In 2010, one rapper-turned-entrepreneur spent his time crafting music for Gatorade and "Megamind" TV ad campaigns, as well as developing a graphic novel, sneaker and new album.
It wasn't one of the usual mogul suspects, like Jay-Z or Sean "Diddy" Combs, but rather David Banner, who's recently diversified a successful recording career into his own production/advertising company and record label, b.i.G.f.a.c.e. Entertainment.
Banner says the idea to produce for ad campaigns came when he was looking at commercials "and the music just sucked. I thought, 'How can I do it? Somebody put that sound in that phone and got paid to do it, and I just have to find a way to make it me.' "
Video: Gatorade commercial featuring David Banner's "Evolve"
In the midst of his other ventures, though, Banner hasn't forgotten to make albums. He'll release "Death of a Pop Star," a collaboration with lauded underground hip-hop producer 9th Wonder, independently on Dec. 21. The set's street date was pushed back from Nov. 7 after Banner secured a distribution deal with E1 Music.
Since his breakthrough debut, "Mississippi: The Album," Banner has sold 1.5 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan, but hasn't appeared on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in more than two years -- until now. New single "Be With You," featuring Ludacris and Marsha Ambrosius, breaks the dry spell as it debuts at No. 78 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs this week. Banner shot a video for the track, and a short film inspired by the album is also in the works.
"It's bigger than just a record," Banner says. "Maybe you don't like [me or 9th Wonder], but I bet you like Jordans. If you don't like Jordans, maybe you'll like the movie, or the comic book. It's sort of a way to surround people."
"David got his start selling records from his truck," his manager Corey Smith says. "He's taken the time to become more business-savvy. In the industry we're in, you have no choice but to really look at the marketplace and figure out where you fit in."
David Banner feat. Ludacris & Marsha Ambrosius, "Be With You"
The lush production and radio-friendly lyrics of "Be With You" belie the rest of "Death of a Pop Star," which finds Banner focusing on more socially conscious themes. On the bleak "Something's Wrong," he laments, "We gangsters but we can't stop the pain in our town," while on "Hip-Hop," he wonders what's happened to the music he loves: "Why do y'all want hip-hop to die?/I opened my eyes/Am I wasting my time?" It's quite the change for an artist best-known for his freaky talk on "Play" and "Like a Pimp," and one that Banner says came while touring in Europe.
"I was watching how American black men were being portrayed there," he recalls. "It bothered me, and I was a big part of it. I didn't do music for like seven months, it fucked with me that bad. The epiphany that I had is that there's nothing wrong with that part of me, but the problem is balance."
Since then, Banner has made it a point to stay in control of his career, from the business front to the creative. During a recent visit to Billboard's New York offices, he arrived sans entourage and calmly sorted and distributed the lyrics to "Death of a Pop Star" -- he'd typed them out himself and recruited a friend at a major label to photocopy the lyrics just before he arrived. As always, Banner leveraged his contacts to get the job done.
"I never want people to feel like they have to go through a filter with me," Banner says. "I'm on time, and I run my business."