On Sept. 26, David Banner joined fellow MC Master P, music industry executives and scholars to discuss offensive language in hip-hop music before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
On Sept. 26, David Banner joined fellow MC Master P, music industry executives and scholars to discuss offensive language in hip-hop music before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Reading from a statement, the 33-year-old Mississippi rapper/producer tenaciously defended hip-hop from its detractors. "Drugs, violence and the criminal element were around long before hip-hop existed," testified the rapper, born Level Crump.
It wasn't the first time Banner articulated his stance on the issue. A few weeks prior to the congressional hearing, he sat in on a panel discussion hosted by hip-hop Web site allhiphop.com, on which he debated panelist Master P, once known as a gangster rapper, for denouncing the use of profane lyrics. In recent months, Banner has taken the Rev. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey to task for their roles in the war against rap.
Through his own nonprofit, Heal the Hood, Banner has been at the forefront of a number of philanthropic activities-including, in 2005, the largest urban benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina victims. He also recently created his own Adult Swim cartoon, "That Crook'd Sipp," and is slated to release his fourth album, "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (Universal Motown/SRC Records), Nov. 20. In coming months, Banner is scheduled to work with Lil Wayne, Chris Brown and Quincy Jones, among others.
"Rap music is the voice of the underbelly of America," Banner said in the conclusion to his testimony. "How dare America not give us the opportunity to be heard."
Here, he expands on his thoughts with Billboard.
In your testimony, you said, "when you fix our community, we'll fix our lyrics." What do you think society needs to do to change the situations in the communities, and in turn, how will that change the lyrics in hip-hop?
Our music is influenced by our environment. In Jackson, Miss., there's only one boys' club, no theaters, no recreational programs. But [they] don't want these kids to be gang bangers? I have friends who are college graduates that have to resort to other things because it's so difficult to find jobs. Imagine how hard it is for someone who doesn't have an education to get employment.
At the Katrina hearing one congressman asked, "Haven't we done enough for Katrina?" These people live in a world we don't live in. It's hard to speak for the majority when you don't live under the same conditions. People don't want to party if they're broke. They don't want to sing happy songs if they're broke.
You said rap music kept you out of trouble growing up. Can you remember a specific instance when you turned to a rap song or lyric as opposed to turning to the streets?
I can tell you of times when I was pissed off and wanted to blow up right now. But, instead I go to a club and listen to Lil' Jon to vent. Rap music does for us the same thing gospel did for the slaves. We communicate our anger through music.
You also mentioned that growing up, some of the violence you witnessed was by kids that were sent down south from Chicago. Was that just one example of violence in your neighborhood?
That's only one example. There are hundreds and hundreds of things that add to the equation. I remember watching dance groups in Mississippi turn into gangs. For us, gangs weren't entirely negative. It was a way of life. That's all I grew up around. That's all I saw with my friends. Gangs weren't negative when they started, but when [they're] taking recreational areas and parks away from us and gangs are all we have, what else are we supposed to do?
It's no different than America. The war we're in is about money. America points the fingers at young black men when the biggest gangster is unfolded in the war. When I say, "I don't care what you think about this war, I'm going to continue," that's gangster. If I come to your country and say I just discovered it although you've been here for years, that's gangster. They brought Africans to this country and stripped them of their language, their culture. We lost our traditions because they beat it out of us. That's gangster.
So basically America is pinning the blame for social ills on hip-hop and trying to sweep the bigger problems under the rug?
Of course. Why is it that if a kid in Cambodia gets pregnant by a chihuahua dog it's somehow tracked back to hip-hop? They said in Congress that what you see is more powerful than what you hear, but they don't criticize Martin Scorcese and the governor of California, who's killed more people on screen than anybody I know. The hypocrisy amazes me.
During slavery, [they] weren't trying to ban words. They called us n*ggers back then and we just had to take it. Now that we've taken ownership of [the word] they want to ban it. It's the same as how you can go straight from high school to the professionals in tennis and golf, but you can't in football and basketball because that's the 'black way.' I've seen dog fighting all my life growing up in Mississippi, but now that Michael Vick's done it it's a national phenomenon and now they're trying to say hip-hop started it.
Recently, you've denounced Rev. Al Sharpton for his efforts to censor hip-hop music. Is your stance still the same?
All he's got to do to make me go away is stop attacking the kids. Out of all the atrocities going on in the world like the Jena 6, why is rap so important? We're making money, and it's not against the law.
Why do you think some rappers like Chamillionaire and Master P have in their own way sided with cleaning up music? And what are your thoughts now after you and Master P argued over profanity in hip-hop at the AllHipHop panel?
You can't put Chamillionaire in the same category as Master P. He made a choice to do this on his own, to clean up his own music. I don't want to strike out at Master P either. He has the right to feel how he wants. But, if he feels so bad about denouncing black people in his music, then he should give some money back to the people. If you're a true leader you have to sacrifice. I'm sacrificing my career. This isn't helping me sell records. I do this because someone has to stand up for the people. There is a problem in hip-hop, yes, but there's also a problem in America.
Do you think the attack on hip-hop is an underlying race issue overall?
I think that's a part of it, but we have to be careful of blaming it on race because then people say we're pulling the race card. I pull the truth card. I pull the fact card. [They] didn't expect me to pull all the facts that I pulled out at Congress. I researched, I went to the library, talked to lawyers, I asked questions and went and found cases. That's the problem -- we are much too emotional as black people. We must stick to the facts. We've got enough facts behind what we're saying -- we don't have to pull the race card. That's why I stop saying "black people" and now I say "poor people." We have to understand that we have to be truthful with ourselves and understand the situation we are in, look at it for what it is and act accordingly as grown men and women.
If a white teenager is picking up your CD because he likes your music and he likes hip-hop and is influenced by the culture, does he get a pass on the N-word? For the sake of clarity, where is the line drawn?
A white dude can't say the N-word to me. I've always said, 'If you want to set me off let a white boy call me a n*gger." And the reason for that is, you can say stuff about your sister and your brother that no one else can say. You criticize America because you're American, but a foreigner can't criticize America to your face. We have the choice to do what we want to do to ourselves. You can't do what I do. You can't talk to God the way Jesus can. That's no excuse. You don't have that right. I can say what I want to about my Black brother, because I am one.
We have to stop treating the American population like they're dumb idiots. You mean to tell me that same person listening to rap is going to look at a Stephen King movie and kill people? I hate when people say, "they're being influenced by rap music." These are grown people we're talking about. If you are going to be influenced by Rap City you have that deficit in your personality in the first place. If I'm being influenced by what I see and hear and I go and do something wrong, then something's wrong with me mentally.
Hip-hop is considered a reflection of what people in these communities live and see, but can the same message be delivered without saying the N-word, bitch or hoe?
Rap is an art. I can say whatever I want to. Who are they to judge us and say what words we can and can't use? I use the words I use because they are graphic and they hurt. They're supposed to get people's attention. Where we come from we speak that way.
And I said it in Congress too. [You] don't know the way that the meaning of these words have been transformed.
How about the use of words like "bitches" and "hoes"?
Aren't there bitches out there? Those types of women exist, and if they didn't it'd be different. When someone yells in a room full of women the word "dyke," my mother isn't insulted because she isn't one.
You talked about how some artists try to switch their music to be more positive, but consumers won't buy clean music. Can artist like Talib Kweli and Common, who are considered conscious rappers, be compared? Or is there a difference?
You can use Talib as an example, although you wouldn't want to because he hasn't reached the level of success that he should have. Common you definitely can't use because he came up through Kanye West and Kanye straddles the line. And please don't think kids don't see who is successful and who isn't. That's what I hate about America, and it's also one of my qualms with hip-hop -- it lies to kids.
What we have to do is stop talking. If you want better music, buy better music. We don't put the same type of standards on actors. We don't put the pressure on Denzel [Washington] that we put on 50 Cent.
And, why is it that media outlets only report on the negative? I held the largest urban benefit concert in history. That should've been on the cover of Time magazine, [but] no one wrote about it. Reporters want us to fight against each other. There are magazines that have told me they only want people on their covers that cause drama. They perpetuate this bullsh*t.
Do you think it's any different when magazines choose to put someone on their cover that's going to help them sell issues than rappers choosing to use the type of language in their music that will help them sell records?
The difference is we could do both in music -- we can do clean music and we can do street music -- but that doesn't mean we have to put all of it out as singles. I did collaborations with Talib and Dead Prez on my last project. That was on the same album that "Play" was on. Nobody bought that album though. They probably don't even remember it.
After her show on the negativity in hip-hop music, Oprah Winfrey was seen dancing to 50 Cent at a party. If you want better music, stop complaining about it and buy it.
Why has it taken you two years to drop a follow up album?
I was tired of rap. I was tired of music. I got tired of all the fake dudes in the game. So I had to leave and get myself right again with God and get right with myself. I'm blessed to be a producer. I'm blessed to be a young, black, professional man. But, I never enjoyed my money. My little brother is a grown man and the truth is I don't know him because I've been running around trying to be a rapper. So, I took time to spend with my grandmother, to spend with my father before he died. That's one of the reasons I've got a better album -- because I've got stories to tell.
You've always been socially active in your community. Is this reflected in this album at all?
It used to be reflected in my music, but it doesn't anymore. One of the problems [we] have coming from poor living situations is that we let our personal lives bleed way too much into our professional lives. The truth is I'm a rapper, so my duty, first and foremost, is to make hits and to satisfy my audience. That's my day job. The better I do that, the more I can do for my people.
This summer, you dropped off the Rock the Bells tour due to "creative differences." Can you elaborate?
Hip-hop is supposed to be about culture and where you're from. And where I'm from, my culture is 26-inch rims and strip clubs. We should just respect each other's cultures and learn from it. I think what Rock The Bells did was they put a couple of artists on their tour so they could suck in our fans and make some money. But, they really didn't want us on the tour in the first place.
What do you think should be next move as far as the debate about hip-hop lyrics goes?
What would make me happy is if people stop being hypocrites and clean up the communities. Wh aren't people as quick to talk about Jena 6 or the situations in our neigborhoods? We talk about police brutality. Why won't Congress talk about that instead of our music?
I'll tell you a story. I drink a little bit. But now that I'm training, I don't drink because I don't have time for negativity in my body. The rest of my body is great. I'm healthy. I look in the mirror now and I love what I see. With that I say -- If you change our environment, we'll be happy to talk about something else.