From the time Mississippi native David Banner and his Crooked Lettaz partner Kamikaze dropped their debut album, Grey Skies, in 1999 on Tommy Boy/Penalty, it was clear that David had something special going both as an emcee and a producer. David followed up solo, and sold over 10,000 copies of his independently released album Them Firewater Boyz Volume I in 2000. With a powerful buzz growing in the South, Steve Rifkind signed David as the premier artist for his fledgling SRC label to a whopping $10 million dollar deal, and in early 2003 Mississippi: The Album was released.
Less than one year later, while David was still riding the wave of excitement from the instant success of Mississippi, the label pressured him to release his second album, MTA2: Baptized In Dirty Water – much earlier than anticipated.
While he has continually pumped out production on hit songs for the likes of Trick Daddy, T.I., Bonecrusher, Lil Flip, Nelly, Devin The Dude, and Nappy Roots, his own efforts seem to be thwarted momentarily. Reception to the new album may have started out lukewarm, but David Banner is confident that things are just starting to heat up.
Mississippi’s rap ambassador is on the road with the Ludacris Chicken & Beer tour through the end of March, and AllHipHop.com caught up with him at the Paramount Theater in Seattle.
AllHipHop.com: How do you feel about your success thus far?
It’s cool, but I honestly feel like God allowed me to see the success of other people, so it allows me to know where I can go. To be a gold artist – I’m thankful for the opportunity, but I’m definitely not happy. I always try to push the boundaries of things, and you can either hit or miss with those. Apparently you have to do something different but still the same, to reach a certain level of success – I’m constantly trying to test the boundaries of music just to see where my niche can be in the middle of pop success and the streets. I’m really not happy at all.
AllHipHop.com:When you speak of reaching a level of success, are you talking mainstream success?
Success to me equates to finances, and finances come through that level of success. I wanna sell some records, because even with the positive things that I do, the more people who buy your albums are more people who are touched by your message. You can be famous, but don’t nobody buy your record – I mean, the message is accomplished in the cd – they are definitely tied together.
AllHipHop.com: Do you feel like your new album was released too soon?
AllHipHop.com: Was that your decision or the label’s?
It was the label’s decision, but I turned it in, and I didn’t have to turn it in. More or less, a favor was asked and I delivered the favor. It just teaches me more that the system is just that. The system isn’t artist-friendly – it’s not set up for your benefit. I was more or less a victim of something that I knew, but with the situation that Steve Rifkind was in, and with me being the head artist on his label, I’m thinking that this is my opportunity to get a heads-up on the game, so while everybody else is sitting back marveling in their success I wanted to attack. It’s just like chess – sometimes when you take the offensive too early you leave yourself out there. On the same token, it gives me a gage of where I am in the streets, because the streets really like the record a lot. It also let me know who my friends were in the industry. I was really disappointed in people that I really cared about. People who I was there when they needed help, more or less left me out there.
AllHipHop.com: It’s not like it failed miserably – anything over 250,000 in this market should be considered successful.
Well, I look at it from the standpoint that it’s still going to be a success. With my first single, honestly, one thing that I fear is that if Southern music becomes one sound, then once people deem that sound no longer marketable, then there go all those people within that circle who push it to the side. With me loving what I do so much, with me loving the place that I’m from so much, with me loving rap music as much as I do, it’s funny because no matter what people do I still have success. T.I.’s single ‘Rubberband Man’ is one of the most played singles in rap right now – I produced it. Nelly ‘Tip Drill’ – I produced that. God is allowing me to definitely keep my foot in the door, but for me it is what it is. I just take it day by day, know what I’m dealing with holistically, and keep it moving.
AllHipHop.com: Would you say you notice a significant difference within yourself and the people around you from the time you were underground versus mainstream?
When I was underground, I was more or less alone. That’s one of my gripes. People in general, regardless of what people think and what people say, I was alone for the most part. There was a certain few who helped me, but they only helped me at levels. It may have been a person on the literary side that helped me, but they would never get out in the streets and grind with me. I had people who would grind with me in one city, but couldn’t go city to city to city. I made my own beats, started my own company, pressed up my own records, pressed up my own cd’s – that’s coming from a state where I didn’t have examples. That was actually what people didn’t understand about the first song on the new album, is that through this experience I’ve gained a certain level of calmness. Good or bad, what happened last year nobody can take away from me. The doors that I was able to open…
The major difference that I see is that so many people didn’t believe, but now everybody got an opinion, and they expect everything. People don’t look at the way that they treat you, cuz they think that you have so much money or think that you have so much influence. They only see how you react. They hit you and hit you and hit you, then you slap the shit out of them and they say ‘he’s uncontrollable’.
AllHipHop.com: Sometimes fans can be annoyingly rude to artists, can’t they?
That’s the thing that I tell people all the time. One of the problems is, honestly I think in a lot of cases, people want to be treated like assholes, because that’s almost what they expect. I don’t do VIP. Most of the time when you see me I’m with the crowd, I’m around the people, but it’s to the point where you always got an idiot. The bad thing about it is that most people who are idiots, they act tough and you knock them out, they sue you.
AllHipHop.com: How successful do you feel that the Crank It Up scholarship giveaway was for you?
When I do things that’s right, I don’t look at whether it was a success or not. Just that the kids are able to get the scholarships, which they are receiving now – that’s the only success. I had the opportunity to give away fifty-thousand dollars of whatever I wanted to, and that’s what I chose. The music has to be what people say is marketable, so it’s really not about all the exterior stuff.
AllHipHop.com: Your song “Cadillac On 22’s” is a letter to God, and “Mississippi” is more politically driven. Do you ever feel that the media focuses too much on your club anthems and not enough on your positive side?
That’s just the nature of the beast. They say they want us to be positive, but they really don’t want us to be positive – they want to control us. I was attacked by somebody just recently in a forum held in Atlanta, the funny thing was that when they were asked ‘have you heard "Cadillac On 22’s" before?’, the first thing he said was ‘no’. So I’m like ‘okay, well how can you judge me by one song?’ Something I said in Like A Pimp that nobody really took notice too, I said ‘I still have love for my Queens, but bitches hipped me to the game’, so the thing is, I understand what it takes in order to be successful. I understand that if you’re not successful, all the positive things don’t matter, cuz kids won’t want to listen to it anyway. It’s up to you to keep yourself current and hot, because the attention span goes as far as their amazement in you. Now, what you can put into their heads during that time of amazement is really based on your ability to make hits.
Part II of David Banner "Soul of a Man" is forthcoming on AllHipHop.com.