Published Apr 19, 2016In the 13 years since his breakout single, "Like a Pimp," David Banner has become much more than a rapper. These days he not only spits rhymes on stage, but also schools audiences about history and politics with his lecture series. The Mississippi-born Renaissance man has also acted in films like The Butler and Ride Along, along with penning catchy rap jingles for Gatorade ads via his company, A Banner Vision. Now Banner has a renewed focus on beats and rhymes, despite — and perhaps because of — his numerous feats in other fields.
"A high school kid tweeted at me recently: 'I love all the other things you've done. But what about the music? What have you gotten me through today?'" Banner tells Exclaim! about the fan who inspired him to work on his first album in over five years.
Banner recently dropped his first new music in the form of teaser EP Before the Box; full-length album The God Box will arrive this August, via A Banner Vision.
Before seeing that fan's social media laments, Banner was content to go Hollywood — just like Ludacris, Common and many of his rap peers.
"A lot of us ran off when album sales bottomed out," Banner explains. "These great rappers that fans looked up to, we basically up and left them alone. So I think it's our responsibility to step into the forefront and earn our spots back. Because we shouldn't take these kids for granted."
Banner is confident that his new LP will rekindle that neglected connection. In fact, he firmly declares that The God Box is not only his best album yet, but also "One of the best rap albums ever. Period." That self-assurance stems, in part, from his meticulous crafting of the LP — poring over each and every lyric for hours on end, and mixing many of its songs 14 times.
However, that careful crafting by no means left him overly cautious — instead, Banner took ambitious sonic risks on songs like "My Uzi," which features fellow Southern MC Big K.R.I.T. and begins with a synth- and snare-laden beat, only to suddenly transform into an orchestral composition at the song's climax.
"We went from the hood to Peter Pan land," Banner says of the song's adventurous sonic shift. "I've never heard a hip-hop song that transformed into a full orchestral composition — and not with a sample, but a composition made for this particular song. It's one of the best examples of what I'm doing on this album."
The God Box also features some of Banner's boldest rhymes yet, especially on "Black Fist." Banner says the song is inspired by "Where black people are in America right now. We're tired of the lies. We're tired of the President and the Popes and preachers talking about hope, especially when white America is having its heaven right now."
America's ongoing — and increasingly racially charged — presidential primaries have certainly fuelled some of the rage that he captured on "Black Fist." And Banner insists that that racism runs deep on both sides of the aisle. He recently caught considerable attention by tweeting about current Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton's mid-'90s assertion that gang members are "super predators… We must bring them to heel."
"We've already been seduced by Bill Clinton playing the saxophone and being very charismatic," Banner says of the former president's famed appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show when he was running for office, adding that the black community later felt betrayed when Clinton signed rigid legislation that "put thousands of black males in jail. And Hillary knew what those laws encompassed. So even though she smiles today, and her family has a good rapport with black people, I'm not fooled by that."
Banner doesn't just address those issues on social media and in his lyrics — he also passionately discusses them as part of his ongoing lecture series, frequently attracting 1,000 attendees or, as he puts it, "More people than many rappers get at their regular shows." He says those lectures have served as a foundation for The God Box. "I can't expect people to believe in my socially conscious album if I don't invest time in being conscious. So I wanted to go around the country and lecture about the things I talk about on the album. So it's very political, but it's also a representation of me."
Ed's note: This article has been edited from the original version to update the upcoming album release date.
Have a listen to The God Box's "My Uzi" featuring Big K.R.I.T., below.