Scratch Magazine – Issue 2
David Banner’s production is like a musical pot of gumbo, thickened with chunky bass lines, seasoned with the soul of Mississippi and served over a blanket of organs, keys and drums. His unique sound is a hodgepodge of various influences ranging from Classical to 80’s pop. With the release of his solo albums, David has managed to gain notoriety outside of his rhymes and is quickly becoming the go to guy when you need that hit. His backdrops can be found powering T.I.’s catchy “Rubberband Man” or adding a down home feeling to Trick Daddy’s “Thug Holiday.” 2004 looks to be another Banner year as he sets to score John Singleton’s next film while still providing heat for upcoming projects from Busta Rhymes, Lil Flip, Trick, and possibly 50 Cent.
When did you start dabbling in production?
I started rapping at twelve, but it was hard to find producers at the time. I never really wanted to be a producer. I just didn’t have anybody else to do it. I really got deep into it around the time I got anywhere from fourteen to sixteen. Blues is the foundation of where I’m from, but when I started sampling heavy I really got into jazz the average person my age wasn’t into. Really abstract stuff like Sun Ra and Jack DeJohnette. I was always trying to get some violas, chimes, and oboes, stuff people wouldn’t normally hear. I was just into grabbing some spacey type of sounds and adding that into what I was doing. It’s strange because even when I got up in age and had money to afford a producer, a lot of the producers out of town weren’t giving you top-notch beats. They try to hold them for they click. I went to some of the top producers to get beats and I wasn’t hearing the type of beats I’d be hearing on those CDs that I love. God put me in a position where me not having made me learn a skill. I also understood that nobody is going to do for you like you. That’s one of the reasons I make my beats in front of people so I don’t do them the way other people did me. It’s funny because I’m more serious about their stuff than my own. I can deal with me losing but I can’t be apart of somebody else not being successful. When I get in there I have a tendency to give them my best. I just don’t want anybody to ever feel they didn’t get their money’s worth from David Banner.
What was your first piece of equipment?
I had a two-second sampler and I put whatever sound I had in there and recorded it to high-speed dub so I could get a ten-second sample. I turned an eighty-dollar keyboard into a five hundred dollar piece of equipment. I amaze people in the studio with how I hook up my equipment. We call it ‘Niggarigging.’ I learned how to hook equipment up and make sounds from nothing and I still incorporate that into my sound today
You have some pretty diverse musical interests. I’ve heard you mention Phil Collins and Pimp C. in the same breath in terms of influences.
Being from Mississippi we didn’t have our own scene but that became a blessing because you’re able to pull from so many different influences. If you think of the eighties we didn’t have no choice. I had to listen to Boy George, Ah-Ha, Shock the Monkey, and Phil Collins. It was negative but it forced us to have an open mind about music. That’s why my music is so deeply laced with rock guitars and stuff like that. Now all the things that I thought was negative are such a plus to me. So when people ask me what’s my favorite group it will go from UGK to The Police. My respect and the way I feel about music is a little bit different because I started so early. I started off on Stetsasonic, T La Rock, Mantronix and stuff of that caliber. One of my biggest influences outside the south was somebody like Showbiz or Diamond D. Then you get into your whole Rap a Lot crew, the bounce music out of New Orleans, ATL, and house music in Chicago.
How would you describe the ‘Southern sound?’
People have the misconception that if you put in an 808 and a triple time sample you have a southern beat. I studied a producer like Mannie Fresh. He got some of the best beats in the world, some of them have 808s in them and some of them don’t. It really pisses me off because people think it’s that easy. To me a southern feel is more of a blues sound. You can hear those blues and jazz influences. Even if you look at the east coast sound and really study the samples most of them originated from the south, but we will never get credit for our music. When I was a NY homeless producer I learned why a lot of cats wasn’t digging our sound initially. Most cats don’t travel in cars and most of our sounds are in 808s. Headphones can’t register those low tones so when they listen to our music it sounds incomplete. Most east coast music has rock like drums, solid kicks, and loud heavy snares and that’s irritating to our ears because we rolling in Chevy Caprices and Cadillacs with eighteen inch woofers in the back. Understanding that I sort of layered solid kicks and 808s together so no matter who listens to it you’ll be able to enjoy it. All of it has its relevance. Now I think there is more of a south sound than its ever been. Before it was just hot cliques. Now you got people from Texas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas. “Like a Pimp” was a combination of a little bit of New Orleans, a little bit of crunk, a little bit of Texas, and the soul from Mississippi with a hard hit. That’s something that people weren’t used to in southern music and I think that’s why people enjoyed it so much.
What do you think is the difference between the sounds from Birmingham to Mississippi as opposed to a St. Louis or ATL?
I think for the most part the closer that you get to the east coast the faster the music is because of the influence Miami had. The closer you get to Texas, which is screw music, the slower the music gets. I think more or less that’s the biggest difference when you break it down from a theoretical standpoint. But southerners just love good music whoever it is. Right now the two things I’m listening to the most in my car is Linkin Park and Anthony Hamilton. It’s crazy to be able to hear so many sounds. I wish that I could do the type of music I want to do. There are so many different types of music that our people haven’t been able to touch because we lost touch with our parents. When drugs hit the black community it separated a whole generation of people. Plus with the government cutting back on school funding you don’t have kids playing instruments like they used too. We lost a whole generation of music. If we don’t make good music what will our kids have to sample.
How do you maintain a unique flavor while still keeping the traditional elements of the southern sound?
I’m one of the few southern producers that sample even though most of my hits have been stuff I’ve played on the keyboard. I also think its my willingness to fail. “Crank It Up” and “Cadillac On 22s” wasn’t what people was expecting from me. In Nashville that was the 32nd top country song. That just showed me that god is really exposing that I was on the right track. I want to transcend rap music. I want to be known as one of the better producers not one of the best rap producers. I want to get this Christina Aguilera money. I want to go pop. Come on Justin!
Aside from heftier paychecks what is pulling you to go pop?
You’re able to experiment more when you do other types of music. I want to do some Linkin Park, some Rage Against the Machine or some stuff for Sting. These major labels put pressure on you where you can’t be experimental. You gotta make that hit and they don’t support you unless your song blow up by itself. That makes you almost have to make the stuff you know your people want to hear instead of leading them in a direction like a producer is supposed to do. Quincy Jones’ sound changed on every album. He can go back to a symphony type of sound or “Off the Wall” with Michael Jackson. I want to be able to do that. I want to bring in a live orchestra and a fifty-piece symphony band. I want to score movies. These are the things that test you as an artist.
So at this point you’re holding back your sound.
I am holding back. That’s the harsh reality about business. You know what your customer wants and you have to give it to them. That’s what I’m doing. I used to let my artistic nature get in the way of my production. I used to go away from the sounds that I used in “Rubberband Man,” but that’s what people like. There are a certain group of sounds people have grown accustomed to hearing from me so I’m into that right now. My beats start with ‘David Banner’ and I want people to equate that with quality. You have to gain a certain rapport with your fan base and then they are willing to follow you. On my last single, I tried to go into a different direction but I did it too early.
What are you using in the studio right now?
My favorite thing to use was the ASR-10 but that was too heavy. So I went down to the MPC 2000. Right now I’m using a Nord Lead and a Triton, but some of the best sounds I have now are coming out of three hundred dollar keyboards that I’ll mention next time we talk. To be real with you no one keyboard is the bomb. What I do is get the best sounds. To me that’s what you pay a producer for. You pay for his skills but you also pay for the time he puts in. People say ‘Damn you made that beat in twenty minutes,’ but they don’t understand it took a decade to get that combination of drums that cut through the speaker just perfect. It takes you a long time to know this and that sound and what people are going to gravitate to the most. I’m really back into Prince again. The dude was a genius with the snares and the drum arrangements that he was using. The way he used the ‘Ready For The World’ snare didn’t sound outdated because of how he incorporated it into the music. I would use “Erotic City” right now with no changes. That shows you his ability to put certain sounds together.
You stepped back from production on your last album. How much do you plan to contribute for the next project?
I’m probably going to do a lot less. I’m working on getting Jazze Pha, Kanye, Just Blaze, Organized Noize and a couple new cats. If I have a lot of hot joints sitting up on me I’ll use em but I just want to get the best sound. I feel some of my beats are the best in the world but not all of them. Even if it’s a beat I can do better, people need to rest their ears to even respect your sound.