By: Melody Charles
Mississippi-born rapper, actor and activist David Banner didn’t assume the well-known television character’s name for nothing. Just as the fictitious scientist balanced his fiery temper, vast knowledge and sense of community, the former Levell Crump has used his platform as a rapper, actor and activist to inform as well as entertain. Rhyming since the age of 12 and creating beats as a teenager, Mr. Banner first earned a following by taking his self-produced tracks to the Jackson, MS. Radio station WJMI, where they quickly gained airplay and eventually earned a Tommy Boy Records deal. As one-half of the duo known as Crooked Lettaz (with his partner Kamikaze), their critically-acclaimed debut, Grey Skies, eventually led Banner’s collaborating with Houston’s Lil Flip and on Trick Daddy’s title track to Thug Holiday, his first taste of platinum sales.
Steve Rifkind, the former CEO of Loud Records, noticed Banner’s ambition and made the rapper his first signee when he moved to Universal, and since 2003’s Missisippi: The Album, the hits have kept on coming (“Like a Pimp,” “Cadillac on 22’s,” “Play,”, etc.). While on the road to promote his fourth CD, The Greatest Story Ever Told and appearing in his third film this year (Days of Wrath with Laurence Fishburne, Wilmer Valderrama and fellow rapper Rick Ross), the 35-year old spoke from his home base of Los Angeles, CA about his new music, his real problem with Oprah Winfrey and why the South, in his opinion, still has a long way to go in the world of hip-hop….
What’s changed for you personally and professionally in-between 2005’s Certified and The Greatest Story Ever Told?
“I accomplished some goals, but in the last year and a half, I’ve had 6 people I care about to die—my father, my grandmother, Pimp C, I was in those waters (during Hurricane Katrina) and watched others around me being affected, it’s just been a lot. With me being blessed to do movies, I’ve had the opportunity to rest myself and live, experience life. What can you talk about to your fans if you haven’t lived, going from hotel to hotel and airplane to airplane?
That’s one of the reasons why an artist’s first albums are so good, b/c that’s their whole life up until that point. On the positive side, how many rappers can you say are on their fourth album, from my generation? To be able to defend hip-hop In front of Congress, to fight all the way back from people acting funny with me to having to producing a song on one of the biggest albums of the year, Tha Carter III. That’s just God letting me know that I’m not going anywhere and that I don’t have to move like everybody else moves.
I’ve always felt like I’ve approached music a little bit differently than most artists have. Like when Kanye West did “Jesus Walks,” I had already done “Cadillac on 22’s,” ain’t really no different. My being from the Deep South, people don’t expect me to say the things that I say, but if you go back to my first album, I had a song that posed the question ‘did Osama Bin Laden really even exist, and if he existed, how dare we start a war over a man that we don’t even talk about anymore? And on the song “So Trill,”
I asked what happened to the recount we were supposed to have about the first Bush election—you know 9/11 occurred right before the recount was supposed to happen, so everybody forgot about it. Of course I’ll always make (party)singles, because that’s what sells. As much as people say they go into McDonald’s to get a healthy salad, they know they’re going in there to get a Big Mac and fries. People say one thing, but they really know what they want, sex drugs and money, so quit it. Even Oprah Winfrey talked all that s*** on her special show about rap music and then she had a birthday party that same week and she’s shaking her *** to 50 Cent. It’s the truth.
I’ve got love for Oprah, but I’ve never seen her support black men on her show, ever. Not that she has to, but the least she could do is not talk about us either, since she doesn’t criticize white men on her show that way. If she can’t support us, she needs to leave us alone. ”
Why have you so aggressively targeted elders and the establishment about their views on hip-hop?
“I’m not aggressive, I’m reacting. They attacked us first. Remember when Don Imus made those comments? How did it turn from old white racist talk show host to rappers? He was the one who called our women out, and then he turned it on rappers and the media jumped on us instead of him. Wow! That was amazing to me. If I slap you in your face and then you turn turn around and scratch me, could I call you aggressive? Am I not speaking facts? I said this on “Hip Hop America”; (On BET), you may not like what I say, but it’s the truth, and I’m not gonna say nothing I can’t back up. So, aggressive is not the word. Brutally honest, unlike the rest of America is, yes. But life is brutal and don’t pull no punches, why should I? And if you think about it, Most people that stand up against rap music usually have something to benefit by doing it. I was on the phone with this dude today who’s trying to get BET to stop playing music videos, and I come to find out that he just got fired by BET. And the same lady that criticized the video ‘Tip Drill,’ is selling a book. So right after she gets through talking about bad the video was for womens’ self-esteem, she turns around and says, ‘you can get my self-esteem building book for $19.95.’ Come on, you don’t give a s***about women, you’re just trying to sell a book. See, I don’t benefit from being political. I actually think I lose from being political, but it’s in my soul, I truly want to help people.”
People do concede that you help the community with your philanthropy and fundraising, but that your lyrics and videos still objectify women and promote stereotypes.
“Is life not a contradiction? How many people smell like liquor on Sunday morning from partying on Saturday night? I hate people who act self-righteous like that, then go and cheat on their wives the next day. I’m a walking contradiction—I talk about God and go to strip clubs the next night, I do. But I’m honest enough to know that unless you show kids that side, they’ll never listen to you, because you’re acting like you’re perfect, but they’ve already made mistakes. Some people are so stupid and hypocritical. Good or bad, the way that I got on was because people liked that song “Like A Pimp.” So I’m actually turning my back on people who’ve made me a millionaire by being political, if you think about it. Wow, I just thought about that, thank you.”
Do you think that the South will continue to dominate Hip-hop?
“I have a tendency to disagree when people say that. Until southern rappers are able to extract a Will Smith, Ice Cube, Eve, Queen Latifah and own our own labels, make our own movies and control our destinies, we’re just making other people in other place’s money and selling other people’s records . I don’t think the South is controlling nothing. Why doesn’t Lil Jon have a contract like 50 Cent has? Why isn’t T.I. or Lil Wayne in the same (financial) situation as Jay-Z? You could be from Lithuania, the labels don’t give a damn. That’s why I tell people to buy my damn record, and if you’re a real David banner fan, buy two copies (laughs)! Seriously, I really thank them for allowing me to grow, because I’ve made a lot of mistakes in music, they’ve allowed me to get through those and I really appreciate that. I want to do what rappers don’t do, reach this level of fame and then come back and hug, kiss and touch the people.”