Let’s cut to the chase: David Banner is one of the most underappreciated rappers to emerge from below the Mason-Dixon line in the last five years. Since his SRC/Universal debut Mississippi: The Album in 2003, many have been enthralled by Banner’s obvious dedication to lyrical craft, roaring tracks and b-boy stance. Still, while past tracks like the crunked “Like a Pimp” from his debut to the electro-bounce of “Play” (Certified, 2005) has helped build a loyal fan base, with the release of The Greatest Story Ever Told this country boy is finally connecting on a larger scale.
While his contemporaries worry about being crowned king of their region, David Banner has been too busy perfecting his skills to worry about trying to be royalty. “That’s not really something that concerns me,” Banner says. “For me music is about honesty, pain and a willingness to cry as well as fight. As a rapper and producer, my goal is to unite with the audience, not trying to rein over them.”
Having grown-up listening to all types of music, Banner’s musical palette is never lacking. From the funky head nod of the Akon-produced first single “Speaker” to the dark path of “Suicide Doors,” featuring UGK to the textured grooves of “Cadillac On 22’s Part II,” David Banner proves he can do it all. “Rakim, Sun-Ra and Ah-Ha all have had their influence on what you hear in my music,” he laughs.
In 1999, as a member of the Mississippi rhyme duo Crooked Lettaz, Banner became part of the dirty south revolution, releasing the critically lauded and criminally slept-on Tommy Boy Records debut Grey Skies. A year later, Them Firewater Boys Vol. 1, his introduction as a soloist, saw Banner blazing through the underground; both XXL and Murder Dog named it one of the best albums of the year. Soon the major labels were knocking on Banner’s door, sparking off a bidding-war. When legendary music executive Steve Rifkind (Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Big Pun) signed the self-contained Banner and his b.i.G.f.a.c.e. Entertainment imprint to Rifkind’s SRC label, the music industry took notice.
Having recently dropped “Speaker,” a track that features Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg and producer Akon, it obvious that David Banner has concocted the perfect summer banger. Already, the hypnotic track can be heard blasting out of backyard barbeques, corner store bodegas and flye rides barreling down the boulevard. “When people listen to my songs, I want them to consider them the soundtrack to their lives,” David Banner declares. “I’m not just making songs for the moment, I’m creating material that I hope lasts in their minds forever.
“2006 was a difficult year for me,” Banner continues. “So, for 2007 I wanted to come out celebrating. To me, “Speaker” is a celebration of hip-hop and what it can represent. Rap gets blamed for all the ills in the world today, I just wanted folks to know there is a lot of love in the music too.”
In the last year, David Banner has also made the transition from the studio to the screen. Having appeared in Black Snake Moan and the forthcoming movies This Christmas and Days of Wrath. “I started taking acting classes soon after ‘Like A Pimp’ came out,” Banner states. “Now, making movies is like my new love; it’s hot to be able to go from one art form to the next.”
A complex man who is both street-wise and book-smart, Banner has carried many burdens over the last few years. From working closely providing aid for Katrina victims (his foundation and concert Heal the Hood raised $500,000) to burying his father earlier this year, his heart has been heavy. “The world isn’t a nice place. Often, my music was an outcry of my pain,” he says. “But, a lot of my music has been too dark and depressing; right now I’m trying to bring some light into my life.” The brightness of Banner’s optimism blares brilliantly on the hypnotic “Get Like Me,” a track that features collaborations with Young Joc, Jim Jones and Chris Brown. More hypnotic than a bouncing booty, this is the perfect midnight anthem in the champagne room.
Produced by the man himself, who has stirred massive pots of musical gumbo for T.I. (“Rubberband Man”) and Trick Daddy (“Thug Holiday”), Banner has constructed his most mackadelic track to date with “Get Like Me.” “Chris Brown is like my little brother,” Banner says. “It’s been amazing for me to watch him grow as both an artist and a man. I knew from the beginning, that I wanted him on this track.” But, what about the song’s production? “I’m a real producer, not simply a beatmaker,” he explains. “When I’m in the studio, I’m thinking beyond just samples, I’m trying to build something special. Unlike a lot of other people, I’m still a fan of music and it’s that fan in me that I’m making music for.”
Combining an old-school Stax sensibility with new-school grooves, one of the standouts on The Greatest Story Ever Told is the amazing “Hold On.” Revolutionary in its execution, this sweeping song has the cinematic appeal of an ‘70s blaxploitation flick playing down at the local bijou. Yet, instead of getting caught-up in a web of blown-out Afros and leather pimp coat clichés, Banner has a deeper tale to relate. Deep as quicksand and soulful as a steaming plate of catfish, “Hold On” is social commentary at its finest. “A lot of rappers today don’t tell stories,” Banner comments, “but, on that track, I went through an entire lifetime. Nobody does that anymore.”
Coming straight out of Jackson, Mississippi with a license to thrill, The Greatest Story Ever Told is a crowning achievement for a rapper who has been slept on for much too long. No longer on the outside looking in, David Banner is ready for his close-up.