out. I’m up for a Grammy for the Gatorade commercial. Acting and then my advertising agency is what I do the most. I just finished doing Street Fighter. For Megamind, I did the music for the trailer. Footloose, it was for the film.
How does the process of scoring films and commercials differ from making beats?
It’s really no different. Music is music. It’s all about feelings, evoking emotions. That’s what it’s all about. Or that’s what it used to be about. [Laughs] It’s about trying to make people feel a certain way. That’s why it’s called soul music. There’s really no equation, you know. I really don’t wanna find out how to do it. It’s spiritual. I just allow myself to be in the moment and draw from the energy of being in the moment, and then, try to make people feel the same way that I feel.
Is it more emotionally rewarding for you to be able to hone in that energy for one concept in the case of a film versus spreading out your energy throughout an album?
Um, it’s less stressful. But how can you say one is better than the other? There also isn’t a feeling as standing up on the stage and hearing 15 to 20,000 people sing the words to something you thought of in your bedroom. They all have different…they all make you feel a different way, you know. I think it degrades the overall feeling when we try to put things in boxes.
I just feel it and I’m happy. I’m blessed, because how many artists get the opportunities that I get in this recession? I’m so humbled for the opportunities. I don’t have to run around and chase rappers anymore and beg them to listen to my beats. Those days are over. So, for me, for God to give me that opportunity–this [scoring films and commercials] is something I can do for the rest of my life. I can’t make rap beats for the rest of my life, even though I wouldn’t mind doing it if the opportunity was there. But, you know, I could score films and do music for commercials for the rest of my natural born life.
When you say you can’t make rap beats for the rest of your life, what does that mean? What makes you feel that way?
I think I have so much more to offer. It’s the same way when I did the Gatorade commercial. I don’t think people ever really listen to my beats. They never listened to nothing but the singles. I mean, if you listen to most of my beats, they always had orchestras. I’ve always brought orchestras, guitars, and live instrumentations. It’s always been graphic. But as soon as I put 808s on a beat, then people, I guess, think it’s a sample and don’t really care about the fact that…I mean, did I bring a flute player in or a live harmonica or whatever it is on the track?
As I get older, I don’t wanna do the same thing over. At the end of the day, all them dope beats that I had and everybody still wants “Rubberband Man” over and over and over again. Like, I’m getting to the point where I’m tired of just conforming to what the radio wants to hear. I wanna make good music. Then, if we as people who are from the community embrace it, then the radio is going to have to play it.
I wanna make good music, man. That’s the reason for Death of A Pop Star. I just wanna make good music. I’m not gonna stop making rap music or stop making banging ass music that bump in the trunk. But at the same token, God has blessed me with so much more and I want to express it.
You say the people have to embrace the music and then the radio will play it. But some would argue that the radio plays the music it thinks the people want to hear. It strikes me as a vicious cycle. What do you think it’ll take to break that cycle?
Well, I think it’s all up to the people. It’s as easy as it is hard. At the end of the day, people have to start feeling like they’re the bosses again. They’re going to have put their money where their mouth is. If you look at the mega 80s stars from the urban community, they didn’t have that many super smash radio singles. It was the albums. It was the way that they made people feel. You know what I mean? That’s why we’re in the position where we at. People aren’t buying albums anymore; they’re spending $0.99 on the single.
I think a model or a structure is the reason why it’s the way it is right now. People just gotta start doing what they feel again. See, that’s what I’m saying. Corporate America is trying to turn it into a model so that they can take us out of it. It’s because they scared of us. It’s the truth. They scared of us.
So, if they can just get fruity loops and put an 808, and find out what they saying in the club, and put they lil’ cousin in there, and let him rap their ABC verse on there. Then, you know, if people are goin’ to accept it, then why would they need that scary beat dude from Mississippi?
The reason why we became successful as urban artists is that we used to do something that nobody else could do. We used to be able to tell stories and people could travel vicariously through our lyrics. But now, everybody is singing them stories whether they understand ‘em or not. They listen to the same ol’ rapper and then they started spittin’ the same thing with a new swag to it. We gotta take the equation out of it. There has to be some level of complexity in order for it to be art.
Let’s talk about Death of A Pop Star. It’s a powerfully introspective album
Man, I’m really really disappointed as far as some of the…the…the—
Nah, not the reception. I’m really disappointed when people talk about we need a certain type of music. And, then when it’s there…like, I told a person once “You pick any song out of Death of A Pop Star and show me a wack verse.” He couldn’t do it. I said, “Show me a wack line.” He couldn’t do it. I said “Show me a wack beat.” He couldn’t do it. So, I said, “Go pick another album and show me where somebody is still telling a story. Show me something that has a concept, that has a theme, a culture, a sense of politics to it. If this is what you say you want, as a magazine, then why the fuck this ain’t one of the best albums of the last five years? Because you’se a fucking liar. You do the same thing artists do. You give it to the same muthafuckas that buy ads or whatever the fuck, you know what I’m saying? This shit is all business.
It ain’t too much shit that’s fucking with Death of A Pop Star. Period. Me and my man 9th Wonder put all our money into it. This ain’t no label. We wanted to make that sacrifice. And then some muthafuckas that say they hold hip-hop down and that’s how you do it? Man, all this shit is political. Muthafuckas is about papers. I’m very proud of our fans. I’m very proud of the DJs and the people that put their name on Death of a Pop Star.
People made the same case when the Slaughterhouse album came out –that it was what the people wanted, but few people bought it.
No, I’m not talking about the people. I’m talking about the magazines. That’s what the fuck I’m talking about. I ain’t talking about the people. The people came through for us. The people came through for us big. We on our way to Top 5 on 106 & Park right now. The people did they thing. I can never be angry at our fans. I’m talking about publications. I’m talking about the muthafuckas who are supposed to be the tastemakers. That’s what I’m talking about. I ain’t never had no gripe with no fans. You can’t tell muthafuckas what to buy. That ain’t our business. We can only do what we do. If people do they thing, then they do they thing. If not, fuck it. We can’t trip on that. Maybe I didn’t do what I needed to do to get out the fact that the album was out there. We don’t know what the fuck happened, but that’s still cool. This is an independent project, so we did good. And I paid for it, so I’m not worried about it. I didn’t have to serve no label. I’m the boss. So, there is no failing. You feel what I’m saying? The fact that we did it and didn’t have to bitch and beg no label to sign us, we did this on our own. And we got everything that everybody else got.
If that’s no motivation for artists to get off they ass and support each other, we cool. But I’m talking about the publication, man. The people who say that they’re tastemakers. The people that complain about the state of hip-hop and all that kind of shit. Muthafuckas is liars, and I said that they’re liars. Quote me on that.
If we’re going to quote you, we’ll need some names
Nah, I don’t get into that. If you feel a certain way when I say it, then I’m talking to you. If it rings a bell with you, then I’m talking to you. This album is necessary, man. That’s the thing that people are missing. We all lose our music, bro. It’s bigger than this. I don’t have to do records anymore. Homie, I’m cool. But this is necessary as a man. That’s why I feel so passionate about this, dude.
What are we gonna be able to pass on to our kids if these leeches suck all this shit up where there ain’t nothing else left. It’s bigger…it’s way bigger than Platinum or Gold or money or cars. I got everything that I want in life. This is about our children. This is about our fucking art. This is about your ability to have a job doing something that you care about. This is me being able to touch my people and represent and be a part of my culture. This is for me to go to London and see that the only depiction that they have of black men is us selling dope or fucking abusing hoes. I’m embarrassed. As a man, not a rapper. Fuck being a rapper. I’m talking about as a grown ass man.
Something has to be done. I mean, I still feel like rapping about ass and titties, but I can’t spend the rest of my life rapping about ass and titties. But at some point, you ain’t thinking titties 7 days a week. Maybe 4 or 5. This is bad to say, but think about it, man. There’s not too many things in the world we can do as young men and be successful before the system break us. To be able to have a voice, make money, start business, all the shit that rap does for us, bro. We should handle it a little better. And I’m saying “us,” I’m saying me too. I’m not pointing fingers. More than anybody, I’m talking about me. And, hopefully, I can be an example of it. Or even the fact the 9th Wonder got together. Two so-called different genres of music. That shit ain’t never happened before.
It’s no anger at all. I’m filthy rich. I am so blessed. There is no anger. I am passionate about music. Because I’m tall and black, people say they can hear anger. Nah, it’s not anger. What the fuck I gotta be angry for, dude? I’m in Miami and I’m about to go play beats for Lil Wayne. Fuck I’m mad about? What am I mad about, dawg? I got four houses: I got houses in New York, L.A., Mississippi…what the fuck am I gonna be mad for? I’m so blessed, bro.
Do you see a future collaboration with 9th Wonder or is that off the table?
We probably will. Honestly, this album made me feel so good. As much as I say that it was for the people, it was really more for me. I needed it for my spirit. Like, my spirit was dark and growing cold. I needed to do this, bro. It was therapy for me too. I love being an artist, bro. I’m grateful for the opportunity that’s been afforded to me. I wasn’t even expecting to have a friendship in music no more. I was done thinking that artists were my friends. But, honestly, I can say that, through this record, me and 9th have become friends. At the end of the day, that means more to me than anything. Whether we do another record or not, I know we’re friends. I know his kids. I know his wife. I wanna see Patrick (9th Wonder) do well for himself. And you don’t get that too much out of rap music. You always get beef and a whole bunch of bullshit.
Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t it amazing that everything that’s negative about hip-hop is what people want? They never talk about the friendships in hip-hop. It’s always the beef in hip-hop. They never talk about the accomplishments. If I shot somebody, I’d be on the front page of a magazine. But if I’m getting inducted into the Hall of Fame or if I do something for Katrina, then that’s a blurb on a web page.
You’re living a comfortable life but you still care about the game.
You gotta look at the fact that everybody that we look up to…everybody that we look up to, as urban artists, is either dead or in jail. That’s a problem, dude. When are we going to be men and women enough to say that it is a problem? Ain’t no criticism or no shit like that, but something ain’t right. It could be easy for me to walk away. I can say, “I got mine, you go get yours.” But my daddy told me something. He said he’d rather me be a $100 man than a million dollar bitch with an invisible dress on.
That’s great advice.
That’s why I care, man. These are hard times for folks and soul music is meant to uplift people. We’re at a fucking war. When was the last time you heard a song about war? If rap is supposed to be 100% of what going on, then we’re supposed to talk about everything: happy, sad, party, church, war, love…every muthafuckin’ thing.
Are you working on any new material?
I’m working on my next album. It’s called Trinity. It’s amazing. I’m happy about that. And, I’m working on a webisode series, and putting together a movie. That’s going to be self-financed by my company A Banner Vision Movies? You know, more commercials. Doing these commercials and knocking ‘em out. I think I’m also going to start working on my book.
Is it going to be an autobiography?
It’s going to be more of a motivational book. It’s going to be a little bit about my life. One thing we don’t have, as poor people are mentors — the people who can show us how to get it.
I went to Southern University in Baton Rouge but I took my entrepreneurship at LSU. At LSU, every week, they had a multi-millionaire or a multi-billionaire come speak to the kids. We didn’t have that on the black side of town. The thing was, they were getting actual knowledge from people who had made it. I wanna be one of the ones who shares the lessons and show people how to get it if they’re willing to listen to mine.