IN COVERSATION WITH …
DAVID BANNER, Rapper, Producer, Businessman
“All that damn talking don’t mean nothing if you aren’t creating job opportunities for people to improve their quality of life.”
Mississippi born and raised
A semester and a thesis away from my Master’s Degree.
An Advocate—testified before Congress about racism and misogyny in Hip-Hop
Grammy Nominated Producer
Those are the obvious things, but do they really answer the question of who I am? I think that is a life-long question because as a functioning human being who is on a quest for understanding and knowledge, I am constantly evolving. In some cases backsliding and trying to ride right again, so for me to say, “who I am is…” I think the best definition is, “a grateful servant of the Most High.” I believe that we are all part of the greater One Source, we are an extension of that, and there is nothing about that for us to be humble about. The Almighty, One Source is humble within itself, I believe that we are to be grateful.
One of the greatest falsehoods out there is that rappers are not intelligent. Some of the most knowledgeable and well-read guys I know are rappers. My first word was ‘ambidextrous.’ My mom would teach me a new word every week. I read on a Junior level when I was in 3rd grade. I am an infinite student. I want to learn forever, for as long as I have the ability.
Through the things that work for me I want to pass them on to my people. The level of freedom that I have been able to gain physically, mentally, spiritually is one that I never thought was possible. I don’t think I have ever been this at peace within my life and I am mindful about that. I believe that too much happiness is like too much sadness, so I stay in the middle seeking to be still, reflective, and balanced. I take that as a responsibility upon myself to be in the control of my life.
I FOUND MY VOICE
“Our most powerful leaders will come from the South because they know more about oppression,” Minister Farrakhan once said to me, and it synchronized the necessity I felt in my youth when I started to rap. I wanted to change the perception of how people viewed us in Mississippi. I felt like we were viewed negatively even among our own people from other states in the South. I wanted to change that by giving the people from where I was from a reason to be proud. I took all the negative things they said about the South and I turned it back on folks. And when I felt like I did a good job getting that message over in my music then I wanted to change the ideology of what people thought about young black men in America.
I remember my first time going on BET’s 106 & Park, I could feel the negative way people looked at me (being that ‘rapper’ from the Mississippi) like there was some underlying joke and I felt it. When cameras rolled, I was so articulate and knowledgeable. I saw it in their faces that my read on them was accurate. I crushed every stereotype. The third time I went on the show I purposefully wore an EMMETT TILL t-shirt and the interest among children all across the country in finding out who he was spiked. Sometime after I spoke to one of Emmett’s family members who told me that the momentum from my appearance was one of the reasons that the case was being considered again. It was because I had taken the responsibility to put his face on national stage. I am grateful to be able to say I did that.
Like a lot of artists, you get caught up in the fame. You get caught up in the money, the access, the lifestyle. It is easy. I don’t regret anything. I believe I was supposed to be the exact David Banner that I was. I am just glad that I didn’t sit in it too long, or get so far gone that I couldn’t find my way back to my purpose. When I got an opportunity to outside of America, I was able to see what I was contributing to (the beautiful evil). I had one of the number one song in the nation “Get Like Me” with CHRIS BROWN. I was touring throughout Europe and got the opportunity to see how America was broadcasting black people, especially black men, to the rest of the world and I was embarrassed. There was no amount of money, no amount of fame, nothing that someone could give me that would make me want to do any part of that again.
My personal belief is that modern day Hip-Hop sold into white supremacy and didn’t even know it. They now longer have to call us niggas. We call ourselves that and then have the false belief that we are owning or commandeering something. We went from “Up With Hope, Down With Dope” to the drug users and in a grave, indirect way I was part of that culture. Spiritually, I was in unrest.
When I got my Grammy nomination for LIL’ WAYNE’S “The Carter 3,” I remember, coming home opening the door excited to say, “we did it,” and all that came back to me was silence. I realized there was no one there and that was another eye-opening moment for me: you go and acquire all these amazing things only to realize that the best things in life you only get one shot at and they are free. In my head, I was telling myself that I was grinding for my family and grinding for myself, but I missed everything. I missed my brother’s whole life because I was always on the go. Yes, the money and houses are fine, but he needed his big brother and I wasn’t there. I gave to everyone else: the artists, the music and there is no loyalty in that. It was all misplaced. I wasn’t happy with just being a rapper any more.
OWNING DAVID BANNER
Next year, every aspect of David Banner, I will own. I have now paid for my own projects 100%, and I’m developing movies, TV show, and my albums. To say that I am a man amongst men is something of which I am so proud. The life that I live today is not about blaming other people, independent of their fault or responsibility, and I realized that I am very grateful to my experience. I was a top artist on a major label, but I realized that I could never be STEVE RIFKIND working for Steve Rifkind. I knew that I had to be my own boss, and that required a leap.
I don’t believe faith is you jumping off the mountain and then suddenly taking flight. I believe that faith is you jumping off the mountain and God allowing you to hit the ground, waiting and seeing if you are going to curse His/Her name, and then you accomplishing the goal. Anyone can jump. That does not take faith. Faith comes after. For me it came in the form of being able to take those bigger steps and walking towards the fear and establishing a comfort with fear. I remember when I first bought my office I only knew how to grind in someone else’s infrastructure. I knew how to write music, produce my own records, and build me. I did not know how to build a team, manage a team, and delegate. However, I had a vision for a company so I got the physical space and then sat in it alone for nearly a year trying to figure it out and learn even when folks said it wasn’t working. That is when you dig deeper. That is when faith comes in. If your dreams don’t make you sweat at night, then they are not big enough.
I was lecturing to group of graduating lawyers recently and I told them that I feel like I failed them. We are one of the few communities on this planet who sends our brightest stars, our brightest minds, our greatest scientists, our greatest athletes and talents to go and work for the same people who have never cared about indigenous people, people of color—of culture. For me, it is my responsibility as I move into the elder realm to provide jobs for the next generation. All that damn talking don’t mean nothing if you aren’t creating job opportunities for people to improve their quality of life. WENDELL STEMLY, CEO of Black IPO said, “you cannot lead a people if you cannot feed the people.” Those are facts.
During the exodus of The Great Migration (1916-1970), there was an unspoken rule that you as a black southerner were to do one of two things if you left. Whether you went to the north, the east or the west, you were supposed to find the promised land where jobs were and get educated in order to:
Come back and teach
Come back and pull the people out, and take them to the promised land.
Somewhere along the way our people got distracted by government jobs, or co-opted the mentality of how white society views blacks, and started looking at those left behind in the same way: as something outside of themselves that had to be discarded and they were now better than. In a real way, we/they failed by turning their backs on the illustrious history and the pain of those people from the South. As MARCUS GARVEY once said, “I don’t have a problem with white people. I have a problem with white supremacy.” People are supposed to take care of their own first. It is not white racism that is the problem it is the lack of black people’s racism that is the problem as it pertains to themselves—being of the mindset that they are supposed to take care of their own first. I applaud the black people who stayed and endured.
I think sometimes that when we look at our history—the pains that have been afflicted upon us and attributed to us—I think sometimes we step away from it because it to just too painful. We internalize and see it as a place of shame that we are seeking to separate from. We forget our divine place as men and women of the Most High. This is a detriment to the overall history of our people. If you look at any other race they never let you forget. They own it like a badge of courage.
I believe that the pain of what our people went through in Mississippi is what fueled me and helped me to push through when I had nothing. I think sometimes when you are able to take away the selfishness or the fact that it is not always about you, it helps you to push through. I think that is what Mississippi did for me as it pertains to me being the type of Activist that I am. It is also why I don’t expect people to give me kudos for something that I am supposed to do. Who I am as a man, an alpha man, this is what I am supposed to do. I am supposed to lead.
ABOUT THAT SOUTHERN DRAWL
You ever wonder why we talk like with do? It’s so clear, but again requires thought in order to debunk it instead of blind acceptance of a stereotype that has nothing to do with the intelligence of formerly enslaved people. Slaves learned to speak English from the slave driver who was usually the least articulate person in the town. He was on one of the lowest rungs of the societal structure and spoke broken English. It was he who interacted with the enslaved, teaching them to speak in his way – a circumstance that was never corrected and yet the ownership of it is attributed to us.
There is usually a history connected to all of the ailments that afflict our people in this country, and it is uncovered through educating yourself beyond what they are trying teach you, or how they are trying to distract you. Read for your freedom, and discover your truth. Knowledge is not just power. It is the key to everything, especially debunking the stereotypes placed upon our people.
“It’s My Fault Even When It isn’t.”
Even when it is someone else’s fault, they don’t give a damn. Nothing will change unless you take responsibility for the things that affect you. I don’t worry about other people. I have come to learn that within the Law of Attraction your true prayer is what you think on the most so we are going to have to start thinking beyond another’s actions and focus squarely on our future as it pertains to a better path. We must engage in Sankofa (“it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind”) and then move forward.
A wise man once told me that, “the man who can control his appetite can control the universe.” There are two things that we were meant to do on this planet: survive and reproduce. Eating, in its purest form, is about providing your body a sufficient level of substance for survival. I intermittently fast for 30 days at a time to be able to lift yourself above your most base programming, to me is godly. I think God lies more in discipline, than in gain. My father would always say to me, “it is what you say no to that makes you a man, it is not what you say yes to.” I am gaining control of myself mentally and spiritually.
BROTHERS LIFT US UP: When We Fall Down:
The best thing you can do if you want to find God is close your eyes. About seven years ago, I was living in LA, looking fly by all outward appearances, and I was in a very severe depression. One day, I am at the Four Season and BILL DUKE, who I only knew as this legendary actor and director comes up to me and says, “brother I know you are hurting I got something than can help you.” He pulled me aside and spoke to me right then and there about mediation. Let me just say this first, my Christian upbringing has been more of a hindrance to my forward progression as it has been a blessing. Part of the Southern enslavement indoctrination is that we became fearful towards anything, any teachings, that are not in the Bible. I was hurting. I was in so much pain at that point in my life that I would have done/tried anything outside of sacrificing my spiritual beliefs or my manhood to get that pain off me. Independent of what I was raised to believe, I accept that God works through His people and I knew I had to do something so I listened.
It took a while for him to gain my trust, but he did. He never waivered. He never asked anything of me or expected something in return. I knew Mr. Duke cared about me and I knew that he would not put me in a position to knowingly introduce me to something that could be detrimental to my life. I was brave enough, or sick enough, to do what he said—to go inward and meditate though all the noise and pain—and it changed the course of my life. That was seven years ago, and I practice every day.
When I wake up each morning at 4:30AM, the first thing I do is make my bed, do my meditation and prayer, and read from a group of 7 books that I keep on my nightstand. There is something we can learn from every faith. Muslims center themselves in thought before they begin to pray. I agree with that. We should all prepare ourselves and our minds before we come to God each day.
All those lights and opportunity of LA, yet I was in one of the lowest points in my life, and SNOOP DOGG was integral in helping me to get past. I remember one day, I was out and ran into him. I had this fly Bentley that everybody knew about and he asked where it was. I told him that it had broken down. Without a thought he threw me the keys to the car he was driving and gave me his car while he went on tour. I drove his car for two months. He never called once to ask after it or even to get it back. I had to find him and return it. That’s how his heart works. I have so much love for him and will forever be grateful. The reason that these children today don’t show unity is because we don’t show unity, which is why I am always open to tell people about the brothas who have saved and changed my life.
My dreams lie in pulling things from the unknown, unspoken, and make them known. In doing so, to show my people that there is a oneness between them and a Higher Source.
The Browder Files by Anthony T. Browder changed my life. I was in the eleventh grade when I was given this book composed of essays about the African American experience-rooted in science, history, and our original culture.
The Alchemist by PAOLO COHELO: I read this book every year, and every year I get something different out of it because I am in different life space each time so my perspective and need is never the same.
The Four Agreements by DON MIGUEL RUIZ: “God does not need your help, but a lie does.” It is not my favorite book, but this is my favorite phrase.
In seeking to find a way to share some of the things that have come to fill me up and have fueled my spirit in the same way that OUTKAST and GOODIE MOBB did for me, I created The God Box.*
In as much as I speak of my faith and study expanding my consciousness, I must give credit to Hip-Hop for being one of the most important teachers. I was exposed to it a lot earlier than most, even before they were playing it on main-dial radio stations. We glorify the hood, but that is not a calm and peaceful place for our families or us. Hip-Hop consciousness showed me that we can go anywhere that our minds and creativity can take us. We can go to Stankonia with ANDRE 3000 and BIG BOI, or you can go to El Segundo with TRIBE CALLED QUEST.
BRAND NUBIAN is why I stopped eating pork (11th grade). SEDAT X formerly Derek X spoke on it and I listened.
DIGABLE PLANETS is why I started listening to jazz.
GOODIE MOBB literally changed the whole course of my life when I was thinking about going in the wrong direction.
TUPAC was the example of someone who could have lived the life of a king, but decided to stay with the people struggling for survival.
SCARFACE showed me the lyrical dexterity of someone from the deep South.
PIMP C and UGK showed me a ferociousness I had never seen before in the game. Southern people do have a hustle spirit, but a lot of time that has been taken advantage of or overlooked because of our love and kindness. However, UGK showed me we can have edge.
(*) The God Box is available on available at www.DavidBannerShop.com