David Banner gave me an answer that perfectly explained where he’s at artistically before we even started our interview. When I asked how he was, his reply seemed to say it all; “Man, I’m better than I’ve ever been in my life, and you?”
I guess you had to hear it for yourself, but there was a definite joy and clarity in his reply; the proud attributes of a man on a noble mission. He continued by saying “What I’ve got going on right now is very important to me,” and when you begin to understand the magnitude of what Sex, Drugs, and Video Games and the 2m1 movement has the potential to be, it’s no wonder why Banner is so inspired.
On the surface, David Banner is dropping a free project on May 22 that will feature 16 tracks with guest appearances by Lil’ Wayne, Chris Brown, Big K.R.I.T. and several others. He’s also shooting a video for every song, and he’s asking for a minimum donation of $1 for the project from two million people – thus the term 2m1. However, once you learn more about what the former Crooked Lettaz member actually hopes to accomplish with his movement, you begin to see that his plans far exceed just dropping a mixtape. He wants to revolutionize how music is distributed, and he’s challenging his fans to be accountable for that change. Instead of taking direction from labels, his self-financed project, with two million followers, could subvert the entire modern mainstream music model – 2m1 starts with a mixtape but aims for a revolution.
A few weeks back, I had the chance to speak at length with David Banner about just what he’s trying to accomplish with Sex, Drugs, and Video Games and the 2m1 movement. Additionally, we looked back on Death of a Pop Star, an album Banner contends was the best of 2010, and he explained that there was a cartoon and even shoes tied to the album but that it took it being more successful for those elements to actually come into play.
Brandon: I wanted to start by getting directly into your primary focus right now, which is Sex, Drugs, and Video Games. How long had you been thinking about releasing a project in this kind of form, as a free project that takes open donations?
David Banner: Honestly, it’s been piecing together for like the last five or six months. I had been recording an album called The Make Believe Album, [but] after Sex, Drugs, and Video Games – and you’re the first person that I’ve said this to – I’m gonna change the way I do music. I haven’t really grasped how I’m gonna do it yet, but I said I had to find a way to give my core fans [something] before I make this leap [from] the music that they’ve been used to having from me, because I’ve had this whole catalog of music and I just had to find a way to service it to them, but then [have] it feel good in my spirit, you know?
I put together this concept…it’s called Sex, Drugs, and Video Games, and what I’m asking people is, why as Americans, are we so enthralled with sex, drugs, and violence? There’s nothing wrong with any of that in balance, but you and I know that we usually don’t get it in balance. It’s a real gladiator mentality, so I’m asking people, “If you have two choices, but both of the choices lead in the same direction, then is that truly a choice?” If you look at television, you look at radio, you look at anything that’s in the media, most of it, even, and not even just that. When we go to the airports and the TSA and all of this is just to keep anarchy and violence and distress. It’s always something and I’m asking people, “If life is similar to a video game, then who really has control of it?” Who’s really controlling the way that we think? When we like certain types of music or crave certain types of music or certain types of stimuli, is that really coming from us? As much as we think it is, I don’t think so, and even if that’s the case, Sex, Drugs, and Video Games is just posing that question.
Brandon: Do you consider this approach a case of asking your fans to be accountable for the artistic statements you’d like to make of saying, “If you really believe what I say, even if it’s just a dollar, this proves to labels that there is an audience that wants to hear what I’ve been offering for years in some form.”
David Banner: Yeah. Well, not just me but urban music in general. There’s an underlying tone that urban music is no longer valuable and I say that because I look at the commercials [and] I don’t see urban artists as much. We look at the awards shows and all of these different things, and the thing is that we as young people just have to understand that anything that’s free is not given total respect. What I’m telling people is if they want Hip Hop to continue and they want artists to be in the mind space to be able to create the music that they want, they have to pay for something and for me, it’s bigger than just this album.
People are getting into [this] because of the way we’re releasing the album. Every other Wednesday, we’re releasing a song and then the Wednesday in between that, we’re releasing a video. People are all excited about the level of music and how jammin’ the music is, but I’m telling people it’s not about Sex, Drugs, and Video Games. It’s more about the 2m1 movement, because after we get two million people to give us at least a dollar, then we’re gonna shoot a movie. Then after that, we’re gonna go to something else. We’re giving to charitable organizations. It’s about controlling our own environment, you know?
I was giving people the example today… if you come to my house and ask me to stay at my house, I’m gonna put you in the room that I wanna put you in or put you on the couch or wherever I tell you to go. So [if] we want Hip Hop to be properly depicted, we gotta put it in the hands of people who do the music. We have to empower ourselves.
Brandon: With that said, why did you think that now was the proper moment to seize this opportunity and, in a sense, challenge the audience to really revolutionize the way that they consume and are presented with music?
David Banner: I believe because now is the time that, if it doesn’t happen, it’s gonna be really bad. We look at the numbers, we look at how music is becoming more electronic-based, and it’s actually starting from America, and people don’t see that. I don’t have a problem with music growing. It’s supposed to grow, but the thing is [that] everything else doesn’t have to die in its growth. The one thing that I don’t like about the American culture is how parasitic it is. It finds one thing that’s popular and then it drives it into the ground until it’s totally gone, and I don’t wanna see that happen to urban music. I don’t wanna see that happen to Hip Hop music and the only way that we can show that it’s a valuable entity is about showing numbers… to be able to show two million followers behind a cause, especially a cause with a voice and a purpose, to show two million dollars accrued from each one of those followers giving at least a dollar.
And the thing that I’m trying to get my people to see, you know, as much as we say it’s a movement, you getting 16 songs with Chris Brown, Snoop Dogg, Lil’ Wayne, A$AP Rocky, Big K.R.I.T., Kardinal Offishall, Bun B, Game, Nipsey Hussle, and 16 videos, and all I’m asking is for a minimum donation of a dollar. So let’s strip down the movement; if that’s a problem, then what does that say about where our music is?
Brandon: It definitely sounds like a social experiment of sorts, but one that hopefully will work out. A dollar seems like a very generous asking price. When I saw it I was thinking, “Man, only a dollar?” but I definitely see what you mean. I think for you, it’s more about getting the numbers than it is about going for a higher price, say asking for $10 or you don’t get the album.
David Banner: You’re the only person that has got that.
David Banner: It’s not about the money. It’s about getting the two million people’s addresses to get those e-mails and to be able to talk to and stay in contact with two million people, whether it’s about what’s going on with Trayvon Martin’s death or what’s going on in Hip Hop or the states. Whatever. Whether it’s to drive someone towards a charitable organization. Whether it’s political times that we tell people like, “Listen, if you want our support, you are going to have to work for it. You are going to have to show it. I got two million people behind me.”
These times of just giving away our votes are over. We don’t support you just because you’re a Democrat or just because you are a Republican or whatever you may end up being. We wanna see some responsibility in what you asking. We wanna see what we’re gonna get for our votes because it goes back to the movement; you don’t get anything for free. There is a message or ramifications to every decision that you do or do not pay for. Somebody pays for it.
Brandon: With you turning this corner and really wanting to push for this new 2m1 movement, did a lot of it have to do with the successful reception of “Swag” itself? I had seen in previous interviews that you had said Death of a Pop Star didn’t do the numbers you and 9th Wonder had hoped for. And with you two personally investing in the project and seeing those lackluster results, did “Swag” prove that a track with a similar message could still work?
David Banner: Well, no. I never put numbers on Death of a Pop Star. People got what I said about that wrong. Death of a Pop Star was a success. Death of a Pop Star was for my soul. I did that for me. That’s how people got it wrong. My soul needed Death of a Pop Star. I needed to be creative. I needed to not have any chains on me and the fact that me and 9th Wonder put that album together and did what we did with it with our money that was a success.
See, people define their success by everybody else’s views. The fact that two articulate black men from two different cross-sections of music got together and made a dope project, an artistic project that will stand the test of time – I don’t care what anybody say, Death of a Pop Star was in the top three albums that came out last year, if not the best. You know, people may be scared to say it because of the different people that came out last year and they don’t wanna ruffle nobody’s feathers, but according to what we say about rap music and Hip Hop and what we really want and what the people say they want, Death of a Pop Star was it. I mean, from the cover to the beats to the verses to the subject matter to the relevance that you got [out of it], that album was more than a success, and as a matter of fact, I’ll go down in history by saying it was the most successful album of the year.
So, in saying that, I think all of it was a process. And then think about this; the whole process was necessary in order for me to come to the understanding that I have now, so think about our ability to put out Death of a Pop Star 2 with this model. Imagine how powerful that is.
Brandon: For you guys to call your own shots essentially dictate it rather than the labels telling you what the people want.
David: Well, that and also to be able to directly go to your fans with no cut, no chaser, no nothing. No pressure, no single, no anything. Just this thought that you guys have a certain love and respect for me, I have a certain love and respect for you, here we go. Let’s go. Let’s do it.
Brandon: It kind of returns the artist/fan relationship to a real organic place. It’s become distance over the years and being direct with your fans certainly lets you bypass all of those issues.
David Banner: You know what it also does that’s amazing? I’ve gotten a $1000 pledge on this album. We got $100 donations. We have $50 donations. As much as people look at it and be like, “He’s only charging a dollar,” no. There’s a minimum of a dollar, but what I’m telling people is you give what you feel like this is worth, and I think once people, even the people who donated, once they hear what we have on the album, then they’re gonna know what it is. There is this one girl in particular…she gives $5 every time she get paid just to support the movement.
Everything has to be this gladiator mentality – “If it’s not this artist” or “I’m down with this person and I’m not down with this person.” It’s not even about good music. What I’m telling people is, regardless of how you feel about the album or how you feel about the music, for an artist to come up with a successful, or even another, business model that can change the way that we all do music, is that not worth supporting past the 16 songs with everybody that’s dope on it or the videos and all that kind of stuff? Is that not worth being a part of?
Brandon: Revisiting what I said about Death of a Pop Star, I guess for me it seemed like in interviews you had said that you got a great response from your audience, but at the same time, the numbers weren’t necessarily backing up the support you were receiving. It seemed like there was an imbalance there because you were getting all this praise but then the numbers didn’t necessarily support it as it had in the past when you’d been releasing material that wasn’t in that same lane. Maybe I was just misconstruing it.
David Banner: Well, what I’ll say is this; at the end of the day, I am competitive. At the end of the day, regardless of what type of music I do, our music is, to some of us, like our children. When we release them into the world, we want them all to do well, especially when you have one that’s special or one that’s a bit different. You want it to do better. You want it to be able to stand on its own.
To be honest with you, Death of a Pop Star was the clearest that I was ever in my career recording an album. It was the one that had, well I guess with the exception of this, the greatest plan behind it, because Death of a Pop Star wasn’t just an album. It was a cartoon. It was a short movie. We had shoes. We had all this different stuff that connected with Death of a Pop Star, and now that I’m even talking to you, that may be something that I connect to the back end of this plan, but Death of a Pop Star was way bigger than an album. But it took the album being successful for us to be able to put the other aspects of it into play because we spent so much money on that album. And that’s one thing that I want to drive home with this; I paid for this whole album. Everything that you see on this album, everything that’s done came from me. It ain’t no hidden liquor companies. It ain’t no hidden investors or none of that. This is all me. I’m putting my money up behind this movement.
Brandon: Switching gears for a second to get to another Mississippi native who’s been having a ton of buzz lately, Big K.R.I.T. I saw in an interview with 3 Little Digs back in November that K.R.I.T. had asked you to come on stage during one of his shows and you responded by saying he didn’t need your co-sign at that point because you wanted him to become his own artist. With that said, why did you consider last year the right time to work with him when you two collaborated on “Sookie Now,” and why was it the right time to tap him for your own album for “Believe?”
David Banner: It’s a feeling. It’s not really an equation. It’s a spirit. If you in tune with God, you’ll feel when it’s time. It just feels right. It’s organic. It’s not staged and I think that we would all agree that that was the best for both of us, because what is a man who can’t stand on his own? I wasn’t raised that way. My father didn’t raise me in the shadow of another man and I don’t want [Big K.R.I.T.] to be raised in the shadow of another man. I want the best for Big K.R.I.T. I honestly want the best for every artist, you know, because so many times, rappers become so gladiator-like that people think every move that a rapper makes is something negative or a diss or something like that. Everything that I do is to try to build our culture. It may be tough love in certain cases, but it’s never anything to degrade or to take away from anybody’s ability to feed their families or be successful. It’s just only to give people things to think about. That’s the only thing I try to do, is to just make people think, or reconsider, or consider.
Brandon: Well, you already answered this at least to a certain degree when we first started talking – it sounds like this project really has you energized – but just to make sure you absolutely get a chance to comment on it, you mentioned that a few years back, you were at such a dark point in your life that you couldn’t even listen to music because the business of it all had really clouded your perception. But has the preparation for Sex, Drugs, and Video Games really helped you regain your love for music?
David Banner: It has definitely gotten me excited, man. I mean, I had an artist, his name is Izza Kizza. He called me because he had just taken interest in the movement and just really started running on his own and he called me, man, and just thanked me for allowing him to be a part of something that meant something. That just gave me this feeling that I hadn’t had before… to just be able to help somebody else be motivated to keep on, whether it’s in music or whether it’s in life period. How many people can say that they have an opportunity to put out their music, influence people to do better, and still be able to maintain their life? There’s not many people that can say that they can get that out of they job and I damn sure know that there’s not many artists that can say it.
Let me tell you something. I wanna be very specific about something. I sat, I meditated, and I was blessed – God blessed me with a number, the two million number. I wanna prove a point. I wanna show that we can put our efforts behind something and it means something. I want to be able to articulate the goals and then to be able to show people that we are doing something with the goals. To be able to help influence the people’s lives of those that are working with me, to be able to take this movement and also be able to help people socially and help be a voice politically through this movement, and then building a power structure that could support my livelihood and our livelihood at the same time and motivate other artists to do the same? Come on, dude. That can’t help but make you wanna push further.