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Lloyd Banks has a story for everything.
When he walks inside Billboard‘s offices for his first media interview in five years, the G-Unit rhyme slinger has an air of gravitas that instantly commands respect. Towering over me at an impressive 6’1′, Banks — whose reticence and tamed personality are often mistaken for laziness — spends 3.5 hours reliving moments from his decorated 20-year career. From almost signing to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint in 2010 to re-establishing his once fractured brotherhood with 50, Banks’ rumination is eye-opening for someone who sat on the mountaintop at the early stages of his career.
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“They make these boxes with certain artists like me and Jadakiss. We haven’t been pushed out of them boxes,” he says about his legacy. “I don’t know what you want to attribute that to, but I’m grateful we passed the test of time.”
After 50 Cent scorched the music scene in 2003 with his debut opus Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Banks followed suit with his 2004 LP bow Hunger for More. For Banks, his first effort was a hip-hop missive laced with menacing barbs and explosive hits such as “On Fire,” “Warrior” and “I’m So Fly.” The project topped the Billboard 200 with a whopping 433,000 units sold and bolstered G-Unit’s indomitable reign in rap. Furthermore, Banks proved he wasn’t just a trusty sidekick capable of doling out a witty 16, but a promising artist adept at making hits.
And though Banks encountered slippage commercially after his torrid debut (2006’s Rotten Apple debuted at No. 3 and 2010’s Hunger For More 2 at No. 26 on the Billboard 200), his prolific output on the mixtape circuit made him a respected lyrical marksman for over a decade. In 2016, following the release of his mixtape Halloween Havoc 3, Banks halted his career, leaving fans wondering why.
“I had my daughter — so at 34, I found out I’m having a baby,” says Banks regarding his five-year hiatus. “I was like, ‘Damn!’ I was all types of things at once — excited, concerned, afraid, and felt blessed overall, but it was something I hadn’t experienced yet. I’ve done all types of s–t, but this right here, there’s no way to prepare for this s–t.”
During his hiatus, Banks dealt with his fair share of criticism, most notably from his former partner in rhyme, 50 Cent, who called him “lazy” in his 2018 book Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter. Instead of clashing with 50, Banks remained in the shadows, chipping away on what would be his comeback effort, 2021’s Course of the Inevitable. With no press, label support, or music videos, Banks moved an impressive 12,000 album equivalent units after a five-year layoff in the set’s first week, signaling his continued prowess on the underground level. His return even caught the attention of 50, who Banks played the album for following its release.
“We good. That’s my brother. We spoke, and he has me in his best interest. He told me to clean my plate.” He adds: “Everything not gonna be the same all the time. It’s nobody’s business.”
After an impressive run on COTI, on Friday (July 15) Banks reloaded his artillery for the second helping of his lauded project — with features from Benny The Butcher, Jadakiss, Conway The Machine, Dave East, and the return of his brother-in-arms, Tony Yayo. “The most honest thing I can think of is just, we came in this s–t together,” reflects Banks about his G-Unit family. “We came up together, and I’ll be forever thankful for that, and the opportunities I had given to me. Sometimes life just happens.”
Billboard caught up with Banks to discuss his new album Course of the Inevitable 2, ending generational curses, his friendship with Joe Budden, the 20th anniversary of the 50 Cent Is the Future mixtape, and whether or not he feels he lived up to his potential.
Before this last album, you obviously took a hiatus. I think a lot of people don’t know how to hit pause. How did you know you had to hit pause before you do anything else?
I’ve had breaks or hiatuses in the past but they weren’t planned. Life was just happening for me. It was crazy. We lost a lot of people and a lot of things were affecting me. In 2004, alone, I did over 400 shows. You could just imagine what the grind was. Touring with G-Unit, Anger Management Tours and Rock the Mic Tours, there wasn’t time to sit down. This time, it was actually calculated.
I know you lost your father and I lost my father a few years ago. One thing I always think about is undoing generational curses because that’s a real thing in Black and brown communities. How have you made that a priority knowing that you now have two kids?
That’s all I think about. My grandma used to tell me things about my past as far as when I was a child and s–t that I didn’t remember. She would tell me I’d be in the window waiting for my pops and he wouldn’t show up. Then she would get on him about it. I remember that love that I had from my dad, but those are the little things that she picked up and I’d hear about it. As I started to get older, the separation was even more because he was in prison. He’d come home and I’d see him for two weeks and then he’s gone for five years.
I think it took a toll on me, but where we from, you try to keep pushing. I probably know one of my homies, his pops remind me of Jim Brown coming down the block as a massive figure. We would cross the street sometimes. We were envious and scared because the only thing that could help keep certain s–t from you in the neighborhood is a father figure. A n—a ain’t gonna put a pack of drugs in your hand if they gotta, but if [the father not] there it’s like… all those things kinda flashed before my eyes. But when I got on, it did something to me.
This is the kinda resentment I’ve had for this s–t with the fame and all that, because you think you have time. So in my mind, I’m paying my pops back for all the times he wasn’t there. S–t is going in a pecking order. I’ma make sure I take care of this person and you gotta wait. You on top of the world and s–t with a No. 1 album with your dreams coming true, you think you control more than you do. In my mind, I’m saying, “Maybe next summer or six months from now.” [I was] just putting him on a restriction.
But when he died, that s–t just hit me crazy — because it smacked me for all of those reasons in one. Like, “Who the f–k do you think you are?” And he told me that. He told me that I wasn’t picking up his calls and he left a message saying that time don’t wait for nobody. You could think you know what you doing… so all of that was playing back. When it happened, I literally hated everything that made me feel that way. In my mind at the time, the music and popularity and success made me feel invincible.
One of my favorite records on your new album is “Value of the Check.” What is your stance on how you value money now versus the start of your career?
It’s always a conscious decision when I’m putting these titles together. I definitely want to have something with meaning behind that s–t. So when you say “Value of the Check,” it’s me understanding now — but I know most people gotta go through the process. The only way through is experience. So when I’m saying, “Would you rather be alive or distressed, what’s worse?” It kinda just simplifies things. It was basically saying I spend my darkest times giving orders. The responsibility that comes with making a lot of money and not knowing how to say no is definitely overwhelming. Experience is the best teacher, and at this point I just feel like less of a man if I’m giving out the wrong advice.
There was one time when it was all about the money — but you gotta know how to bounce back. To lose it all and make it again, that shows character. That’s kinda what I been through. I’m just not vocal like that. At the end of the day, it’s nobody’s business. I never been like that with my money at my highest. I count my money under the table before I get to the spot. I come from a different mindset. I don’t like to put my business out there at all — negative or positive — so I kinda stay even-keel. The “Value of a Check” is basically saying, “Check yourself. Everybody getting money, but don’t let it get you out your purpose and what you wanna be remembered as.” All I think about is legacy. I’m a different type of n—a, man.
On “Power Steering” you said, “Been underrated for too long, this s–t’s confusing.” What is it about being underrated that it’s a gift and a curse?
The gift is it wasn’t always that way. You have artists who were underrated through their whole career and then you have artists that break out. I don’t think I snuck up on anybody. Then you get to the point where it’s like, “What are you gonna do now?” You start getting questioned and all that s–t lit a fire under me. This was around the time with the internet that engagement was starting to happen, whether it be HipHopDX, AllHipHop, HotNewHipHop or ThisIs50. I would sit there and read all them comments. If it was 300 comments and 75 percent were positive, that other quarter would be on my mind through the whole writing process. “How am I gonna make this motherf–ker change his mind?”
I wanted to do my best to change the narrative and that s–t fueled me. I don’t even know if it’s bad for someone like me, because I’m so in tune with the culture. It don’t matter which was this s–t go, as long as I stay with the basics and the script I’ma be good. The same way with sports. The fancy s–t is cool, as long as you know how to set a pick right or make a bounce pass. Once the fundamentals are there, I’ma be good. At the end of the day, that’s what I got into it for.
I think it’s so crazy with how you are so responsive on Twitter at times, especially where fans will hit you and be like, “I like the old-school Banks.” How are you able to not let the comments impact your psyche in this day and age?
When I’m thinking about somebody who supports my music, that’s a super fan and they don’t see no wrong in you. They envision you as their idol. I’m saying I’m the closest thing to what [Joe] Budden said. He kinda sees me in himself. I don’t want to be dehumanized. I’m not gonna allow you to even trick yourself into thinking that I’m that guy you think I am, because I’m not. I’ve been through so much s–t in my life and even prison. I constantly try to give the most honest advice I could give.
When they critique punchlines — I am who I am. I’ve always had the wittiness. So the rapping, that part is easy for me. I started getting DMs and even retweet some of the people that hit me publicly saying, “My friend passed away and this is the CD that he had,” and it would be Failure’s No Option. Hunger For More, don’t get me wrong, that’s a very inspiring title that applies to everybody. But when you start making records like “Around My Way” with how s–t be in the hood, we get that.
The punchlines I kinda strayed away [from], because I’m thinking about 2Pac. I’m not comparing myself to anybody, but people revered 2Pac more for the message of what he said. In my mind, I’m conscious of that. What’s more important to me at this stage of my life? Is it an “ooh” or an “ahh” or is it inspirationally helping somebody? I’m more concerned with that now. It’s a difference between getting a dap from some fly s–t that you said as opposed to some s–t that got them through a dark time.
You get the best of both worlds now.
Now it’s something different. My fans are kinda clashing with each other. I get what they’re saying, but this is what makes me — and it might be selfish. They say when some people give a lot, it could be like a selfish act and make you feel good to make people feel good — and I’m guilty of that. I like the way that it makes me feel to make other people feel something. I always say this: “Nobody tattoos a punchline.”
I remember Pusha T once told me you can’t be considered the best if you need help with your pen. You said something similar on Twitter a while back. Talk about the pride you in knowing every bar you penned was a Lloyd Banks bar.
With me, it’s a little different, because that’s a strong point. Every artist doesn’t hold themselves to that being their No. 1 quality. I’m a writer, period. If I wasn’t writing music, I’d be writing ideas. It could be poetry or what’s going on around me. I still have my books. That “Victory Freestyle,” I still have the actual page that it’s written on. I’m a hoarder when it comes to that. I’m an artist as well, so I used to design sneakers and my jewelry. The G-Unit spinner, I drew the s–t with a f—king pencil. Me as a writer, it means something to me — because I’m a writer’s writer. It means a lot to me when I’m ranking other artists.
Mind you, Snoop Dogg, Nas and Biggie [Smalls], those are the artists who had the biggest influence on me. Biggie is my favorite artist of all-time. His flows were like breaking the rules. Just the way he lined his s–t up to me was crazy — and the storytelling aspects too. Nas, it was technique for me. He had no empty spots. I learned a lot from that first project. Snoop was someone I related to because he was skinny, calm, cool, laid back — and that was me. In my mind, coming into the game, he let me know it was cool to be cool. That’s just who I am. You taking a kid from the neighborhood and you putting them into these positions when I’m not naturally vocal like that.
Slick Rick too is like that for me. I used to come home and watch that “Children’s Story.” That was the illest s–t to me. Rakim. It was a balance, and that’s what I hope to do for people watching. You ain’t gotta do all the extra s–t. Don’t get me wrong, I love the animated s–t. But they animated in real life. You either f–k with it or you don’t.
My favorite rapper to this day is Joe Budden. I remember when he was duking it out with y’all.
It was his record “Dumb Out,” and this was when you were supposed to drop your sophomore project.
It’s funny you say that — because I forgot what else he did, but it was something of an accumulation of things. The first time we had a conversation it was actually at Governors Island. 50 [Cent] had actually put a concert together and [Joe Budden] was with Slaughterhouse and I bumped into him. He was like, “So could I get my verse?”
Could this have been “Remember the Titans?”
It might have been, because this is before “Beamer, Benz.” So when he said that s–t to me, I just looked at him like, “Yo, what? You was always talking s–t.” He said, “Banks, I was a d–k. Come on, it’s rapper s–t.” From that day, he was telling me that I’m one of the guys and one of them ones. [He said] “I have to look for competition,” and I kinda understood him from that point. Ever since then, we been cool on that level.
The brotherhood y’all got — it’s so genuine. Even listening to that podcast when you were there for six minutes, He was just like, “This guy right here!” He don’t f–k with industry n—as, but it’s a certain respect.
We got a lot of similarities, and at the end of the day, this s–t is just a cult within a cult. Of course there’s supporters, but I genuinely take it hard when I lose people and in the culture as well. God bless the dead. When Prodigy passed, that s–t affected me, like when Biggie passed. There’s nobody in-between that either. I felt the same f–king way, and I still do.
I wanna bring up the 20-year anniversary of the 50 Cent is the Future. What’s your favorite memory of that?
Too many memories of that. For one, just me coming up in the neighborhood and riding down, making my normal trips to Jamaica Ave and just seeing that we had posters the size of a vinyl, and seeing that s–t pinned up in people’s windows on the route. Freestyle for freestyle, and hearing the reactions from Cutmaster C and DJ Clue.
I think about the Flex freestyle y’all did back in the day.
That’s after that, and I’m giving you the steps up until that. We was riding around in a baby blue PT Cruiser, and I remember that s–t like it was yesterday. It was around Christmas time I believe, and just driving and hearing that on every block and going to the projects and hearing it. My man Pretty Chi would run up and down and bring down the news. From that to, “N—as is f—king with you, it was unbelievable. I felt like we made history a bunch of times. I just felt like because I got shot not too long after that — but at that time, I just felt like if the books was closed, what we did at that point was incredible. That energy was different. I’m telling you, the phone calls, the daps was harder. S–t was crazy, I can’t even explain it. There was no Instagram. We was outside. You couldn’t tell me s–t. I needed to see it.
“Bad News” was the first record to [hit] radio with all of us. “Lloyd Banks in the house,” I heard that s–t and I was in my room writing and I threw my s–t down and ran around the corner to try to catch someone. Nobody was outside around the block, and I said, “Let me run to the boulevard.” I run to the boulevard and maybe a few people outside. That’s how excited I was to see the response to what was going on. By the time we made it to Flex, we had the streets. I was still nervous and thinking about s–t I shouldn’t be thinking about. I was worried about people hearing me say raps on the local mixtapes and not realizing that this f–king radio station is branching out to seven or eight million people. Nobody heard that s–t except for a 25-block radius.
So I’m trying to put together new raps and sacrificing verses that might have been for a song. If you listen back, I stumbled a few times, because I’m literally rehearsing on the way to the station, because I’m tryna get some new s–t, because I’m worried about what n—s in the hood gonna say if they hear something from a prior mixtape. Looking back on that, If I could do that over, I would’ve said those raps.
So when I went to see 50 [Cent], I’m prepared to say about 30 raps. I said that one verse [that ended up on “G-Unit Soldiers”] and that was it. He didn’t wanna hear no more. It was just something special. I think about it all the time — for me to live here and [Tony] Yayo to live here and 50 live right here, that s–t don’t happen like that too often. We had a spark. Flex was my first radio freestyle and it wasn’t even on cameras. You could feel eight million people listening. If I had that same opportunity, I wouldn’t have stuttered at all.
Mind you, I’m not too far removed from hearing my voice in the studio for the first time. Three years later I’m on radio. But someone once told me when you’re not nervous anymore, it’s time to do something different. I still get nervous when I go on stage. I always tell myself that means I got more work to do.
Do you feel like you’ve lived up to your potential?
Make plans and God laughs. When I get shot before I got the opportunity to drop a solo album or anything like that, it depends. In hindsight it’s easier to be like, “Yeah.” At that time, we overachieved. By the time I made it to Hunger For More, I passed expectations, personally. I might have not been here. For me, moving forward and to still be making the best music in my career now — I couldn’t show you what I had in the tuck ready to go, but I’d rather you just enjoy it at the time it’s supposed to happen. As far as potential, I’ll leave that up for debate with anybody else. I feel like I’ve done a lot, but I’m gonna do a lot more.
Moving forward, I feel like my subject matter alone is gonna put me in a different stratosphere. I care more about my s–t than anybody else does. It’s funny when a record might come out or maybe someone says, “I knew this would work.” Yeah, I did too. You gotta be crazy to take a chance with the material you putting out. I’m my biggest critic. Life happens. I’m not gonna sit here and cry over spilled milk. I’m gonna do my best to get back into the s–t now and hopefully affect somebody else’s little brother.
My age bracket, a lot of their younger brothers that came up listening were affected. They weren’t in my class, but somebody turned them onto my music. So my last album that might have impacted them was 2010. If you was 10 years old then, you 22 now. You got a better understanding of the s–t I’m talking about now. You kinda graduating with me. So hopefully I could take you from 22 to 40. I just can’t wait for them to hear what I got next. It’s a method to the madness. I write a lot. If you’re getting something now, when I tap into the next two or three things, it’ll all make sense.