This guy is such a great interview. I called him on Friday to get a quote for the Lil Boosie profile I’m doing for King, but he was nice enough to stay on the line and answer some questions after that. Since this was the day after the Iowa caucus, all I really wanted to talk about was Obama. So if you were wondering why I forgot to ask him whatever happened to that planned Banner/Lil Flip collaborative album, there you go.
You recently testified in front of Congress. What was that experience like?
It was strange. In a way, it gave me two confirmations, one for the negative and one for the positive. The negative side was that I saw how many laws and how many things that’s going on concerning poor people that we have no idea about. You know, I think America has a misconception that it’s about race, and not really so much about race anymore as it is about finances and about the deterioration of the middle class. And the second confirmation I had that was positive is that we truly have more power than we give ourselves credit, as far as young people are concerned, that we have just as much knowledge, maybe not as much wisdom, but we can defend ourselves. I can compete with some of the greatest minds in the world, and I’m from the hood. I saw, when I gave my presentation, how baffled the people were that I had that level of intellect. I could articulate the way that people in the hood feel in a way that everybody could digest, and I could see it in they eyes, like, “Damn, we wasn’t expecting that from that nigga.” I could tell it in they eyes.
What you said about the deterioration of the middle class, what made you see that?
I’ll give you an example. Mississippi is the poorest state in the union, right? But Mississippi always is in the top ten for millionaires per capita. So what that tells me is that there is money in Mississippi, but only a few people are getting it. So I was watching when I was in there in session; they had some things about Katrina going on the same day. The congressmen were dipping in and out of our session to go and vote on other stuff. And that was just one day. And so I’ve been watching it. And not even so much as far as Congress is concerned, but, I mean, you just look at it. All of the businesses are downsizing. You even look at music; let’s simplify it even more. You’re not gonna have your gold artists anymore. You’re either going to have people who do very well or people who sell a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand copies. That five hundred, six hundred, seven hundred thousand sold is going to be gone. Or that’s going to be the highest point that you can get, one or the other. So everything is downsizing, but by the same token, those people that make those millions and millions of dollars–whether they got to switch to ringtones or whatever it takes–the middle class, the people actually doing the work, are being sacrificed. You even look at television. People getting caught up in reality shows. These corporate heads don’t give a fuck about reality. What they wanna do is get cheap labor. Then, since it’s a reality show, they don’t have to spend money on sets and all that kind of stuff. They just giving you cheap TV, and we buying into it.
What kind of response did you get from the people in Congress when the cameras were off?
Let me say one thing. I’m the type of person that if positive is there, I want to talk about positive too. The one positive thing I did see: Some of the congressmen were actually listening. Some of the congressmen were like, “Damn, I didn’t even think about it that way. He has a point.” Some of them didn’t give a shit either way. But that was what surprised me the most. We have the power. I’ll give you an example. There are racist white people in the world. There are. But what I find out, the older that I get, a lot of those rich white people only have the racist rich white people around them to give their opinion. They don’t have black people around them to give their opinion or their side of the story. So that’s why I came in my $4000 suit, why I made sure I was clean-cut, so I wouldn’t intimidate or scare anybody. I worked on my anger; I’m not gonna get mad no matter what nobody say. And I’m gonna articulate myself. I’m gonna study. I’m gonna give them examples where their own peers have been quoted saying that what we do is just an art. When you’re able to have your facts, you look good, you’re well-spoken, then all of the things that would keep a person from listening what you have to say, all that stuff is out of the way. You have to listen to what I say. And if I’m quoting facts, I’m quoting places in books that you can actually go to find this information, you have to at least respect my effort.
How did it feel to sit next to Master P when he was basically apologizing for things that he’d said?
It confused me. That’s all that I can say. Ever since then, people have been trying to find a way to pit me and Master P against each other, and to me that’s what of the things that had deteriorated; rap has turned into the WWF. He’s entitled to his opinion, but I don’t think his opinion matches that of those who put him in the position that he’s in. It’s crazy to become a multi-millionaire off the backs of people and then turn around and attack the way that you made that money. If you really sorry, then give some of that money back. If you made eighty million dollars, give forty back if you really sorry.
Changing gears, your album’s been pushed back a bunch of times. What’s going on with that?
It’s really been my decision. I think I got one of the best rap albums in the last three years, and what I found out is that in most cases it doesn’t matter how good your music is. It’s about timing. I got two movies that’s coming out around the time we’re planning on dropping the album; why not wait? If you look at my career, I’m now really crossing over without music, so why not wait until that process has been finished to drop an album? It’s more about branding now; it’s not even about music. People want to be a part of a brand, and I haven’t completed my brand yet. So I thought it would be smarter for me to continue my brand. Movies are coming out, a cartoon is dropping at the same time, so where the person may not be a fan of my music, they may be a fan of the cartoon, which would open them up a little bit more to the music. People see the acting. And you have to understand, the type of music that I make, the exterior part of your persona will scare people away from what you’re actually saying in the music. So hopefully the rest of the stuff that I’m doing could be a conduit to bring people to The Greatest Story Ever Told.
You’ve been quoted as saying that this is the album where you want to sell records, so you’re concentrating less on songs like “Cadillac on 22s” and more on songs like “Play.” Is that fair to say?
Actually, I got “Cadillac on 22s Part 2” on this album. Those songs are on here, but I’m not getting emotional with this record. What happens to us a lot of times, my friend said it last night. Record companies don’t give a fuck about “Cadillac on 22s.” As much as my internet fans have more of a voice to say that that’s the kind of music they want out there, do they really support that kind of music? Good or bad, we don’t support those kind of artists. We just don’t. “Cadillac on 22s” wasn’t a song that put me where I am. “Like a Pimp” and “Play” did. “Cadillac on 22s” solidified a lot of my fans who wanted to hear something different. That’s cool and that’s fine, but at the same token, we got to understand that this a business. We have to take care of those people in power at Universal, those people in power at these corporations who want to see radio spins in order to play your video. People sit around and talk on the internet and have all these great theories of what we should do but don’t understand that this a business and that if we don’t take care of the business side, you’ll be as creative as you like at your house, at home, broke.
Do you think it’s still possible to have a successful album based on crossover records, though?
I think anything’s possible when the dots are connected. I think it’s important for people to connect the dots. One thing that’s also a problem: I know that the bootlegging and a lot of different stuff has been a real big problem in the decline of rap, but then another thing is the marketing of the date that albums drop. Record companies are really fucking over artists. I didn’t know Will.I.Am’s album was coming out. I didn’t know Trick Daddy’s album was coming out. I’m on Universal, and I do beats for Lil Wayne; I did not know Birdman’s album was dropping. But I knew when 50’s album was coming out. I knew for a fact when Kanye’s album was coming out. Are those not the albums that are successful? If you notice, Ludacris always lets you know when his album is coming out. And with me, it’s hard because I’m not putting an album out until they connect the dots, dude. You think about my career. Either I got a hot song but then there ain’t enough records in the store, or I got enough records in the store and I don’t have a hot song. I never connected the dots. I have a hot song but then the video’s fucked up. You know? What I learned is that you have to be patient. I’ll push my album back forever until people get it right. I’m not gonna waste this album, dude. It’ll not come out and I’ll just give it to people on MySpace page and let them have it for free before I let people fuck over this album.
Yeah, the whole fourth-quarter rush mentality, it’s hard to understand. Does it make any sense to you?
Naw, I almost lost my career on my second album from doing that. But we have to be strong enough to say no. Most of us are scared we’re gonna lose our careers. And, you know, it’s hard enough for us to get support with your labels, so you say yeah because you really think people are going to stay behind you. But the truth is if by them rushing your album it fucks over your album, then those people aren’t even going to talk to you anymore.
To change the subject, have you been following the Democratic primaries?
I have a little bit. I’m a big follower of politics, but what I found out was that there are there are ways in which America has been set up. There are families that are truly the presidents and the diplomats of our country that we don’t even know their names. There are parts of politics that, no matter what we say or what we do, are not going to change unless we’re in the upper echelon of people with money or power. So what I’ve learned to do is let the dust settle, and then when they’ve picked who they can control, they put the puppets in front of us and then we pick. The rest of it is nothing but a soap opera, dude. And George Bush showed the world that. It really doesn’t matter about your votes, homie. Even though I always vote and I’ma push people to vote, did it really matter how many votes in this election or the last? I’ma ask you that.
But how do you feel about Obama?
I think his wife is a beast; I could say that. I would’ve loved to see her run, Obama’s wife. But I really haven’t formed an opinion about Obama yet, to be honest with you. To me, I’m not so caught up in the race because the music industry has shown me that the things that we think we want can sometimes be worse for us. I don’t know yet. It hasn’t been presented to me enough in the circles that I run in. Until then, I’m just going to watch. I don’t have an opinion good or bad about him right now. I would love to see a black president. Just for name’s sake, that would be cool in my generation the same way I would want to see the Patriots win, so I could say in my generation that we had something that hadn’t happened in history before. People like, “Man, are you just jumping on the bandwagon of the Patriots?” Naw, it ain’t that. But it would be sure lovely to say that the greatest team in football was in my generation and I actually got to see it. The first black president was in my generation? Damn. We already had 9/11, we had a couple of wars, we got the worst president ever. Damn, a lot of shit happened. There’s been thousands of years that nothing relevant has happened. We done had about six or seven things there relevant in the generation that we’re living in. We’re living in a historical time, whether we like it or not.
On a more personal note, you just lost a real mentor figure in Pimp C. Do you mind if I ask how you’ve been coping with that?
This year’s been a very–I don’t want to say trying because the things that I’ve learned from this year have been great. But in short, I lost my father, my grandmother, and Pimp C within a eight-month period. As far as Pimp C is concerned, it almost still don’t seem like he dead. Went to the funeral, all that other stuff, just with Bun B the day before yesterday. It’s hard for me because as a young black man, one of the problems with our generation is that we don’t have mentors. And even if you do have a mentor and you successful, how many black men can you honestly say that you can go to? Because you can have a white mentor, but he can’t tell you about being black and having to go through the shit that we have to go through as young black men. So to have a person–you know, Pimp C was from Port Arthur, a small town in Texas that a lot of people don’t know about. He the only one that can feel my pain coming from Mississippi. Maybe him or Rich Boy, but we come from people that you don’t get no help from. And he from the South, and he’s outspoken. So he’s one of the people that I can go to. And for him to still be relevant? It was just hard for me. Make you feel lonely. And for me, it was even harder because he died in LA, and I was out here, I’m living in LA. So you thinking in the back of your head, “I could’ve done something,” or “If he’d been with me” or “I would’ve picked him up from the airport,” all of those kind of things. But as men, we got to keep pushing. And I know, the type of person that Pimp was, Pimp would’ve been like, “Man, fuck this shit, Banner. You pick up the torch and keep running.”
Wow, I’m sorry. That’s all the questions I had; I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.
Man, that’s no problem. One of the things I truly want to be is immortal. Without me, it wouldn’t be no you. Without you, it wouldn’t be no me. My story is told through you.