David Banner isn’t fond of big egos. Luckily, producer 9th Wonder doesn’t have one, making their collaborative album, Death of a Pop Star, a welcomed feat to work on. After talking for hours about hip-hop’s current state, the two joined forces to create a project that would bring more value to the rap game. “We talked on the phone for three hours about the music that was out there, and we thought about how we could contribute and change things,” says Wonder.
Banner, who was facing an inner battle before recording the LP, felt the need to relinquish the sound that made him a chart-topping rapper and speak directly from his soul. “I was really hurting, and the one thing that I do thank 9th for, is he saw it.” In return, the “Be With You” creator gave the producer complete control of the album’s beats, which Banner openly admits was difficult to do.
The dynamic duo checked in with Rap-Up.com after the release of Pop Star to discuss why they chose Erykah Badu to be a guest, how KRS-One’s words influence their rhymes, and which rapper’s latest album is underrated. Read on as David Banner and 9th Wonder air it out for the masses.
1. Why was Death of a Pop Star changed from a mixtape to an album?
9th Wonder: We just got together as two friends making music. When we stepped outside of it and looked at everything that was going on, we figured that the world needed to hear this album the right way.
2. Where did the inspiration for this project come from?
David Banner: I was going through a lot mentally and spiritually. 9th told me, “Come out to North Carolina. You ain’t got to worry about where you are staying, just come up here and do music.” If you dig deep into the lyrics, you’ll see that there was just a lot going on. Plus, as you go on through the album you can actually hear when stuff got better. I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life and I know you can hear that on “Be With You” and you can feel that on “Stutter.”
3. Your music and rap style seem to have changed from previous albums. What brought that about?
Banner: Well, I agree with you and then I disagree. If you go to the beginning of my career there was an album that was called Crooked Lettaz when I was on Penalty Records, so the foundation of this record is where I come from. You see at one point I was a battle rapper, but it just came to the point where I realized that this was something that my people did not want to hear. Also, I was not making music for me; I’m making music for my demographic and where I am from. KRS-One said that it’s about hip-hop and culture. My culture is different then the artists and groups that were coming out at that time. If people are true fans of David Banner, then they would know that’s not the case. I had a tweet that said the same thing. [It] said, “I know David Banner, this is David Banner doing a 360 example of where he comes from.” This album was for my soul. I needed to do something different. I am going back to the David Banner that people are used to on my next album, but when my soul calls again, I’ll do Death of a Pop Star 2. This album, I can honestly say, was definitely for my soul.
4. What was the process of putting together the album?
9th Wonder: Well, it took about a year.
Banner: We got a chance to listen to the album and change it up about three or four times.
5. David, how did you put aside the role of being a producer?
Banner: It was hard. Once me and 9th Wonder’s friendship got stronger, I trusted dude. I don’t think dude would put me out there bad, and that’s part of the reason why music sucks so bad. Everybody has an ego, and they are not able to relinquish it. A wise man once told me, “How can you be a leader and show people how to follow you when you’ve never followed anyone before?”
6. How were the beats selected?
9th Wonder: We were up in the studio and pretty much I played him beats to see if he’d like them or not.
Banner: Except “Be With You,” the single with Ludacris, I did not like that song. 9th said, “This is a hit. I don’t care what you say, I do beats and you rap.” See, I usually fight when people say that and 9th said, “Just rap, man. I said, “Let me try this.” He believed in that record and I was wrong about it. I haven’t got a response like this since I came out with “Play.” When people first heard this song, everybody was like it’s a breath of fresh air, and I can definitely say that the man 9th was right about this song and I was wrong.
7. What are your favorite tracks?
Banner: “Diamonds on My Pinky.” I think that song relayed everything that I was going through at that time, more than any other song on the album. I regurgitated all of the feelings that I had inside and I don’t think I’ve ever been able to do that clearly in my life.
9th Wonder: “Mas 4” and “Be With You.” Banner really spits on those tracks.
8. Ludacris, Anthony Hamilton, Marsha Ambrosius, and Erykah Badu are guests. Why did you choose them specifically?
9th Wonder: Everybody on the album is our family. I’ve done a lot of charity work with Luda. I worked with Marsha on a few projects before, and I did “Honey” for Erykah Badu. So, we already had relationships with a lot of the artists that we worked with. We just reached out and it wasn’t a problem for them to get on the record.
Banner: I’m supposed to be producing a large part of Anthony Hamilton’s next album. Me and 9th both speak to Erykah Badu at least once or twice every two weeks. Ludacris counseled me through my first movie that I did. Marsha writes to a lot of 9th’s beats. So as much as people want to make this album be this mystical spiritual journey, it’s just us being with people that if we know we’re getting a Grammy, they are going to show up and not charge us $70,000 to perform.
9. How do you feel about the dominance of downloading in today’s industry?
Banner: I don’t think downloading has taken over. I think it’s close to taking over things. This album is called Death of a Pop Star, but our music isn’t dead yet. Kids are going to do anything that they feel is easy unless someone teaches them different. Other genres of music are still pushing music and doing well. I think we can do well. At one point people said that rock ‘n’ roll music was dead, but then the people who ran rock ‘n’ roll made a conscious effort to bring it back. So I believe that we can do the same, and I honestly think that this was the best thing to ever happen to rap. Rap ain’t the hustle no more. Now you see the resurgent of true talent. You’ve had some of the best albums that have come out in a long time just recently. I think all of the talent is coming back ’cause all of the hustlers can’t clean up your money in rap no more. You really gotta start rapping again, and a lot of people are uncomfortable.
10. Speaking of great albums, who are you a fan of?
Banner: I believe in my heart that there have been a lot of great albums that have come out recently, and people know what those albums are. 9th Wonder turned me on to Rick Ross’ [Teflon Don], but people won’t give him credit for the level of the album that he has produced. Rick’s album was jamming.
–Felicia D. O’Garro