SANTA MONICA, California — There's more to David Banner and Lil' Flip's summer sensation "Like a Pimp" than is often assumed.
"Most people think we talking about pimping — 'Hey where's my money?' — [but] nah, it ain't that," Banner said recently. "I peeped a weakness in the game, and the weakness that I peeped was that rappers don't work hard. They don't sign the autographs, they don't do the drops for the DJs. I'm doing two, three shows a night, because this only lasts for two years. So [I'm] just trying to pimp it for whatever it is. It's the opportunity."
For Banner, seizing — or rather pimping — the day comes naturally, since he worked feverishly to get where he is, with his second album debuting in the top 10 two months ago. The Mississippi native first ventured into hip-hop with a duo he founded in the late '90s called Crooked Lettaz, but after one album he left town to start a solo career.
"Stuff wasn't moving fast enough," he explained. "I realized that it was gonna take me moving out and pulling my resources, pulling all of my contacts, then bringing it back to Mississippi. And I'm able to move a whole lot easier alone. I was homeless in New York. I couldn't be homeless with two people. ... Me moving alone, I was able to sneak in studios, follow people, stalk people until they got on my album."
Banner's stalking paid off, and he was able to rope in several collaborators. His first album, Them Firewaterboyz, Vol. 1 included Noreaga, Ras Kass and Pimp C of UGK, among others. His latest, Mississippi: The Album, features Lil' Flip, Lil Jon, Bone Crusher, Pastor Troy, Jazzy Pha and Too Short. In between, he also produced songs for Trick Daddy, Devin the Dude and Lil' Flip.
Musically, Banner blends a hodgepodge of hip-hop styles, from Master P-like party anthems to Dr. Dre-inspired G-funk. Along with Scarface and Rakim, he names Billy Idol, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Curtis Mayfield and Earth, Wind & Fire as influences.
"I'm very heavily influenced by the blues," he said. "I'm very heavily influenced by rock and roll music, jazz, you know, everything. I always said it would be amazing to be able to bring them all together in one record, which I think I've been able to do. And it's been so beautiful, because I honestly believe that if we don't take rap to another level, it won't be here for our kids to benefit from."
Lyrically, most of Banner's material sheds light on the perils of growing up in the South, particularly "Cadillac on 22's" and "Mississippi."
"That's the one common denominator that everybody in the world has — pain," Banner said. "And the thing is that my people have been through pain for so long that it needs to be addressed. The problem with America is that most of our politicians don't want to stop any of the pains that my community goes through. They just wanna shove it ... wherever there's a large group of urban people or people in urban situations. Not just black, but white, Mexican, Puerto Rican, whatever. And as long as we're quiet, it's fine.
"They're not worried about the violence in our music because we're only killing us, and that's really what they want in actuality," he continues. "People want to deal with the aftereffects and not what's really causing it. Black people don't bring drugs into our community. We don't have the necessary elements to make guns or even bring guns into our community. We're the victims, and we're being convicted for being the victims."
Banner named his new release Mississippi: The Album to give his home scene more recognition and to make sure he always remembers his roots.
"People say, 'Oh, when I get rich I'm gonna stay real,' " he said. "You don't know what you gonna do when you have that much disposable income. So that was just one way for me to always remember what I'm here for, who I'm here for. When God blesses you in abundance, sometimes it can be overwhelming, so that was just a way for me to keep focusing what my goals were."
As for Crooked Lettaz, Banner denied rumors of a fallout with partner Kamikaze and said the group will never be officially over. For now, though, both artists are doing their own thing.
"Hopefully what I'm doing will make it easier for everybody in the South, including him," he said.