Lloyd Banks [Interview]
New York, NY – For nearly a decade, Lloyd Banks has been one of the most revered rhymers in the game. Most known for his high caliber and witty punchlines, with a signature sound that’s often imitated but never duplicated by run of the mill mixtape rappers. While younger than many of his peers; Banks is in fact a seasoned veteran at what he does best. After a series of mixtapes and street-released material, G-Unit, powered by Interscope, released his debut album, Hunger For More. With rave reviews and screaming fans, Banks outdid all expectations, selling over 400 thousand in his first week, going on to sell over 2 million records to date. The G-Unit machine had established him as a household name. No longer looked upon as just a supporting cast member; Lloyd Banks, stands firmly as an solo artist as well.
Since September of last year he has been releasing mixtapes showcasing his growth and development as an artist and as an emcee. He has one more street album to release until he finalizes work on his third studio album, a title for which has not concocted as of yet. Critics may be counting Banks out due to his independent situation at the moment, but he is ready to get himself all in.
HipHopCanada: First things first . . . I’m sure everyone else asked you this question as well, but it’s a need to know basis for our fans . . . are you still on Interscope?
Lloyd Banks: No I’m not on Interscope.
HipHopCanada: Do you plan on resigning or staying a free agent until the album drops?
Lloyd Banks: It’s not something that I consider to be an option at this point. I’m at a point in my career where I want to branch out and try something new.
HipHopCanada: Are you looking at any labels or . . . ?
Lloyd Banks: Not any particular label; just a label that understands me the most and that comes with the biggest number. There are ways to be able to market yourself with the Internet now and things of that nature and I think G-Unit as a brand has built a big enough trust from the fans. If I get a big record before I do a deal, then it’s going to make me think twice about doing a deal; there’s always the independent route. There are not too many artists who have the opportunity with the energy that I have . . . they usually go independent after 7-8 albums on a major. Fortunately for me I have two albums under my belt, two group albums, and a bunch of other things that I have done outside of G-Unit. It’s a wonderful thing to get a taste of the independent money. As we speak I have records on iTunes that I’m receiving very good percentage of what I’m doing, opposed to the label touching all of that. I’m comfortable right now.
HipHopCanada: Right . . . and I was going to ask you about what do you think is the biggest advantage independent artists have versus those signed to a major label?
Lloyd Banks: At the end of the day I don’t think my label had a say of what record came out. They might not be as enthusiastic for the record that I decide to go with. It depends on what kind of artists the label actually consists of. If you have pop, R&B, alternative artists; they kind of want to filter that all into your music. You have to know who you are as an artist and be with a label that understands the power a record will have on the hip-hop community and not try to mesh it and make it more friendly to the ear or the eyes. Some things are better when they’re left uncut – raw – and that’s what I think you can achieve with independent.
HipHopCanada: Your mixtape Reborn dropped recently. Are you satisfied with it?
Lloyd Banks: It actually came out on my birthday and that’s why it’s called Reborn. This is my 4th mixtape since last September. I told myself I was going to put out 5 mixtapes before I go into seriously working to my new album. That’s what I did before my first album came out. I was consistently on the mixtape market and it tuned my capabilities and song structure. It’s like practicing for me. I feel like if you don’t put the practice in, there won’t be an end result.
HipHopCanada: Are the mixtapes different from one another or just a continuation of each?
Lloyd Banks: Completely different things: the first mixtape was Return Of The POK. For all that don’t know, I go by the name of Punchline King. Something that kind of developed over time due to my wordplay and my delivery. That was mostly a collage of records I had already released. I didn’t know it was going to be a mixtape in the beginning until I realized that I had 16 complete songs and I was like, “Might as well make it into a mixtape.”
The second one came out on Halloween and it was called Halloween Havoc and it had a darker feel to it. The third mixtape was called On The Cold Corner and it was mostly structured around my neighborhood and my friends and what’s actually going on in my neighborhood. The last tape was Reborn that came out on my birthday and it shows where I have come now from the first tape I released, meaning I have a whole new energy. The last mixtape . . . I haven’t thought of a title for it yet.
HipHopCanada: An idea on when you’re going to drop it?
Lloyd Banks: I’m thinking July 4th: Independence Day. And it’s funny that I’m actually in an independent state. That’s kind of special too.
HipHopCanada: Since we’re on the mixtape topic a quick question about mixtapes. A lot of the mixtape artists in the South have been able to cross over and become mainstream artists, whereas in the East, not too many mixtape artists [recently] have been able to cross over that mixtape state into something bigger. Why do you think that is?
Lloyd Banks: Nothing stays the same. When we first came in, nobody was getting record deals over mixtapes. I guess you [can] thank G-Unit that we were like the first group to have mixtape records playing on mainstream radio. As far as the other artists in New York City; the mixtape market is a very big market and over saturated. You have producers that have mixtapes now . . . it’s such a wide range of options to choose from. When you move to the South, you have Drama and Hollywood and it’s something new and it causes the same attention that we brought back in 2003. Things never stay in one place for anybody. You just have to be on your toes all the time.
HipHopCanada: How are your tapes different from your albums?
Lloyd Banks: I guess there’s more thought put into the album. The mixtape right . . . say if I saw something happening now, you have the swine flu, the new President, or you said something to me in this interview; I could talk about it in a record that can come out tomorrow, or next week. You have the ability to stay more hands on with the times. I could start recording my album now and in all reality it may not come out until fourth quarter: November, December. So you have to be that much more up to date and relevant with the album. You have to make people feel the way you felt in September, in December. So it’s a wider range in between the albums and each record on the album is more complete than on a mixtape conceptually. On a mixtape I could go out there and rap for 2 minutes without a chorus, but on a record you have to follow a certain format.
HipHopCanada: Do you keep radio in mind when you are making your records?
Lloyd Banks: I think that on my first album I didn’t compromise for anything, because you have only one chance to make your first album and I think your first album is a collage of songs from when you have decided that you wanted to be an artist. Once you gain the respect and the interest you get opportunities that you didn’t get on the first album. My first album wasn’t feature heavy. I had Eminem on it, 50 cent, Snoop Dogg; but all these guys were on the Shady Aftermath family already. When you sell 2 million records on your debut album you get presented with a lot of ideas and directions that the label feels you can go. They feel you can have a pop record, a Top 40 record, you can work with this guy or you can work with this girl. So sometimes as an artist you just want to be the biggest artist you can be and you can go into the wrong direction but you don’t realize until after the album comes out. And it’s not your fault because what artist doesn’t want to be the biggest artist and take the opportunities? I’m at a stage in my career, where I won’t compromise for a radio record. I’d rather put out a street record that’s street based and received well, than try to attempt to make a radio record that’s not received well.
HipHopCanada: Is that the direction you’re going with this album then? I read on the net that you were thinking of Famine for the album title?
Lloyd Banks: What was the title?
Lloyd Banks: No, I haven’t even come up with the title yet and I think that’s the Internet and the public creating that title. That goes to show you that if people are naming your album for you, it’s kind of like times are calling right?
HipHopCanada: Yeah, right. So that’s not the title of the album?
Lloyd Banks: Nope. I haven’t made a title yet. I haven’t even sat and thought of the theme of the album yet. I’ve been so busy with the mixtape series . . .
HipHopCanada: So have you made any records for the album yet, or you’re just waiting to finish up the mixtapes completely?
Lloyd Banks: No, I actually started working on my album before I started the mixtapes. I think I have 80 or more records put aside but those are all records I have done by myself. I haven’t sat with the big time producers or anything of that nature yet. I’m kind of saving that.
HipHopCanada: Right, and that’s what I was saying earlier. Since you have most of the songs done already, do you know what direction you are going to take this album?
Lloyd Banks: I definitely want it to be street driven. The subject matter that’s on my mixtape will be on the album also. It will be half dark and half radio ready. I’ve made a lot of good radio records also format wise, but it’s also going to have those raw and uncut mixtape-like records as well. It will be street driven. I don’t think there are a lot or enough references to where we come from anymore. Everyone is bending to make radio records and with records like Relapse, Eminem’s new album, it just shows me how far I can take it lyrically. When Em and Jay-Z are not putting out albums, it kind of lets everyone else feel overshadowed. When someone like Eminem comes out it makes you appreciate lyricism more because it opens your ears up more to what’s being said as opposed to the actual beat. When Dre comes back and 50 comes back that’s the same effect . . .
We as a whole make up for a wide percentage of the industry . . .
HipHopCanada: And lyricism as well . . .
Lloyd Banks: Of course, and that’s why I tip my hat to the performance on the Relapse album and it just lets me know what height to take it to.
HipHopCanada: I also read you’re going to feature production by a lot of notable producers such as Polow, Ron Browz, Swizzy, Juss Blaze . . . G-Unit is known to work with a lot of new producers . . . are you going to focus more on an A-LIST type features or you will try to mix in new cats as well?
Lloyd Banks: Of course . . . most of the records that I do have now are by new producers. I’ll always look for that. Everyone starts from somewhere, but at the same time those beats I’m getting on a CD. When you sit down in the studio with someone like Polow Da Don you have a better opportunity to create chemistry because you’re in person and if you don’t feel something you can change it right there. When you’re not in the studio together it’s kind of hard to make the producer understand where I want to go. And I’ve never actually got in the studio with these producers that have such a great collage of records and I feel it’s only right for me to do so and see what happens when I get in the studio with them . . .
HipHopCanada: I think it’s going to be crazy.
Lloyd Banks: I know it’s going to be crazy.
HipHopCanada: And you know, when you get in the studio with producers that have worked with a variety of artists they can pull out different things in you that you may have never found before, and you have the comfort to allow them to do that . . .
Lloyd Banks: Of course, you respect them and you respect the fact that they want to pull that stuff out of you. You have to humble yourself. I’ve always been a humble guy and I’m even more humble now because I can appreciate all the new artists that are coming out now and the different genres.
HipHopCanada: Right . . . well I think it’s a great thing to do for your third album because it’s such a different comfort zone to get into.
Lloyd Banks: If you appreciate the person you are working with, the opportunities are endless. You can make a Top 40 smash hit record. And that’s what I’m gunning for when I get in with those guys.
HipHopCanada: Without compromising yourself or your lyricism, or your artistry. They can work with you and your genre . . .
Lloyd Banks: I want to take a record that can actually play on radio and show my lyrical capabilities on it.
HipHopCanada: What would you say is your biggest challenge with this album? What do you have to work on the most?
Lloyd Banks: My biggest challenge is growth. People are going to say, “Oh It doesn’t sound like the first album.” It’s not supposed too. It’s hard for me to make you feel the way you felt when my first album came out. I remember where I was at when Doggystyle came out and his albums now are not going to make me feel the way I felt when his first album came out. People ask for too much sometimes. If anything you have to ask for growth and make sure it doesn’t sound like the first album. That way you know the artist is growing as an artist. It proves my wheels are still rolling. I feel like I’m one of the best lyricists under 30 in the game so I have a lot to prove this year.
HipHopCanada: G-Unit has a very devoted crowd outside of North America. When you make music, are you mainly affected by your home and your surroundings here, or just by everything you see in general?
Lloyd Banks: I do. I actually I write music everyday. So I spend a lot of time in Canada and I’ve created a lot of stuff in the UK as well. Staring out the window or staring out the balcony kind of puts you in a different zone. And with me I’m one of those guys that appreciate every moment and every second of my day.
HipHopCanada: Have you ever thought about international features? From artists in Europe, Australia or Asia?
Lloyd Banks: Of course. I’ve done records with Spanish artists like Daddy Yankee, Beenie Man . . . and I definitely try to platform myself in different markets and hopefully if I’m in a different market long enough I can go to the studio and put something together with someone there. There are so many different artists who don’t speak English either that have come on my set or I’ve gotten on their set, so yeah I definitely don’t limit myself.
HipHopCanada: What’s the response like worldwide? How is it different from here?
Lloyd Banks: I think they haven’t been spoiled by you. Where you’re from they’re more spoiled. I’m from New York City . . . I’ve been here my whole life, but when I ride down Manhattan the lights don’t really impress me. If you came from France you may be stuck for a minute. I feel like when you go overseas, they might see you once a year, so it’s not enough time for them to get spoiled and it’s like the first time you came out. I’ve done a lot of shows for the first time in Korea, Japan, Iraq, Kazakhstan, and every time you go, they may see you once or twice a year so the energy is crazy. Whereas when you’re in NY you may have like 1 or 2 shows a week.
HipHopCanada: Right . . . plus you live there so you have to go and eat, or go see the people close to you, or go shopping or whatever.
Lloyd Banks: Right, and the artists in New York have a thing for the club so they like to go out every Friday, Saturday…but my theory is if you will go to the club for free, why would people pay to see you?
HipHopCanada: What about Hollywood? A lot of artists (including 50, Eminem, Snoop) have shifted more of a career in acting or even reality TV. Do you see yourself in anything of that sort?
Lloyd Banks: Actually, we are in talks right now for my own reality show. I don’t know man . . . if that becomes a go then I’ll definitely take that approach. You’ll definitely see me on the screen soon. I have some scripts and things on the table. I’m a writer also so I like to create my own thing too. As an artist I don’t want to limit myself, I want to write the screen and produce it and everything too.
HipHopCanada: What else is Lloyd Banks working on?
Lloyd Banks: Right now my main focus is on the music because the music is what opens up the opportunities. Most of the artists you already mentioned don’t have to put another album out. If Eminem doesn’t put another album, it’s not a problem. If Detox never comes out, Dre is still a legend. If 50 doesn’t put another album out, he doesn’t have to. He can make albums at leisure. Me as an artist and as a fan of hip-hop I’d be more excited to hear a Lloyd Banks album, than to see a Lloyd Banks movie. Maybe as I get older . . . When these guys’ albums came out, they were around my age, so it’s hard to take me and put me in the shoes of some of these guys. They’ve already been in the game for over 10 years. Maybe down the line.
HipHopCanada: Cool. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Lloyd Banks: I appreciate you.
Editor’s note: For more information on Lloyd Banks check out http://www.myspace.com/lloydbanks or http://www.ThisIs50.com.
Written by Lola Plaku for HipHopCanada