David Banner wants to get the conversation started. He has good intentions, of course, but the rapper and producer is melding one heck of a social statement in between contemporary, and club-banging hip-hop music. And later this month, when you download his forthcoming mixtape (available May 22 at www.davidbanner.com) you can’t help but be challenged.
Yes, much of the music on Sex, Drugs and Videogames, will sound like what you hear on the radio. Or at the club. And it should. It’s created by one of hip-hop’s formidable producers – that’d be Banner – and features collaborations with top acts like Lil’ Wayne, Chris Brown and Snoop Dogg.
The mixtape is free. He’s hoping fans will kick in a $1 donation that will ultimately help fund an independent film and support a yet-to-be-named charity—and it’ll all work if he can clear $2 million paid downloads.
And if you know anything about 38-year-old Banner, his music and his message usually has some sort of double entendre to it. Before he graduated from Southern University, he served as student body president (he also went to the University of Maryland for his masters in education, but didn’t finish), so Banner (real name Lavell Crump) is used to standing up and being a voice for the people. His people. When he wasn’t crafting music behind the boards for hot-selling music (he’s also produced for gospel duo Mary Mary and most recently 9th Wonder), he was standing in front of Congress in defense of hip-hop.
Banner talks with EBONY.com about his music, his mission and why he actually never really wanted to be hip-hop’s de facto spokesperson.
EBONY: This is an interesting concept…
David Banner: Yeah, and what’s cool is some of the music is sex, drugs and videogames, but the underlying meaning is … I’m asking the world ‘what’s your favorite song on here? We’ve got all these artists, what’s your favorite song? Why do you like that song? Why does this song make you feel this way? Why, in a lot of cases, when we hear certain things does it have to be derogatory towards ourselves for us to like it?’ Then I ask the question to the rest of the world, ‘if the only thing that you feed our people is sex, drugs and violence, why are you so surprised when that’s what we regurgitate?’
EBONY: So this album is a social statement?
DB: Not all the way. That’s part of it. It’s a component. I’m asking that through the interludes. The album is what it is. It’s just jamming, you know, just good music. But while I have my folks’ ears open, I’m just asking a couple questions and you answer them on your own, however you want to answer. It’s just something that I want you to think about as you listen to these songs. The thing that I fear now is that we’re raising a generation of kids … that don’t think about slavery, they don’t think about the ‘60s, discrimination, they don’t think of the mental stress that our folks went through. I did nine movies, seven of those movies I was just getting out of jail or a drug dealer. Is this the only type of role that I can get? If you flip through the channels right now, in most cases that’s all you ever see a Black man that’s over six foot tall playing. So what does that tell our children? What does that tell our men? Just questions.
EBONY: You’ve become the de facto spokesperson for hip-hop over the years. We see you speaking on Congress about the music, on MTV doing voter registration and education initiatives. Why is this an important role for you to take on?
DB I honestly don’t know where it comes from. I always say God put it on my spirit, because my environment wasn’t conducive to that. But being from Mississippi—and historically watching how people have treated my people and— the fear that America has for young Black men is not justified. We don’t do nothing to them. We may do on-the-surface stuff like break in your house or car or something, but Black men don’t do nothing to nobody but themselves. So I never understood that, like, it’s not justified.
EBONY: So what you’re saying is that Black men hurt each other, they’re not necessarily going in to White communities and hurting them, right?
DB: Yeah, we’re not bothering nobody but ourselves. Now you can always find an exception to the rule.
EBONY: Is that why you’ve been so vocal about the George Zimmerman case? You recently were invited to speak at Harvard University.
DB: I think one of the things that hit me the hardest was just where we are in America. I really think one of the things that hits me in the chest the most, is that a lot of our people feel like racism isn’t a factor in America. That’s just not true. I gave the example when I spoke at Harvard … it’s like having cancer and the symptoms stop showing. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have cancer. And if you don’t address the sickness then it gets worse, permeates through your body until by the time you find out about it, you’re dying. And I think that’s what’s happening to the inner thread of America. The Trayvon Martin situation was a perfect example of that. Like, this is a child, dude.
EBONY: So did this kick start things into this next election cycle for you? Are we going to see you in a role that we saw four years ago?
DB: I don’t know. The things that I do, come from my heart. I don’t have an agenda. I keep telling people that. I don’t want to be that. That’s not what I planned on doing. I want to be a successful artist; I want to be a mogul. That’s what I tell people. What I will say about it is that I don’t support one or the other.
EBONY: Meaning you don’t support one political party over the other?
DB: Yes. Historically we give our support to one side who, historically, has shown us that they’re not necessarily coming back and doing the things that they promised for us.
EBONY: What is it that you hope people kind of walk away from this project from?
DB: I just want them to enjoy the music. Like, all of the underlying stuff, they are just questions for you to think about as you enjoy the mixtape. Now, we all know that our people depend on music a lot more than the face value of the music. I understand that. But for this, I just want people to enjoy me being back to making music.