Ice Cube, Tupac Rap On Ant Banks' Big New LP

Hip-hop impresario Ant Banks likes things big. And he likes things done his way.

Now he has both and a new CD to boot.

"I just wanted to be the man behind the board. Get all my homies together and do big thangs," drawled the Oakland, Calif.-based Banks about his recently-released star-studded album, Big Thangs, which features raucous rhymes from Banks' un-retired mentor Too $hort, as well as Ice Cube, E40, Mack 10, Ice T, 2Pac, Coolio, Rappin' 4-Tay and Spice 1.

"I just wanted to do an album where I was the production artist," explained the 26-year-old hip-hop veteran, who has produced five platinum albums for $hort, as well as five Spice 1 efforts, three of his own solo albums and upcoming projects from Cube, Mack 10 and Master P. "I don't consider this a compilation. I see it as my album on the production end, you know, to get my name out there. Like Dre was trying to get his label out there (with last year's Aftermath compilation, produced by Dre), I'm just trying to get me out there, to display my production for everybody. If you want big thangs you need to come to Ant Banks."

Banks' signature call, what he refers to as the "Oakland Sound," is a virtually sample-free mix of slow, thick bouncy funk, layered with keyboards and raunchy, often misogynistic lyrics that the producer has been perfecting since he cut his first track more than 10 years ago at the tender age of 14. "It's a slow, eerie bass funk music that makes you trip on the music more than the rappers," Banks said. "It's some dope fiend shit that takes your ass to the land. It's like riding around smoking weed with the windows up and the heat blastin'."

Banks said he steers clear of cover tunes and the predictable well of P-Funk samples because there's no money in playing other people's tunes. "We don't do covers and shit, it's 100 percent original. It's all Ant Banks and Oakland beats. $hort laced me in the early days and got me a publishing deal, and I learned that I ain't gonna get those checks if I play someone else's music. Anybody out there doin' all that sampling and looking for money, you're playing something somebody else did 10 years ago, and they gettin' paid, not you."

Kicked off with the pimp rap of "Big Thangs," featuring Too $hort and Ice Cube, the album is a mix of g-funk and laid back hard-core rapping, with all the lyrics provided by the MCs, who Banks said "laced" their parts in less than an afternoon. "I got Pac, Cube and Too $hort, and from there everyone wanted to be involved and they all laced their parts quick. I didn't write any of the rhymes, they all came in with their lyrics and laced it in the same day, no three or four days in the studio," according to Banks, who said none of the sessions lasted more than six hours.

"When you doin' it like that, that's big thangs," he said and laughed. Ice T serves up a skit about gambling on a casino cruise, while Too $hort and Tupac Shakur (2Pac) join MC Breed for a slow-rolling tune called "4 Tha Hustlas," on which murdered rapper Shakur offers the typically eerie lyrics, "I'll be a drunken-ass outlaw 'til my fuckin' casket drop." Those lyrics were recorded less than five months before Shakur was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas.

Banks expects the compilation to do well. "How could you not play 'Big Thangs' on the radio?" he joked. He hopes the album will "create a buzz that will make people want my name, like that Puffy (Bad Boy Entertainment boss Sean "Puffy" Combs) shit. He can put anything out and it will go platinum. I just want to keep it real like he did. That will get me there. I just wanna be me."