Artist: Lloyd Banks
Interviewer: Alexander Fruchter
Many music fans know Lloyd Banks for his breakthrough hit, "On Fire." Others identify more with Banks' strong presence on various mixtapes. I myself wasn't exactly sure who the real Banks was before chopping it up with him in this SoundSlam exclusive. What I found was an emcee that is passionate about both life and music. It turns out that behind all the G-Unit coverage, controversy, and beef, there lies an artist that simply wants be recognized for his music.
Here Banks talks eagerly about his new music, his decision to drop out of school, as well as growing up without a father. Other outlets may have interviews with Banks, but none are like this one.
SoundSlam: You're staying busy I see. How do you and the rest of your crew keep putting out so much music?
Lloyd Banks: Aww man...You know what? it seems like it's a lot, but really it's a lot of artists on the label and there's only four quarters in a year. There's only so many releases that you could have per year. My last solo project came out in 2004, June 29th. That ran, I've been on tour ever since. The compilation albums, like the Get Rich or Die Trying Movie Soundtrack kept me afloat. At the same time, it's been two years since my last project. If it was just me, Yayo, and Buck, it wouldn't seem that much, cause there wouldn't be that many releases coming out. It's about ten acts on the record label, so that's how. I'm just staying busy.
SoundSlam: ...When you took that time off between your last album and the new one, were there ever times when you would put something on The Get Rich Or Die Trying Soundtrack, or something else and then think, 'man, I might want to save that for my own stuff?'
Lloyd Banks: Yeah. Well you know what it is? I never dwell on a record. I've watched 50 go from "In Da Club," to "21 Questions," to "P.I.M.P." I see that there's no one record that's compared to another. In that case it will only be because it sounds similar, but there's so many different ways to make hit records. I don't dwell on a record because once you have one hit you need a next. You need a next hit record. That's the reason why some of the records on the Get Rich Or Die Trying Soundtrack were actually records that I had in preparation for my solo project. But I felt like, 'you know what? If they're gonna hear this project first, then they need to hear these records first. They need to hear what's in store for my solo project.' I'm not stingy with my records.
SoundSlam: The first album title sort of spoke to everything you said here, your hunger for more, staying busy, staying motivated. Is there a deeper meaning behind the title Rotten Apple?
Lloyd Banks: The title Rotten Apple came just based off, you know the music is swinging so many different ways. There's so much new material, so much new talent that's coming out of different regions. You got the Down South market, the Hyphy movement, the Bay Area music, you got Reggaeton now, there's so many different ways, there's so many different cultures that collide into Hip Hop. I feel that with the new artists in New York City, there's not the same energy that there was 2-3 years ago. I just felt like representing New York City. It wasn't just because of that. I got the statue of Liberty Chain made after my first album, a couple months after. I always wanted to represent that. I got my neighborhood, Southside, tattooed on my hands. At the end of the day I wanted people to get a better idea of what New York City is. If you pick up a postcard, or a magazine and stuff, you're gonna see the big buildings, you're gonna see the big lights, you're gonna see the frank stand, the tourists buses, the yellow cabs, and everything else the city has to offer. But that's New York, New York. New York's bigger than that. New York has five boroughs. You have upstate New York. You have all these places where all the negative is at. You ever see the movie, "The Day After Tomorrow"?
SoundSlam: I did not see that.
Lloyd Banks: It was basically the perfect New York City and then the water came and the next thing you know the city was all messed up. I'm kind of showing them that. I actually got shot the same day the buildings fell down. These are my reasons why I feel a certain way, and reasons why it's important for them to know both sides of New York City. I'm giving them what they see with the naked eye, but I'm also giving them what it takes for you to ride through these neighborhoods for you to see. For you to see police harassment, for you to see the murders, and the teen pregnancy, and the broken homes, and all these other peer pressures, and situations that we're put through everyday. Coincidentally, I'm doing this interview with you now, I got a phone call about 2:30 in the morning telling me that one of my friends got murdered. This is a continuous struggle that's not gonna stop. People think that just because I'm a rapper and I live a certain lifestyle based off success, that changes you. It doesn't change you. I lived 21 years in Southside Jamaica Queens. It's hard for three summers of success to erase all of that negativity, and that's still going on today. And I feel they need to see that too. The album is called Rotten Apple, and it's a lot more aggressive than The Hunger For More. It's just because not only do you deal with the problems in the street, but it's all kind of problems. It's problems just in my own character to stay afloat. It's real easy to get in trouble.
SoundSlam: I read that you were raised primarily by your mother, based on how that affected you, how important do you think it is for a kid to grow with two parents, or at least a father figure in their life? And how does that affect you today still?
Lloyd Banks: I can't be bitter about the situation because I feel like by a higher power the situations were put in front of me just because I knew how to deal with them or would eventually learn how to adapt to them. As far as the broken home thing, it has its points. My mom was the one who showed me how to put a condom on. Those are the things...I guess traditionally your father's supposed to have the birds and the bees talk with you. My mother gave me the birds and the bees talk. My mother was still aggressive. My mother was still in the street too. It wasn't like I was a momma's boy. She didn't give me time to be a mamma's boy. I had to be the man of the house. When I was nine years old I was baby-sitting my two year-old bother while my mother was going out and having fun with her friends. I had a young mom, she's 27-28 years old, and I had to do those things and she kept me fresh. She kept me with Jordan's and with new outfits and stuff on. I felt like that was my job at that point. Not that she brainwashed me, I just felt like that was my obligations at the time. And I feel like that situation made me grow up faster. It made me be a man faster. I was walking some of my friends to school, and we were in the same grade! At the same time, it's certain things that your momma can't show you. It's certain things that it takes a father to be there to actually break down principals and tell you what's what from what. And I didn't have that, so I sort of leaned toward the street. Luckily my peer group was a lot older than me. My friends, look at 50, these dudes are 6, 7 years older than me. When I'm 13 and you got a 20 year-old coming to the door, it looks a little strange, but I was never perceived as a youngster. I was always young, but I've always had the older mentality. And it came from me having to grow up faster. So it has its flaws and it has its pluses. Every kid is not the same way. Some kids need their father. They need somebody to sit them down in a chair and say, 'this is not right, and you need to do this.' It starts off with the family. It starts off at the household. It's sad, but those are the problems that still go on to this day.
SoundSlam: I also read that you dropped out of high school. What made you decide to do that? What about the education system led you to make the decision that you were better off without it?
Lloiyd Banks: I think I was a little too smart for myself. You know what it was? I had a lot of insecurities. Traditionally, the cool kids sit in the back of the class. That's just the way it went. I was a cool kid, and I sat in the back of the class. The only catch was, I was probably one of the only cool kids that sat in the back of the class and didn't have good vision. My dumbass is being cool in the back of the class, but at the end of the day I can't copy the homework down. I can't even read my class work. I had other insecurities that I substituted for my education. It kept me from actually being a good student. It wasn't that I didn't know the work, it was that I would take what I did know, come to school, and pass the test on Friday, and they would fail me by one point based on my attendance. At the same time I started feeling like, school, this is me personally, I felt like school was a system. You had to pay for school. They tell you to go to school for these months from September to June, from June to September you go home. It's like, 'we'll teach you some more s**t next year.' I felt like it was a system. And then even when you get out of there, if you had the good money you go to a good college, if you don't you go to a community college. I just never really took it as seriously as I could of. And in event of that I made sure that I tell my little brother. I tell him the importance of doing it, and why I didn't do it, which is a stupid reason. I'm actually sending my little cousin through college right now. She got accepted to Howard University, so she'll be starting that in August.
SoundSlam: You talked about falling in with 50 Cent, and Tony Yayo back when you were young. Do you feel that's been a gift and a curse? On the one hand you're down with a very solid crew, and you have people with a foundation that gives you a light and way to get your voice heard. But do you ever feel people doubted you or still doubt you, like, 'Lloyd Banks is only putting out albums because he's down with 50 Cent'?
Llioyd Banks: I guess opinions are like a**holes, everybody has them. At the same time when I actually made the decision to make the music, I don't think people actually identify or know how deep the story goes. This is a situation to where we were riding around 6-7 of us in a caravan with vests and pistols on. So, if any one of those days, God forbid, we would have got pulled over there wouldn't have been no G-Unit. I don't think people actually know what the struggle was, and the stages we had to go through. It was more like, I had a friend, my best friend, he passed away. He got murdered. But before that he felt like he rolled all his marbles so that he would roll all my marbles next. You couldn't say nothing bad about Banks. Banks was the best rapper in the world period. He's better than everybody. Sometimes that 's how it is, and I had that same passion with 50 and Yayo, I felt like, 'listen man, they don't know. These record execs, and these big time, these A&Rs, they're not coming back with us to the hood after the meeting.' They were in the meeting, and we're doing our business, but what happens when we leave and we're on our way back to Southside Jamaica Queens? They don't know how deep it is. Look how many rappers have been killed already. This is not exactly a walk in the park. Your problems don't stop. They just alter to your situation. My problems don't stop. They just get bigger now. I got bigger problems because I'm a bigger name. If I'm just out in the streets or whatever right now, I'm in denial and don't recognize who I am, I'm exposed to the same problems that were there before. I just looked at it like a blessed situation. To be honest with you, if I didn't have the background of 50 and Yayo around me, and have that comfortability to be on the road and be seen with familiar faces, I might not have even went this far with it. I wasn't one of those dudes who was shopping a demo, and running around trying to get a record deal. I was just a talent that 50 recognized. He was like, 'you know what? I'm just as passionate about that talent as you are.' I kind of respected him, and I put all of my marbles into his bowl. That's the way it's been ever since. That's part of the reason why people accepted us. It's because they knew that it wasn't no fluke. I could tell you my street address. This is where I come from. There are a lot of artists out there who are make-believe. They don't have no story. The story is that I knew Tony Yayo since I was a little kid. I know his family. I could go eat at his mother's house right now, he can come eat at my mother's house. I just think that people take that for granted. They take friendship, that's all we had. Before we had any money, or anything else, all we had was the friendship.
SoundSlam: It's good that you have all come up together. I bet that makes the success feel that much better.
Lloyd Banks: Exactly. So when people say, how does it feel? It feels good. It feels good to look to my left and see Yayo, and look to my right and see 50 because we came up together. Just a couple years ago we were sitting on a couch with foam coming out the s**t in 50's grandmother's house and all we had was an idea and a dream that nobody else understood. All the side distractions, they bounce off me. At the end of the day I know the struggle, and I remember how easy it is to go back to that s**t.
SoundSlam: You're also known for putting a lot of stuff out on mixtapes. On those mixtapes you have incredible, crazy punchlines. One of my friends from Brooklyn really likes to think that you could be a real good battle rapper with your punchlines. Do you ever feel like you have two identities, and is that side going to be more on this album? Do you feel like you have to change yourself to reach a wider audience on the commercial albums?
Lloyd Banks: It's interesting that you said that, I have my first mixtape coming out since my last project. It will be out in stores on the 28th of May.
SoundSlam: What's it called?
Lloyd Banks: It's called More Money in the Bank Part Four. It's the Gang Green series, Gang Green Season Begins Now. It's just my whole mixtape movement that I'm starting again. The same way that your friend feels, that's the way I felt. I'm passionate about that market. I think that's what's been missing for the last two years in Hip Hop. I think it's been missing when people look at this album and go, 'oh s**t! You heard what he said?!?' Or, 'rewind that' I'm trying to bring that back to the game. It hasn't been there...As I'm talking to you right now I'm looking at my Justo plaque. For those that don't know, Justo is the founder of the Mixtape Awards. He actually passed away and I want to give a big rest in peace shout-out to him. Out of all my plaques and all my trophies, that's the most important to me because it wasn't no rich, old guy, with some suits and ties on that gave me that award. That was the street. The street gave me that award. I'm trying to bring it back to that. At the same time, I want to be an internationally known artist. I want to be the biggest, broadest artist I can possibly be, but it's only so much that you can do for radio. You have rules. They don't let you curse...I could make up a word right now. I could make up a word, they don't know what it is, they're bleeping it out, bottom line. Certain artists can get away with things we can't get away with.
SoundSlam: What do you want fans to take away from your new album? What do you want them to get from you?
Lloyd Banks: At the end of the day when they listen to it from beginning to end, I want them to just say, 'you know what? Outside of all the drama, outside all the things that their names are tied into, outside the wrestlemania s**t that's been going on for the last couple years, that boy is talented.' I don't want nothing more than that because at the end of the day we all come from the street, most of us come from the street that rap. I know that reality. I know what it's like there. I know the temptation and the possibilities when you come from that environment, or you're still in that environment. I just want them to know at the end of the day, outside all the controversy and the diss records and all that, I'm talented. That's the reason why I stay afloat. That's it. I don't want anything else from the fans. I just want them to appreciate what I bring to the table because I work hard. I have a studio at my house. Half the day I'm recording. I ain't been on a vacation yet. The grind is still there. I just want them to appreciate the talent, that's all. That's what I do it for.
SoundSlam: It's coming out in July, or June?
Lloyd Banks: July 18th.
SoundSlam: One thing you said throughout the interview that has stuck with me is that even though you've got this kind of new lifestyle for yourself, the problems you face don't change. You're still from the same area, you still have the same history and it won't change. Did you ever think that it would? Do you ever wish, if people are being successful, that they could leave some of the more negative things alone, or start fixing the problems? How do we fix the problem so that rappers aren't getting shot for saying something in their music and people can make a living off this, and then make a living that actually betters their lives and the lives of those around them?
Lloyd Banks: You know what, I think the first step to that is people have to acknowledge what we're doing. See, I don't have no plan B. I can't shoot a jumper like Lebron James, or hit like Barry Bonds. So when I go into that recording booth I take it so seriously. I think a lot of artists are taking advantage, or their NOT taking advantage of the situation, and they're taking it for granted. They're forgetting. I'm not a part of the Game story. I'm not a part of the LOX story, or Fat Joe's story. I'm not a part of their story because I don't want to be a part of their story. They're not a part of my story. My story starts out in Southside Jamaica Queens. It ends there. It doesn't matter how many times I go around the world, that's what's tattooed on my back. That's what's tattooed on my hands, on my chest. That's what I come from, and I think they lose sight of why they're actually doing this. I'm doing this to better myself and better my family. When I go in there to make them hit records, I'm not thinking about what the haters are going to say. I'm thinking about what that check is going to look like because I'm going to get my mother in a nice house, my little brother's going to go to college. My cousins are going to go, and they're getting accepted to all these good schools, stuff that I never had the opportunity to do. That's what I do it for. I think I understand the principals and I'm a street dude. It's certain things that don't change, and I feel that everybody doesn't adapt to their success the way I have. I'm still level-headed. I know that if I walk out of my door right now I'm Lloyd Banks. I'm not Christopher Lloyd anymore. A lot of people they walk around and forget that. You might be in your old neighborhood chilling on the corner like you're Christopher Lloyd, naw, you're Lloyd Banks. Until you realize that, you're in denial. I saw artists get mad at fans because they want an autograph. They're still in denial. I think it starts with the actual artists, and it is what it is. I can't save the world. I'm not here to promote violence, but at the same time I have street principals. Once you cross me, you're crossed off. I can't deal with you ever again. I think the media perceives that, they take that as, 'oh they're trouble-makers.' No! I'm not starting the trouble. I'm not going to give somebody a second chance to cross me again. This is not a basketball game. This is not Jordan and Bird. This is street principals. The fact of the matter is people die from their situations. I know how to rap, but what about my 100 friends that don't know how to rap? When you're dissing me, you're dissing me plus 100. I think people need to take that into consideration and really stop this. All I want people to know at the end of the day, after all the interviews are done, and all the wrestlemania fake beefing, and the Hip Hop police, and all this s**t goes away, I still want people to look at me like, 'that was a talented individual.' Bottom line, cause I don't care about anything else. The media is designed to build you up and break you down, bottom line. Michael Jackson used to be the biggest artist in America. Black people, white people, Asian people, everybody loved him. They build you up to break you back down. I'm not trying to be a victim of that. So I stay to my own and I'm not accepting of anybody's relationships. Cause I shake your hand today doesn't make us friends. And I think that those are the things that America takes as we're starting the problem, or initiating the problem. I'm actually trying to prevent the problem. I'm telling you to stay away from me because you're so unsure about yourself that it's making me unsure. Stay away, let me do me, and that's it. I'm here to make good music. At the end of the day, when all the beefing is over, I will still be here.