May 30, 2023

How Lloyd Banks Found His Voice Late in His Career


Dimas Sanfiorenzo

Dimas Sanfiorenzo is the Editorial Director ok OkayMedia. He specializes…

Lloyd Banks in front of wal

Photo by Money Mick for Okayplayer.

Random fact about Lloyd Banks: he’s a hip-hop archivist. In his home, he has a collection of dozens of notebooks spanning more than 25 years. Most contain verses he’s written, including the iconic ones like the “Victory Freestyle” or “The Banks Workout.” But there are even older composition notebooks, featuring graffiti and drawings of his favorite rappers — including Method Man — and rankings of his favorite MCs at the time. One page from the ‘90s features the “Skill Club,” a definitive ranking on a 1 to 10 scale of notable rappers of the era, including everyone from Goodie Mob and Spice 1 (not the most charitable rankings) to Keith Murray and Snoop Dogg (ranked very high).

“I was just ranking everybody. A lot of people got no love,” Lloyd Banks tells Okayplayer. “But you see, [The Notorious B.I.G.] had six out of 10, and Method Man had eight out of 10. Biggie’s first album, Ready to Die, didn’t impact me the way Tical did.”

In a professional career that has spanned more than 20 years, Lloyd Banks has gone from being one of the most promising new young rappers (under the tutelage of 50 Cent and G-Unit) to a respected veteran. But the Banks of now isn’t the one from even 15 years ago. Musically, his palette is still infused with ’90s-inspired Mobb Deep, Murda Muzik beats — which has come in vogue now partially because of the success of Griselda, Roc Marciano, and The Alchemist. But as a writer and performer, he’s changed — he has mostly done away with the punchlines that made him a star, adopting a more malleable, descriptive, and at times vulnerable storytelling style. His latest album is The Course of the Inevitable 3, a Rudy Giuliani-era throwback that sees him collaborating with New York City contemporaries like Method Man, Cormega, Tony Yayo, Vado, and Dave East. The album, which is out today, puts a capstone on the trilogy that has sparked a mini reemergence for Banks.

In his own words, Lloyd Banks talks about his new album, his path as a rapper, working with Method Man, and more.

As told to Dimas Sanfiorenzo.

On making it in the rap game now vs. back in the day

[It was] way harder because you had to actually rap for somebody. You had to showcase the talent, and it had to be raps at that time. [You] think Soulja Boy could get in front of a nigga and go “You?” You would’ve been presenting that to an adult. What’s the chance an adult it’s going to be like, “I can see it. Do that dance again.” That’s bullshit. He had a chance to cut through the fog and go straight to the consumer, which was his age demographic, the kids and shit.

That’s why I said [this generation got it] easier because [back then] it don’t matter if you was fucking Rakim, Tupac, Biggie — whoever you was — you had to rap for somebody, whether it be [Dr.] Dre, Puff [Daddy], Lyor Cohen, Kevin Lyles, you had to catch somebody coming out of a building and say, “Hey, can I get two minutes of your time?”

On his early days as a rapper

I was rapping in my neighborhood since 10, maybe 12. Tony Yayo grew up around the corner from me, down the block. He was kind of spreading the words to his age demographic because he’s about four or five years older than me. It goes from, “Yo, this little nigga right here is nice” to, “Let me hear something.” Then that’s when battling was really in. I’m battling people from my neighborhood, from other neighborhoods on a consistent basis, and then [50 Cent’s] right there on the same boulevard. Rapping in front of the barbershop, he was seeing it, he was hearing it, but the subject matter wasn’t lining up to what he was going through at that time. I’m still in a school mentally, talking punchlines about school and razor blades in my bookbag and shit like that. It wasn’t pistols.

Lloyd Banks jewelry

Photo by Money Mick for Okayplayer.

On being a writer’s writer

I’m real critical with being repetitive. The content could touch on the similarity, on the same things, but [I’m careful with] words. First, it was “such and such like this, like that.” That became a pet peeve for me. I wanted to remove the “like” shit all the time. Because I came from a punchline era, where everybody was using it. That’s how they would equate a punchline. That was the first thing. Then it was literally just me not using the same words.

You don’t realize it, but you might say the word manifest in one record and then next you say that shit on three other records on your album and don’t even realize it. That was my critique. I’m a writer’s writer. I write all the time. Every day. It was just to have as much material in the clip as possible and don’t be repetitive.

I came in the game with certain skill sets, but now I’m stronger with choruses. I’m stronger with just conceptual records and storytelling.

That would be the best thing for me at this point in my career, is to have a record that connects significantly that is not cliche.

On finding his voice

I didn’t know how to use my voice the way I know how to use it now, so people might think that I’m losing my voice at certain periods through my career, but I was really finding it.

I came from rapping in the neighborhood, and I would have a “ugghh” in my delivery. If you go back and listen to the earliest stages, I sound like that. But it’s because I didn’t know how to control my delivery, and I didn’t realize it until I started performing.

Once you start getting more and more clubs trying that shit, you lose your voice. Then you get into 20,000 people, 30,000 people. I performed in front of 70, 80,000 people before. How do you make your voice transcend all the way to the back without losing it if you don’t know how to control it? It’s all trial and error.

On his resurgence

[Before the The Course of the Inevitable series] 2010 was [when I released] my last official album. It was The Hunger for More 2. I’ve released records after that, just throwing them out there. Then we had the G-Unit situation kind of reemerge, which was around 2014 to 2016. We had put out a couple EPs, and then around 2017, 2018, I put out a couple of [Blue] Friday [tapes], which was just basically a series of freestyles I was releasing on Friday. I was still putting out projects, but it was just more mix tapes and it was like things were different. It was LiveMixtapes and Datpiff and shit like that at that time.

I didn’t have a streaming project on my resume. It was just straight from CDs, hard copies to the mixtape downloads. I’ve never officially released a project through DSPs. I was like, “Yo, it’s time for me to attack now.” The boom bap wave was kind of reemerging. I was like, “Yo, it’s no better time than now.” “Let me get my feet wet.”

If you look at my comments [on Instagram], my comments don’t match my followers. You’ll have somebody with 10 million followers and they’ll get 5,000 comments. I got less than a million followers on Instagram, but I’m getting 5,000 comments. [So I have a] cult-following, and I have an audience that’s growing day by day. That’s encouraging.

Lloyd Banks black sunglasses

Photo by Money Mick for Okayplayer.

On criticism

You got to decide yourself, which of this shit is constructive criticism and [what’s not]. Because even now, motherfuckers will be like, “Yo, you need to pick better beats.” We got to break it down. What does a better beat mean if the person that’s telling you this is 15 years younger than you?

It doesn’t mean that production is not good. It means he wants to hear what an artist 15 years younger than me is rapping to.
You got to be careful. You can’t fall into that. Better beats means “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley.” It doesn’t mean a “101 Razors” because they didn’t come up on the Wu-Tang era of production. They don’t get it. They don’t get DJ Premier or Alchemist. They get Metro Boomin, 808 Mafia — that’s what they get.

On new rappers

NBA YoungBoy, he reminds me of B.G. and C-Murder. He would’ve fit right in with the Hot Boy$ It’s like that’s probably a spark of encouragement for anybody who likes that kind of music because he is a young artist. But musically, sonically, he’s doing some shit that could have impacted when fucking juvenile impacted.

Kodak Black is one of my favorites because I don’t feel like he’s doing what anybody else is doing. I like the whole vibe, his attitude. He’s very confident, he’s coming from a specific place that he’s spearheading that sound, the slang, the culture, everything. He’s talented. Unapologetically, he’s him and that’s dope. I think as long as we have artists like that keep coming up through the ranks, hip hop will be in a good space because with the right producer, I think he could sit down with somebody 10 years older than him, whoever, and still make a dope record.

On ending Diddy and The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Victory” beat

I don’t know if I could say best, but the most legendary verse in my career is the “Victory Freestyle.” That was a crazy beat to touch because what that record meant for Big’, it was ridiculous. It’s a lot of pressure to stand up to that. Then when I did, it was like that was the first record that I had that impacted on the underground circuit to where I was able to perform it. I didn’t have a solo record to perform, so that was my time to shine. You know what I mean? Throughout this is 50 Cent Is the Future tapes and God’s Plan and all that, that was my showstopper. You can kind of tell the impact of it because there haven’t been too many MCs who touched it after me.

You might have heard a couple of people rap to it, but people literally don’t touch that because [of me].

On working with Method Man

It was just a mutual respect. I had seen him posting up a lot of my records and running the last album, COTI 2, back in the gym and stuff with his workouts. I knew he was digging in the direction I was taking it, and then he just agreed to shoot the video, which was a surreal moment for me because I was on a twin-size bed at that time, in my grandmother crib [playing] his first album.

He always had a (singing) rapid type of flow, and I adopted that subconsciously through artists, and he was one of them. Because when I sent him the verse, the song had my verse on it. When he sent it back, he went off the cadence that I was using.

On The Council group with Vado and Dave East

We all are at the same time working on our own things. Whenever we find something, we just put it in the group chat. We got a hold for this, or we got a hold for that. We just building that up, taking our time. It’s really no rush.

On making more music with 50 Cent and G-unit

We’ve done a lot of music together. We got discographies: 10 mixtapes, G-Unit albums. At this point, even with me and Yayo, we come together when it’s organic. He’s doing a lot of other things. He’s doing music as well now. But I feel like we’ve done a lot. I feel like I got to clean my plate, as far as what I could do as an individual. I’ll see YouTube things about me and my career or what’s expected from me. I feel like I got to work on me, and I got still things I got to prove. Even though that might sound silly to some of my audience. I got a lot I got to do to prove for myself.

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