David Banner’s Black Fist Is Still Up (And He Wants You To Step Into “The God Box”)

David Banner proves that pivots are necessary in hip-hop. He talks with UGHH about being self-made and where he plans to go.

David Banner’s journey in music is like a boomerang; first thrown in the mid-‘90s. Forming the down home Mississippi duo Crooked Lettaz (with Kamikaze) at around that time, he gave footing to the argument that The ‘Sip had something to say. When Grey Skies came out, it changed everything.

Hits like “Get Crunk” and “Firewater” were underground classics and propelled a young David Banner to temporary fame. It was a window of time pushing him to make a decision about where his career was heading; and from there he chose to ink a deal with Universal Records after perhaps the biggest song of his career, “Like A Pimp” (with Lil’ Flip), blew up.

Years later (and after more mainstream success), Banner continued to find himself through life and his music. He was underground, went mainstream, and then began easing himself back into what he had started. It’s not that he ever lost his message, but it never seemed like he was in the right space. During a recent interview with UGHH, the Jackson (or Jack-Town as they call it in the South), Mississippi native explained why now everything is coming full circle for him.

Recently releasing his latest seventh solo studio album The God Box, David Banner ended his seven-year hiatus from music with some really “Jammin’” tunes. The LP incorporates the easy-listening, 808-based splendor he’s commercially known for and the conscious lyrical messaging his more contemporary image holds. It’s like preaching the gospel over a live band with the boomerang returning right on time.

It’s been a while since you’ve put out an LP. What’s it like just putting out music again and getting that feeling that you’re going to be presenting something to the public that they’re going to consume?

Psychologically it’s crazy because there’s good and bad aspects of it. When you put out an album, there’s this fever for people to want to be around you or your phone to start ringing again. You can’t walk through the grocery story without being stopped a million times—which I’ve been homeless before, so that’s a good problem to have—but [there’s] so much information and so many people calling and texting.

I’m a more zen-like, peaceful person now, and I’m finding that true success is about centering yourself and centering your spirit. When you have an album out it’s not an easy thing to do. Like I said, I came out to the wilderness to do this interview. What rappers do that?

I’ve talked about this before; I so wanted to tell Dave Chappelle he wasn’t the only one that wanted to go to Africa. I just couldn’t afford it at the time [laughs].

[Laughs].

I just ran to Baltimore. That’s all my frequent flyer miles could take me to [laughs]. What I’m saying though is that it’s awesome. This is the first time in my career that I’m starting to hear the talk I want to hear. I’m finally starting to hear “classic album” talk. I’m starting to hear people respect me for my lyrical depth. As many hit records I’ve produced—from Lil Wayne to Chris Brown to Maroon 5 to Quincy Jones—I’m finally getting respect for my production even from all the stuff that I’ve done.

You mentioned being able to do more of what you want on this album. How did you decide what you wanted to present fans on this LP?

Ummm. It’s funny, man, and I don’t really have a deep answer for it. I just write about how I am mentally. I’m a different person now. I’m sober now, I’m not high, so I think my thought process is more clear. I’m a little bit more focused. I’m able to reach places through meditation that I could only get to by smoking weed or being drunk or some shit. I just talk about where I am. I have a deep vested interest in the salvation of melanated people of this world, the safety of melanated people of this world. The treatment of African people is similar all over this fucking Earth, and why is that? Nobody seems to care. The fact that I can make jammin’ music that people can dance to, study to.

I think one of the underrated elements of the album is that it’s very Mississippi, and it gets that way heavy on “My Uzi.” You feature Big K.R.I.T. and he’s someone—at least in interviews I’ve done—who’s point to you as someone that’s been a big influence on him. Explain that bond and where that came from.

Well the thing is, I learn from K.R.I.T., also. K.R.I.T. is a special being. He’s a special person—and to be honest with you, if I could’ve created in a lab the next person to come after me, I don’t think I could’ve created a Big K.R.I.T. I couldn’t have hoped for a better person. Just his spirit and how much he loves the culture. I haven’t met too many people who real life love the culture as much as he does. When K.R.I.T. hears wack shit he gets mad. I be like dawg, calm down. It’s a song, bruh. He real life gets mad. He be like, “Big bruh, you see what they doing to the music?” [I’m like] “It’s alright man, chill out bro.”

The thing I like about K.R.I.T. is there’s an underlining competition between me and him, but it’s not an emasculating competition. It’s not I want to embarrass him or I want to see him harm or hurt his feelings. It’s like it’s two alpha males who really care and are really emotional about this form of music. He makes me better and I hope I make him better.

I was supposed to be the only person on “My Uzi.” I told K.R.I.T. I wanted him to jump on the album and see what he liked and as soon as he heard Pimp C’s voice he was like, “That one.”

Of course [laughs].

When I wrote the first verse, I didn’t write it from a competition standpoint or nothing like that because I don’t compete against other Black people anymore. It was more like a story-type of thing, and then when K.R.I.T. jumped on there and did what he did I was like, “Hell nah. I’m not going to get nobody else get me on this track.” I got on the third verse and stepped it up. I didn’t write it from the perspective of somebody else being there, so the song had another feel. If you end up listening to the record, the music rise, the track rise and keeps going and then just when you think the song is over, we took you to Never Never Land.

I also want to tell people that at the end of “My Uzi,” that’s not a sample. John Dempsey, who scored Passion of the Christ [and all of the Ironman movies], that’s an actual, original composition he made and composed for me. That’s not a sample. I paid for that.

Also in the Mississippi realm you have Tito Lopez on “Black Fist.” He’s always been another guy who does conscious-based hip-hop and is super appropriate for this track. How does he fit in and also, how does this track and even album fit into today’s political climate, or at least how you see it?

One of the things I truly believe is that Tito Lopez is one of the greatest lyricists in hip-hop. Period. I will put Tito line-for-line against any rapper on this earth. For me to be able to help him bring his perspective to the world is something that I’m honored to do. Tito’s outlook on the world in so many cases matches how I see it.

I think when you have two people on the track who are coming from different perspectives, but believe in the same thing, it helps to bring a certain level of synergy. He’s able to bring one perspective and bring people to the table; I bring people to the table and we talk about the matter at hand.

Actually, I think Tito had the dopest line I ever heard and definitely one of my favorite lines on the album. He said—and I’ve never really thought about it—he said, “We have to play where they lynched us.” If you think about when Black people would get killed or the [Ku Klux Klan] would come for their family—white people never did it in their neighborhoods. They would always go to the Black community.

Imagine if your uncle got hung from a tree and his kids got to go play in they yard the next day or there was a burning cross outside. Think about the psychological ramification of having to play in the same places, in the same woods, the same yard that your people were killed or raped or murdered. That is a constant reminder of how America feels about you. Tito Lopez was able to say that and encapsulate that in one line. I think it was epic.

Yeah, he’s one of those guys. Do you feel though that emcees are more pressured to rap consciously today due to the increasing amount of stories coming out about police brutality, our president and racism in general?

I don’t really know because the three artists you’re talking about now, that’s all they know and all they have been. It’s a way of life for us. We don’t know the pressures that rappers who don’t historically speak about those types of issues [face] because we’ve always talked about it.

If you go back to my first album, I talked about [George] Bush. Actually, with the exception of my second album, most of my albums have always been spiritual, more than anything. So I don’t know the pressures than they have, but I do think our people are waking up.

I think America’s waking up in general and that’s what I was telling people. I thought [that was] the positive aspect of [Donald] Trump. [It’s] that Trump is ripping the veil off of America’s face and showing America what everybody’s already known—maybe besides a whole section of white people—where America stands as it pertains to race relations and the value of life outside of white people. You’re better able to deal with social issues and speak the truth when you really put it on the table. I think with Trump’s presidency, it was thrown in everybody’s face. Black people were basically like, “This is what we’ve been telling y’all since we came over here.”

You literally just went into my next question, bringing up Trump and the comments you made right after he was elected. I was going to ask if you regret that, but it sounds like you’re still behind that, and I understand why. It reveals what certain white people think…

That’s historically what [white] people have been thinking the whole time is the thing I think we don’t put together. Then you’ve got to understand that they were taught that behavior from somewhere. For them to feel bold enough to say it means in a lot of cases those parents also echo those same emotions.

Not to make a lot of this about K.R.I.T. but he said something like that to me once. He said, in Mississippi, you know when white people don’t like you by making it clearly known. Is that true in your experiences growing up there as well?

I do see a difference. I always tell people that white people in Mississippi are the greatest white people on the earth and people ask me why and I tell them, “If a white person likes you in Mississippi, they will die for you. If they don’t like you, they’ll try to kill you; but at least you’ll know where you are.”

Do you think things are playing out like you thought they would since making that statement in November?

Of course. And now people are seeing what I’m saying. A lot of people thought I was crazy and now people are saying, “You were right, Banner.” No matter what somebody does, it is still our responsibility to react in the proper way. We can get all the signs in the world, but if we don’t stand for ourselves it’s going to historically stay the same way.

I wanna take you back for a moment because I’m a big Crooked Lettaz fan and I love Grey Skies. “Get Crunk” is a classic, and I’d love to know about how you and Kamikaze came together with Pimp C for it and your opinion of his legacy.

The thing is, at the time we did “Get Crunk,” Pimp was and will always remain a folk hero to our people. Pimp C is bigger than rap to me. When I first did “Get Crunk,” it was amazing even being around someone we looked up to—that talked like we talk and went through the same experiences and were interested in the same things.

After “Like A Pimp” came out, I started writing him in jail and we became friends, all the way up until his death. Just to have that man in my life… I am proud of myself, but no matter how big I get, I’m still a fan. Snoop is my friend, but I’m still a fan. Scarface is a mentor; I’m still a fan. Pimp C was a close friend, still a fan. I’m just honored to be able to know them. I’m so happy that I was able to find a way to get him or get his voice on this album.

Speak your piece in the comments below or over at the UGHH Forums.