David Banner’s seen a lot during his time in the game. Originally one-half of the duo Crooked Lettaz, Banner made his debut alongside fellow Mississippi rapper Kamikaze with 1999’s Grey Skies. Released through East Coast-based Penalty Records, the Southern fried record barely made a dent in SoundScan charts. The following year, Banner broke out on his own with Them Firewater Boyz, Vol. 1 (Big Face Records), which featured appearances by Ras Kass and N.O.R.E. and sold over 7,000 units independently. National prominence didn’t come until 2003, when the MC/producer released two solid albums—Mississippi: The Album and MTA2: Baptized in Dirty Water—on Universal Records. Containing hits like “Like a Pimp” and “Cadillac on 22s,” Mississippi easily earned a gold plaque, while MTA2 stalled out around 280,000 units. Going on to produce records for other artists like Nelly (“E.I. [Tipdrill Remix]”) and Trick Daddy (“Thug Holiday”), Banner returned to rap with 2005’s Certified. Spearheaded by the overly-commercial lead single “Play” and overshadowed by the impact of Hurricane Katrina, the album sold a paltry 327,000 units. Regardless of sales figures, Banner’s accomplishments speak for themselves: a slew of production credits, a budding acting career (last year he played opposite Samuel L. Jackson in Black Snake Moan), a critically acclaimed Cartoon Network series, That Crook’d ’Sipp, and humanitarian work through his charity organization, Heal The Hood. Now, the outspoken MC says he’s crafted one of the best albums of 2007 with Greatest Story Ever Told, which is due out this October through SRC/Universal. A month after the passing of his father, Zeno Crump Jr., Banner speaks with XXLMag.com about the high expectations for Greatest Story Ever Told, the continued impact of Hurricane Katrina on the South and reveals his controversial political stance.
What can we expect from your new album, Greatest Story Ever Told?
It’s funny because I actually got a “Negro Please” in XXL when I said that I was gonna have one of the greatest albums in recent history. I honestly think I got the best rap album in the last three years.
That’s a pretty bold statement.
I’m a humble guy. I come from Mississippi, so people have the tendency not to give me my just due. And I’m not taking that this year. I got money [but] I was never the type of person to display that. I always wanted to be the humble guy ’cause your parents tell you when you’re humble; those are the guys that win. That ain’t true. I just realized this year that I gotta play the game. I’ma show these cats I got more talent and money than most of these dudes. Some cats may out-rhyme me and there’s a couple of cats that maybe can do better beats, but I don’t think there’s a better package than me.
Do you anticipate any backlash for this new cocky outlook?
It’s crazy, because people criticized T.I. when he said he was the king. Now what’s everybody calling him? When Lil Wayne said he was the “best rapper alive since the best rapper retired,” everybody gave him flack. Now what’s everybody sayin’? It’s like God spoke the world into fruition and I’ma have to do the same. This is the Greatest Story Ever Told. I don’t think there’s any writer who can look me in the eyes as a man, not lie and say I don’t have one of the best albums in recent history. They can put my album up against any XXL [rated] album.
Why do you think your last album, Certified, didn’t sell as well as you would’ve liked?
Certified had more to do with [Hurricane] Katrina. People forget that Certified dropped the Tuesday Katrina happened. [Editor’s note: Hurricane Katrina actually made landfall in New Orleans on August 29, 2005. Certified wasn’t released until September 20, 2005.] What you also gotta understand is when I went out there, as much as I was on TV, did you ever hear me talk about Certified? I never did. That wasn’t important to me. I thought people were gonna come back and say, “Damn, David Banner stood up and did the right thing, we gonna support him.” People didn’t do that.
Does the general public understand the conditions Hurricane Katrina survivors are still living in?
They don’t, and to be real with you, they really don’t give a fuck. Katrina didn’t hit New Orleans, my nigga. The eye of Katrina hit Mississippi! It was the residuals from Katrina that New Orleans caught. What happened was, millions of dollars were allocated to the rebuilding of the levees in New Orleans. The local government in New Orleans only used half of that to patch up the levees. If the money that was allocated for the levees would’ve really been used to rebuild the levees, New Orleans would still be what it was before.
Is the government really trying to improve the Black experience in this country?
Of course not. We all know that. And what we have to understand is people in the government and their friends—the hierarchy—they make money from our pain. I’ll give you an example: in LA, there’s some type of elephants, I don’t know what they are, either albino or something. They’re spending like $16 million to build a sanctuary for two rare elephants, but they’ll only give $1 to 3 million to stop gang violence or give people in the inner city money so kids will have something to do. The truth is America wants to continuously keep our people at anarchy so it will hide the things that they’re doing [and] so we don’t have time to focus on the real matters at hand.
What can Black folks do to combat that?
As long as Black people are keeping other Black people under control, it’s [gonna stay] cool. I’m not a big fan of Martin Luther King, Jr., and you can print this. Martin Luther King was telling niggas to stay under control. We shall overcome, be good, hold hands and shit. Fuck that. They not singing when they coming to beat our ass. The Ku Klux Klan don’t come and sing. I’m not saying Martin Luther King was a bad man. All I’m saying is that they only fleshed out the era of his life when he was keeping Black people under control. The reason he probably died was because him and Malcolm X were starting to believe the same thing. Malcolm was believing all White people weren’t bad and Martin Luther King realized they definitely ain’t all good. And that’s when they both died. Any of our leaders out here who stand for anything and they ain’t dead, they fed. That’s my shit: if you ain’t dead, you’re a fed.
What about Al Sharpton and his campaign to censor hip-hop?
Fuck Al Sharpton. And I hate Jesse Jackson. Anybody that got something to say about it, they can come see me. All the things that Al Sharpton could be talking about, all the woes in the Black community… Dude, if you don’t agree with what we do, come talk to us. Then they get up on TV in front of all these other people and they crucify their own children so you can get in good with your investors and the rest of these White people. And I’m very disappointed in our parents and the fact that they did the same thing with rock ‘n’ roll [and] jazz. Anything that’s not church music—which once again keeps us under control—then it’s the devil’s music. That’s bullshit!
Saigon recently said in an interview with XXLMag.com that he wanted to talk to you about changing the title of your album, Greatest Story Ever Told, because it’s similar to his upcoming LP, The Greatest Story Never Told. What’s your take on the situation?
I don’t really give a shit. I’m not trippin’. He do his thing, I do my thing. I didn’t get my album title from him [and] he didn’t get his from me. We were just thinking on the same levels around the same time. I’m cool with dude, but it ain’t really too much to be done. My shit is on its way. And I don’t think our markets cross enough for it to really be that much of a problem. And with me, dawg, we have a tendency to fall into some shit and people want to make it something bigger than what it is. It ain’t that big of a deal. If dude wants to find me, he knows how to get at me.