Hip-hop has been a source of as much frustration as revenue for the recording industry. In an increasingly fallow landscape for commerce, hip-hop artists have been consistent earners, chalking up the record sales figures that industry executives like to trumpet, but doing so by releasing material that often embraces violence and drug use, views women sexual playthings, and glorifies a shallow, materialistic lifestyle that fuels an unmaintainable and immature status culture among its adherents. David Banner might be doing something about this. The Mississippi rapper has already testified before Congress about the content of his lyrics and shown a higher level of thought by putting together, as he says, the “largest urban music festival ever” to raise funds for survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Now, after finding himself typecast by Hollywood as a thug, Banner has decided to step away from both the recording and film industry and release Sex, Lies, and Video Games directly to his audience. Banner hopes that two million people will donate a dollar to his project; he will then use this cash as seed money to shoot a full-length movie. Though his movement is in its infancy, Banner speaks of it with the fervor of a man assured of success.
With Sex, Lies and Video Games, you’re essentially stepping outside the recording industry. What motivated this move?
It was actually my movie career. I was auditioning for all of these movies, and I sat back one day and realized that I didn’t even want any of these parts. I’m auditioning to be something that I don’t want to be. I’m not an ex-convict selling drugs out of an Escalade. Every part I was getting to read had something to do with jail, and I don’t think that’s anything close to the totality of my people. But I didn’t get angry. Usually I would be angry about something like that, but I realized it wasn’t Hollywood’s job to accurately portray my folks. And when I talk about folks, I’m talking about black and white. It’s up to me to show things as they are. That’s the genesis of the movement we call 2M1. M goal is to get two million people to donate one dollar; most people may think it’s about the money. It’s also about the e-mails we get- two million people who want to show that they’ll do something. I don’t mean follow you on Twitter or look at your free YouTube videos- really do something to support an artist. The act of pulling out the credit card and giving that one dollar is incredibly powerful. Other people have asked me whether I’m contradicting myself by giving away that free album, and the answer is no; this free album-and it’s an album, not a mix tape- is to show that hip-hop has allowed itself to be degraded to the point where everything is free all the time. We know people can download this music for free if they choose to, but I’m asking, as a man, for people to put up a dollar for an album with Lil’ Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Chris Brown, A$AP Rocky, and Big K.R.I.T. This is a chance to show what we really believe about hip-hop.
How did you arrive at the figure of two million? What’s special about two million people or two million dollars?
I don’t know. I prayed on it and I meditated, and that was the number that I got. I honestly can’t tell you any more than that. It was literally what God gave back to me. And with a million of those dollars, we’re going to shoot a movie and give it back to the people the same exact way.
Are you worried at all that this number is too ambitious? All respect, but your last record didn’t sell two million copies. Do you think that many people have a copy, even if it’s illegal?
Either way it goes, I don’t worry about the past. I don’t worry about what people’s perception of my worth is. My belief is in God, and my belief is in the will of our people to do right if guided in the right direction. This is not about me. This is way, way bigger than me. This is not just a selfish ploy to get money. I know how to get money. That ain’t the problem. This is about creating a base of people to move in the same direction at the same time. This is not about David Banner. This is about making a new structure. I’m releasing a song every week, followed by a video. I’m not going to release one song and be done with it; this album isn’t about singles. This is an album, period. I’m not concentrating on one song, because it’s bigger than one song. This is about the work of hip-hop. But if you want to talk about it, if you take the number of people who have been influenced by one of my albums, my YouTubes, whatever- two million people have come across it. With that in mind, I don’t worry about that kind of thing- that’s what people who sit back and watch other people’s moves do. This was a vision given to me, and I’m going to get it. I was from Mississippi, and everybody told me that I wasn’t going to make it. I made it. I threw the largest urban relief concert in history. People laughed at me when I said I was going to do for my people. When I said I was coming to Hollywood to act, what did people say? I’m not worried about that, homie. You can either sit back and watch, or donate and be a part of that two million, so we can be on our way. If it’s one person donating two million dollars or two million donating one, we’ll reach our goal.
Putting aside fiscal issues, how can people who buy this record see a difference? Will it be thematically different from your records up to this point?
I don’t think that’s necessary. If you took the movement away from this record, if you took away the way we’re releasing it, the album is simply jammin’. There are a lot of critics out there who will say what they’ll say about the album, but they never pay for a record. Show me somebody who really cares about this music, and tell me what that person has to say about it. The critic is going to ask why I didn’t produce. Why does it fucking matter if the record is jammin’? People look for a reason not to like something- especially the people that get it for free. Why do they give a fuck anyway? I had to find a way to do the records that people who know me wanted. Sex, Drugs, and Video Games is really about us. Most times, we only get the stimuli of sex, drugs, and violence. Why do we wonder why violence is our preset, or we’re attracted to sex-selling reality shows, or why our kids are the way they are? We’re foolish to think that we arrived here on our own. If you only have two choices, do we really have a choice?
What I’m trying to get at here- is this music that you’ve made the music you feel you need to found your movement?
No. I think people delve too much into something. I believe in making jamming music. I don’t sacrifice my business for the sake of my movement. The music is jammin’. At the end of the day, there are songs that reflect the movement, and I do wrap it up in a package, but I’m making jammin’ records. What I do with those records is the movement. I couldn’t tailor the music, because I understand my audience. You have to move people in a direction slowly.
So you’re putting something out there that’s an alternative to the violent option, but you have to put it out slowly?
If you know David Banner, you know that I’ve been doing that since day one. Nothing’s changed there. You’re going to bring up “Like A Pimp,” but the song after that, “Cadillac on 22s’s” addresses the fact that I know the kids are listening and I should be doing something different. Crooked Lettaz and Death of a Pop Star were the only albums that I’ve done to cater to the more cerebral crowd. The rest of my albums have always been a Bible with a Playboy cover on it. Most albums I’ve put out are spiritual and politically leaning, but people don’t ever seem to hear those songs.
That’s not the kind of thing that you bump out of your car.
That’s because most people that have bump in their music don’t have a message. I had a lot of people bumping “Swag” out of their car. The problem is, people that have a positive message to their music think it has to be positive sounding. That discriminates against the music. If you put God on the record, it’s gospel. It can be Southern; it can be evil; it can be East Coast or West Coast. It’s an instrument to be used in the making of the song. We did that to music; we put it in that box. Public Enemy used to be jamming, and we would bump that out of cars. N.W.A. was political, and we bumped that. We just got in the mindset that it has to be one or the other.
How did you approach people to be on the record? Are they being paid, or did they do this as a favor?
It’s different with everybody. How I’m paying them ain’t really to publish. All people got to know is that it all came out of my pocket. And what you got to understand is that a favor ain’t free either. Whether it’s a beat, or it’s something I got to do, ain’t nothing free. What people need to understand is that it is free for them. The structure we have around hip-hop, which is one of the quickest ways for urban youth to become is rich, is getting larger and larger. I don’t believe that it has to be that way.
Can you tell me anything about the movie you want make? Do you have an idea? A script?
We’re in the process of wrapping that up. I don’t really want to get into the movie right now, because we’re in the process of focusing on the matter at hand. The matter at hand is to get two million people by July 22. For us to do what we want to do, everything has to be in by July 22. I’m cutting off everything that has to do with Sex, Drugs, and Video Games at that point. Until then, everything else is on the back burner. After that, we can talk about the movie as much as you need to, but right now I need you and everybody you know to be a part of this movement. And I’m talking about you individually.
I know. That’s why I wanted to talk to you. When people do something like this, it’s usually some kind of stunt or some way to get over.
Let me tell you this as a person. I am giving away a David Banner album with sixteen tracks and sixteen videos. How can I be getting over? What you just said illustrates the mindset of the younger generation. The first thing our generation thinks is “Let me see how this guy is getting over.” When have you heard, one time, of the artist David Banner has ever done anything crooked? Whether it was Congress, whether it was Katrina, I have stood for hip-hop. And the first question that I have to answer is what I’m hiding? And you put that next to Luis Vuitton, Doritos, and all the other products that are forced into hip-hop even though they have not once been marketed to us,-we know that they’re getting over on us.
If this would have been Brother Ali, Bon Iver, or Tech N9ne, I would have asked the same question. That’s my job.
If you really think about it, people are getting over on me. It’s a full album for a dollar. It has all these people on it, and I’m asking for the donation of a dollar. And people are holding on to that dollar, wondering if I’m getting over?
The old saying is: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
The problem is with us. Most times, things do turn out good. I’m trying to do something for the hip-hop fans, to give them something, and I’m answering the questions. If an artist treats his fans like shit, there’s never any question about it. The ones that don’t show up on time, the ones that don’t sign no autographs, the ones that treat people disrespectfully- it goes right back to Sex, Drugs, and Video Games. That’s crazy to me. It shows how far our music has fallen. We can either complain or do something about it. That’s what this movement is about.