David Banner On Switching Styles: “I Got Tired Of Being America’s Nigga”

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“I am not playing when it comes to business,” David Banner sharply tells HipHopDX as he prepares for the release of his seventh studio album, The God Box. “I don’t run a black business. I run a successful business and I give the proceeds to black people.”

To say that Banner isn’t making rookie moves just might be an understatement. Just ask his clients. There was the time that Gatorade wanted him to fly to China. “Gatorade said they needed me,” he recalls. “I was on the next plane to China. It ain’t no question.” Or the time he broke his arm but still finished a project on time. “There’s no excuse,” he says. “When we were working on the international release of the A-Class for Mercedes Benz, I broke my arm while I was on the way to the studio and we still finished it.”

And then there was the time a potential commercial client dragged their feet when Banner approached them about working together. “One time this company that I wanted to do business with, they didn’t know who David Banner was,” he says. Instead of waiting for their response, he sprung into action. “I went and shot the whole commercial myself with my own money and gave it to them. I told them, ‘You can have this one, I don’t want it. I want everything you do for a year, I don’t want one-offs. That ain’t enough money for me.’”

Banner says his assertive proposal,”blew their mind”, but it shouldn’t have. Though casual fans may not realize it, stories like these are not an anomaly, and impressing Fortune 500 companies has become a way of life for Banner over the last seven years. He is a dominant behind-the-scenes figure in film, TV commercials, and many other ventures, with a resume that boasts production work for Gillette, Marvel, the Disney movie Let It Shine and scoring the entire Footloose remake. His production company, A Banner Vision, has worked with DreamWorks, EA Sports, the NFL, Showtime, and Warner Brothers, just to name a few. Banner may be the face of A Banner Vision, but he is quick to credit his “amazing team” as a crucial part of his success. “Just about any genre of music, I have a producer who specializes in that,” he says. “I have an amazing team. I don’t want to sit here and act like it’s all me, because it’s not.”
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““I don’t run a black business. I run a successful business and I give the proceeds to black people.””

In addition to his work for other companies, Banner understands the power of social media and uses it to build his own brand. He has a keen awareness of the crowd-funded, direct sales route many artists use in this day and age. In 2012, three years after Kickstarter launched, he financed his Sex, Drugs, and Video Games album without any label assistance and sold it directly to fans, asking for a $1 donation per download. Banner used the #2M1 hashtag to help generate awareness and buzz around the project. He is now using a similar strategy to promote his upcoming The God Box album, using #thegodbox hashtag and releasing some of the album songs like “My Uzi” (featuring his fellow Mississippian Big Krit) as a teaser to encourage people to pre-order the album.

And while his business savvy and work ethic are admirable, his growth in recent years goes beyond business, as can be seen by his social media interactions with his fans. He engages his audience, challenges their beliefs, and encourages them to live a better life. Banner uses his popular Instagram account to promote black empowerment, reading, health, self-reflection, and positive rap music on a regular basis. Beyond social media, he is also determined to share his knowledge learned from the mistakes made earlier in his career and years of studying industry contracts with young artists. “You have to be an example of being kind,” says Banner. “That’s what I tell people all the time.”

Banner’s journey from rapper and platinum producer to Fortune 500 co-signed artist and mentor is fascinating. Just over a decade ago people knew him for “Like a Pimp,” “Play” and verses like, “I spit game to your wife then we robbin’ your house,” rather than taking up-and-coming artists under his wing. Instead of being dismissive of this time in his career, Banner treats these early years as a learning experience, saying, “my early years were college for me.” His “college” years seemed very promising, especially when he signed a $10 million dollar deal with Steve Rifkind Company/Universal Records Group in 2003. Lucrative deal aside, all was not well within the record industry, and it wasn’t long before Banner started to see major changes taking place. Despite an impressive track record of hits, his album sales weren’t adding up. “If you go back and look at the album that “Play” was on, that was the first wave when records stopped selling,” he says. “I had one of the biggest singles in the nation and I didn’t sell 500, 600, 700 thousand copies. I thought something was wrong with me.”
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““I had one of the biggest singles in the nation and I didn’t sell 500, 600, 700 thousand copies. I thought something was wrong with me.””

As the record industry entered a period of free fall, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August of 2005. Banner, in addition to donating his own time and money to help those affected, organized a Heal The Hood Hurricane Relief Concert and other events to collect food and clothing donations as well as raise funds. Though his actions are commendable, the aftermath of Katrina forced him to put his own career on the back burner. “I used all of my fame for Katrina and I didn’t push my album,” he says. With the incredible emotional toll of Katrina and his own career difficulties weighing on him, Banner entered a period of depression. Despite what seemed like insurmountable odds at the time, he tried to use the turmoil as a learning experience. “A lot of times when bad stuff happens, people think that’s god not blessing them or they’re cursed or something like that. I don’t believe that,” he says. “There’s usually a bigger message, but you have to be meditative enough to look at it.” Looking back on it now, he thinks “the Most High was preparing me for the fall of the music industry.”

In addition to personal heartache, industry freefall, and messages from a higher power, another factor would make Banner take a step back from music. “I got tired of being America’s nigga,” he says. “I got tired of making the same music.” This realization turned into a serious interest in acting and the founding of his own multimedia company, leading to roles in successful films like Black Snake Moan and This Christmas. Many people mistook Banner’s music hiatus as a result of diminished skill, a misconception he is quick to clarify. “Most people thought that I fell off,” he says. “No. I had a hit single when I stopped rapping.” And while acting provided Banner with some brief creative refuge, it didn’t last long. “When I started acting I had six big movies in a row, but then I realized that I was always playing the thief,” he recalls.

““A lot of times when bad stuff happens, people think that’s god not blessing them or they’re cursed or something like that…There’s usually a bigger message, but you have to be meditative enough to look at it.””

An opportunity to make a positive change in the film industry came when Footloose remake director Craig Brewer, who had directed Banner as an actor in Black Snake Moan, reached out to him and asked him to score the entire film. Around the same time Disney contacted him to do some soundtrack work for the film Let it Shine. In a 2012 interview with Parlé, Banner admitted that he was hesitant at first when his agent approached him to work with Disney because the match seemed odd. But after taking some time to mull it over, he decided that even Disney’s content wasn’t a perfect match, he could help create a positive change from within by bringing his unique perspective to the project. “I realized that us as African-Americans, when you have these million dollar corporations that’s interested in our youth and our culture, we gotta start being a part of it,” he said. “Because if we don’t start being a part of it, then how are we going to have any say so on the images that our kids receive?”

A desire to do right by young people is a central goal for Banner. It is also part of the reason he is ready to open up about his exciting career endeavors from the past seven years. “We have all these children who want to be rappers, but they’re not even buying music,” he explains to DX. “I want to show these young producers that you can do other things with your talent. If you hear a sound and it’s an artificial sound, then somebody got paid to put that music in there. Once I realized that, my whole entire life changed.” Beyond his good will towards aspiring young artists, Banner thinks it’s too late for people to copy his recipe for success with commercials and film, even if they wanted to. “I’m seven years ahead now. There’s really no way anybody can stop me,” he says.

Some might see this interest in helping young people as a recent development, but it seems the desire to help has always been there. Go back to Mississippi: The Album, and you’ll hear verses like, “I know these kids are listening, I know I’m here for a mission, but it’s so hard to get ‘em when 22″ rims are glistening” on “Cadillac on 22’s.” Now, Banner is taking it a step further. Beyond mentoring young musicians and a general concern for the youth of today, he wants to put young people to work. “I am opening up another wing of my company where I’ma allow children, if their parents sign off, to score (music) too,” he says. “And if they do the work, they gonna get paid like grown-ups. I don’t believe in slave labor. If you do the work, you should get paid like a grown-up.”

While his position and ability to give back seem almost too good to be true, Banner is quick to point out that his current success came at a price. Though he now knows that keeping a sense of balance in your life takes constant reflection and work on yourself, Banner had to learn that lesson the hard way. Speaking on his early career — before reading, meditation, and prayer became a central part of his life — there was no balance. “I chased my dreams so long and so hard that when I finally raised my head I realized I ran off and left everything else,” he says. “I had all of this money in the bank but didn’t have any friends, didn’t have any children, didn’t have any meaningful relationships in my life. My dad was dead and my brother was grown and I didn’t know him. It’s sad.”

The lack of balances started tipping back in the right direction when Bill Duke introduced Banner to transcendental meditation. According to Banner, incorporating meditation into his busy schedule has “changed his entire life.” In addition to meditation and prayer, Banner considers the ability to say no to unnecessary projects “the most powerful thing.” “I’ve walked away from more money then I’ve made this year,” he says. “But when I do a project, I’m excited about it. People can tell. I am living the shit that I am rapping about and I’m proud of it. I’m honored to be able to say the shit that I say.” More important than any creative benefits, Banner’s personal relationships with friends and family have also improved since he learned to prioritize and cut out unnecessary work. These days he makes sure that personal relationships are a top priority. “I put my friends and my parents in my schedule,” he says. “I used to think my friends were not good friends, but it wasn’t them, it was me. It was me expecting them to stop their lives when I had time. How selfish is that?” Banner has also learned that relaxation is essential if he wants to stay on top of his game. “When I say I’m on vacation, I’m on vacation,” he explains. “When it’s PlayStation time, it’s fucking PlayStation time.”
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Mark The Date: Banner’s next LP drops February 2017.

““I got tired of being America’s nigga. I got tired of making the same music.””

While we’ve seen Banner adapt, grow, and mature since his early years, fans of his original work can rest assured that his collaborative efforts with Disney and meditative practices have not dulled his edge. His new album The God Box, which is slated for release on February 17 2016, features songs like riotous material like “My Uzi” and punchlines like, “No nice cars, just nice beats. My little revolver, my problem solver, put some red holes in them white sheets.” If his album singles and snippets posted to social media are any indication, David Banner is once again creating something transcendent. The God Box should make for an intimate look into the mind of a man who continues to push creative limits, work with entertainment giants, and most importantly, give back to those who need it most.

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