With a new album, The Greatest Story Ever Told, looming, an Adult Swim cartoon and recent praise for his acting turn in Black Snake Moan, you might think David Banner would be content. But as we found out earlier this week when we talked to him on the telephone, there is far more on the mind of the mighty Mississippian than money and fame.
When does the album actually come out?
October 9th. For sure as it can be, right now. If stuff is right, I’m going turn the album in, if it’s not, I’m not.
So the version I heard may not be the final version?
No, it may not be because of samples and because of my life. Like dude, I am writing again just for the sake of writing! Now I’m in the airport and I’m writing. The movies have given me the ability to love what I do again on the music side, not be naïve like I was before, but to at least enjoy it. If I don’t want to do a song or show, I’m not going to do it. If somebody’s not treating me right, I don’t have to do it just to save face. I don’t have to do nothing no more. That’s a freedom as a young black man that most of the world doesn’t have.
I’ve noticed over time you’ve kind of moved away from sampling, is it because the samples are so hard to clear?
Yeah. That’s the only thing. I love to sample. I love the shopping for the records. I love, you know…. It’s almost like a treasure hunt, and being able to find the treasures and come home and look through them... Because I’m not like a lot of producers where I go shopping for certain people’s records, or I know the records I want. It’s crazy. I usually go by how ill the record cover is.
When you’re producing, do you keep certain beats for yourself or are you willing to sell any of them if the opportunity arises?
No I’m down to sell it. It’s always good to have your music out there. I can always make beats for me. I have me 24/7. So you know, it’s like, I always love to sell ‘em. But you know, during the time that I face album time, then I sit down from doing beats for everybody and just do ‘em for me then.
I heard the new album at a listening session. Did you produce the whole thing or just some of it like before?
No, just some of it like before. I never want to produce a whole album. Because regardless if it’s the most jamming album in the world, if it comes from you, it has a certain air about it that’s the same. As a rapper, I rap better over other people’s shit.
Oh, really? You think that’s the case? Would you prefer to not rap over your own stuff then?
No. I mean, I get paid a lot more when I rap over my own stuff. Financially, it’s smarter and it’s easier. You ain’t got to wait to go through different people’s beats and wonder if they giving you the best that they got. I know that I’m going to give me a hundred percent.
I was reading some other interviews and in a lot of them you talk about rap as a business. Do you find that thinking about it in that way makes you enjoy it less or do you still love it?
I definitely don’t love it like I used to. Being that the music business as really tainted, you know, how I look at it. But, I think God has allowed that to happen purposely. Because, if you notice people that are true, true artists usually end up in the corner, crazy or on crack. You even look at rap: the more business minded people are the rich ones. Baby from Cash Money, Puffy, Fifty, you know what I’m saying? It’s the more business-minded people who is more business-minded more than talented are the ones that get the profits. The thing is, rappers are the only ones that are looking at it as talent. Everybody else is looking at it like it’s a business. You don’t think the head of Interscope or Universal is worried about no talent? They worried about your numbers at the end of the day and record spins. That’s it.
So obviously you are super vocal about what’s on your mind, and you’re not going to hold your tongue for the sake of business. Do you feel other rappers should follow your lead?
No, because it’s not my business what another man does. Like, that’s one of things that I hate about rap now. Everybody sounds like a bunch of bitches. “This person didn’t say this,” and I think, “Why don’t you shut the fuck up and do it yourself?” When I looked at what Red Cross was doing for Katrina, I didn’t stand up and talk about Red Cross. I went and formed my own organization and got it crackin’. Didn’t nobody want to come to Mississippi and sign no artists, so I stopped crying and I started my own label. I didn’t have nobody to produce my records. I didn’t get mad at all the producers in the world. I started producing myself. So at the end of the day, God is going to judge you naked and alone by yourself, the same way you came into this Earth. And He’s not going to look at nobody else. He’s going to look at what you done. So I’m not really worried about what nobody else does. I just want when my kids to look at their father’s history, they can see what I did and they know what I done. I don’t how another person was raised, I don’t know if it was meant for them to be that kind of person. What you also got to understand with us asking people to be a certain way, maybe they not prepared for it, maybe they not built like me, maybe they not the person for the job. I don’t know.
I was just looking at the letter you wrote to Oprah. Would you like to talk to her? Has she responded to the letter in any way?
I say it like this, dog: It wasn’t just a letter to Oprah Winfrey. It was a letter to all our leaders. Once again, if they were not attacking rap, I wouldn’t have nothing to say to them. They attacking the way I eat. You know? I just got a call right now that Al Sharpton want to sit down and talk to me. I don’t want to talk to you [Al Sharpton]. Stop doing what you’re doing. I don’t care to meet you. I don’t like you. You know what I’m sayin? I would like to meet Oprah just because she’s history. It has nothing to do with whether I’m a fan of hers or not. Just like I would like to just meet George Bush. Because whether or we like them or not, they’re definitely history. What I’m trying to get them to understand is I don’t want to meet with you, I want you to stop attacking your kids. And what you should have done is met with me first. Now that we’re not backing down and that now your kids have power, now you want to talk to us? You had an opportunity to bring gangsta rappers onto your show when you was attacking them, but you brought Common Sense. He call women bitches and ho’s, so why you got him up there? In saying that, I could give a fuck less about talking to somebody and meeting with them and what other rappers do. I’m going to do what I can do so that at the end of the day God can say that he proud of me. I’m not saying whether I’m right or wrong. All I’m doing is doing what my heart tells me to do and what I believe to be right., stick to the facts. Dispute what I’m talking about. I said that you’re crucifying your kids. Dispute that. That’s all that I really asked.
So you feel like getting this letter out there, you’ve said what you need to say. You’re ready to move on and you’re hoping people will follow you in that direction.
One of the mistakes I made last year is when I get into something I really get into it. I dedicated seven months of my whole life to doing Katrina stuff and community service to really help people, which I should have did, but still stayed on promoting my album. I got an album coming out, The Greatest Story Ever Told, which I think is one of the greatest rap albums in the last years. To be honest with you, if I’m not famous, if I’m not poppin’, it don’t matter how much good shit I do anyway. Last year really showed me that people don’t really give a damn about good people. They ask me, you know, what cover of what magazine would I like to be on this year and I told them, the FADER. They asked me why, I said because they was the only magazine that would fuck with me when I was down. Fuck with me based on what I did. So in me saying that, dude, why is it that all the stuff I done from doing the largest urban benefit concert in history, people don’t want to talk to me about that. People don’t want to talk about that I gave $30,000 cash out in the hood for Christmas. Stood out in the rain. People don’t want to talk about my scholarship program. You know what I’m saying? All that good shit. People love assholes. People love jewelry, sex, fucking and violence. I don’t give a fuck what no American says. That’s what they fucking want. Except the thing about America is they’re so hypocritical, they want to point fingers at everybody else, but if you really want to know, we the fucking problem. America is the motherfucking problem. Always has been. To take that further, look at Michael Vick: c’mon dude, they crucifying that man. It ain’t that fucking bad. You oughta get Barry Bonds. That’s some bullshit. Babe Ruth was a fucking drunk during Prohibition! Come on, don’t nobody talk about this shit. But everybody knows that young black men, we don’t have nobody that’ll stick up for us. We don’t even stick up for ourselves! We beef with 50 Cent, we beef with TI, we’ll beef with Lil Flip. But when Akon needs someone to come to him because the owner of a club didn’t check the girl’s ID… that wasn’t Akon’s fault! But everybody gonna let that boy stand up and be persecuted. Same thing with Nelly, same thing with Snoop Dogg. I’m like, dude, what the fuck is going on? And don’t nobody see it! Then, it’s crazy. I stand up for some shit that’s real and what I want you to do, be sure to put this in: tell people if they want to talk about something, the JENA 6. Ask people why aren’t they talking about that? That’s something we need to be fighting for. The guy that got shot while he was at his bachelor party in New York, the kids that killed in Jersey. Like, what the fuck is going on?
Would you like to have more of a platform to talk about this stuff or would you like people to start asking questions?
I would like people to start asking questions—actually, I would like to sell a whole bunch of motherfucking records, because the truth is, yeah you have a certain level of power in the things you say but motherfuckers with money can really move something. But like, a lot of people is saying “David Banner is changing, he getting a little selfish and he all about money now” because motherfuckers left me. When I was going through my depression and when I was fucked up didn’t nobody call my phone, with the exception of y’all magazine, I would have gotten barely no fucking press. And it’s like, I always used to think that—and that’s why I know that your blessings only come from God, they don’t come from men. What God showed me is that music is not my God, he showed me what men would do to you. He said if you believe in me I would give you movies. Take this movie career that you would have never dreamed of, here take this executive position at Cartoon Network and put out you some cartoons and make more money every time a cartoon come on, then do a rapper tour. And then I will give you the best album that you ever had in your career, just let rap go, and when I let rap go everything came to me and now I really don’t give a flying fuck.
Are you planning on doing any more charity work?
Well this year, how can I do charity until I start making money? That was always my problem. I let my heart outdo my mind. Jim Jones told me, “You know the difference between you, Jay-Z and 50 Cent? You give 80 pairs of your own shoes, you give your own money away for charity, but Jay-Z can call up Reebok and make them do it.” As far as charity is concerned, you know what people can do for me? Go by my record. Show me some love back. All them people that said David Banner is a good guy. The thing is, I don’t want to seem bitter. It comes off because I’m so emotional. I’m not bitter, I’m filthy fuckin rich, I’m cool. But I feel a little used. Most people wouldn’t say nothing about it. But the thing is, I don’t want nobody else to be done that way. There are the good people that do all the drops, all the stuff the DJs need. I’m going to the weddings and doing all the stuff a person is supposed to do. When the people in the label need some assistance, they got a side hustle, who they call because they know I show up, I’m the one that’s on time? It ain’t about that, it’s about a hit fucking record. If you want to tell an artist what he can do for his career: make a hit record. Everybody love you then. So that’s my only concentration. My concentration is me and making a hit fucking record. And then I’m able to do for everybody. People want so much from you and then you turn around and ask them, “Hey when was the last time you supported me?” No, it’s just about me now. The Greatest Story Ever Told. Period. How that goes determines what I do. I will always be the same type of person but its’ sort of like The Matrix. Last year was the worst year of my life. 2007 has been the best year of my life. And 2006 was when I took the pill, and I realized what the world was really about. It’s not a good place, it’s not about good people. It’s not about the meek. America is not a good place.
Do you think its possible for you to help change that?
I will always try to help affect change. But while I was going through my depression, two separate preachers told me something. The said, “Son, you’re not Jesus. You’re not Jesus, you can’t change everything. If you want to see something change, maybe change your career and the path it’s going down.” That’s power. You know? If you look at your history books, I would say there has only been one successful revolutionary: Harriet Tubman. All the reason why she was successful was because she mowed down anybody that was a snitch, anybody trying to turn back, she killed. Any other black leader didn’t live past 40. That was really affecting change. That was really about something real.
In terms of this new album versus Certified is there a noticeable difference in sound?
Hit records. Of course I do got songs on there that mean something but I’m not really—when you go to Mcdonalds you want a Big Mac, a fry, and a motherfucking Coke. When people come to David Banner they want some pimpin, a little bit of violence, a little bit of God so they won’t feel bad about the pimpin and a little bit of revolution just because they know that that’s me. Past that motherfuckers don’t want shit else from David Banner. I tried to be creative, I tried to change music. Fuck that. We don’t even get the support from our own structures and the shit that we be around. So it’s like, we gotta do safe music, everybody wonder why people in the south do the type of the music they do, because ain’t nobody behind us. We don’t have that support that Eminem has, we don’t have that label support that Outkast has, and then on they last record Outkast didn’t get supported so how can we do something experimental when our label ain’t gonna push it on America? We can’t do what Eminem is doing, like if I had the support that Eminem had…shit I might mix some salsa music with some reggae music and throw some 808s in there, you never know what the fuck a nigga might do. And that’s what movies have done for me. I don’t wanna be David Banner all the fucking time. That’s depressing. With movies I could be somebody else.
Do you feel like you need to back off on music in favor of movies?
No, I always like to do music. I’ve learned to schedule. If you plan out your life in front of you, it’s not as hard, you know what I’m saying? Because—actually—my movies will be dropping when my album is dropping this time. You know, I just allocate a certain amount of time, which is the best time for movies. And then I’m not doing music during that time. Then, once I land the movies, get the movies, shoot the movies, and I’m done, you know, with two or three movies, I jump back onto my record. During all that time, I’m always doing tracks and beats.
Do you think that doing more movies will allow you more musical freedom? Like maybe reuniting Crooked Lettaz?
What I’m saying about Crooked Lettaz is that I didn’t make no money doing Crooked Lettaz and as emotional and as much as people talk shit about Crooked Lettaz we only sold like 28-30 thousand copies. So, as a business man that’s not a good move for me and I never said this before, but I’m so tired of people asking me: it’s emotional. If Kamikaze records popped and I’m popping, then it makes sense to do a Crooked Lettaz album.
With your own imprint, do you feel like you can pass on to your artists what you’ve learned about the business?
Yeah, I do. But to tell you the truth, most don’t want to listen. Me and my assistant were talking about it. If you read the Art of War and Machiavelli, the truth is most people don’t want to know the truth. The truth is I had to work hard to get where I am. I had to be homeless in New York, homeless in Atlanta. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t overnight. It took me close to thirteen years. I was telling a friend of mine recently, she was asking me if I wanted to watch Ray. I told her no. Because nine times out of ten, my life is going to end up that way. I don’t want to see that shit.
You were on the Rock the Bells tour for a little while. Was that just not working out?
Man, fuck Rock the Bells. It was a tour for hip-hoppers. They put a couple of rappers on there from the South so they can pull in our crowd and they were very disrespectful. Fuck them, really.
So are you going to do any live show to support the album at all?
I’m doing as much as we’re allowed to. I’m going from city to city. I always do the schools and all of the small towns. I’m going to do face to face. I’m doing stuff that people will consider a person on my level not to do. I’m going back to all the retail stores. I’m going to the boys clubs and girls clubs to speak to the kids, you know, pump up my album and go hood to hood, ghetto to ghetto. It’s a little bit harder to do rap touring now. You haven’t really seen a pure, so-called rap tour. It’s crazy because they blame it on violence, but they ain’t been no real violence in gangsta rap in a long time, dude. The shit that happened in the NWA days, we still suffering for it now. The truth is, gangsta niggas got too much jewelry, too many fresh-ass clothes. They don’t want blood on they Jordans. It ain’t violent like it used to be. The insurance and discrimination against rappers is crazy. It’s like everywhere we turn. I asked a question one time and I’m going to ask you this question: It’s strange that once we put a parental advisory sticker on our CDs, it’s the same thing as getting a rated-R warning right? So why is it that Snoop can’t be a part of a Disney movie but Arnold Schwartzenegger can kill everybody in the whole wide world in a movie.
Right. And then be the governor.
And then be the governor and that’s cool? Any actor can act like a rogue cop and get all kind of awards and nominations. Stephen King can kill kids and disrespect God and give praise to demonic spirits, but they call it horror movies. Why can’t I do horror music?
Rap has always had a judgmental spotlight shining on it.
Yeah, and tell the whole world to go ahead and start by calling us niggas. They say hip-hop, but they really mean niggas. Hip-hop is the new fresh American word for nigga. If a African Chihuahua dog gets pregnant in the Netherlands they’ll blame it on hip-hop.
Are you at a place in your career where you feel like you are in a comfortable situation?
Yeah, I’ve definitely changed the course of my life. The best thing I can tell any rapper is to diversify your portfolio. If it wasn’t for movies and cartoons, I’d be fucked up right now. I thank God so much for movies. I love acting and I love digging into somebody elses’s life and figuring out the reason why they are who they are and then becoming that person. To live and breathe that person. You have to create this person’s backlife because you don’t really know why they did what they did. That put me deeper into the psyche. I realized after I became an actor, there’s a reason why everybody is the way that they are. Regardless of whether it’s a mental problem or something happening to them that was really drastic and changed their life and made them become the type of people that they are. There’s a reason for everything, whether it’s nurture or nature. And that made me have a little more tolerance, because I realized there was a reason why everybody was the way that they are. You just have to figure it out and deal with it.