David Banner gives it to you straight, no chaser.
The 42-year-old self-described conscious rapper/actor-turned-social activist tackled tough topics such as race relations, religion, racism, hip-hop culture and poverty during a 60-minute lecture at Germanna Community College’s Fredericksburg Area Campus in Spotsylvania on Saturday.
About 175 eager fans filled room 212 inside the Dickinson Building for Banner’s inaugural appearance at the community college. The event, which was free and open to the community, was one of the Germanna Presents! Lyceum and Black History Month programs.
Even though some of Banner’s subjects were a bit touchy, he sprinkled lots of humor throughout his interactions with the captivated audience.
“One of the reasons I tell jokes is because I’m saying very harsh things. When I first started getting conscious, I went through one of the worst depressions of my life,” Banner admitted. “I was raised as a Baptist in the Bible Belt of Mississippi and to find out that most of those things I was taught were lies sent me into a depression.”
Banner tackled religion next.
“As much as black people love Christianity, under what cross did they put you in slavery under? Where was your God during the 60s?” he posed.
The Jackson, Miss., native suggested hip-hop music serves as a perfect outlet to release anger and frustration.
“Hip-hop came out of pain, the projects and out of oppression and depression. It was a genre that was needed. We needed ‘F&$the Police’ when NWA came out with that,” he said. “But one of the problems with hip-hop nowadays is we believe the music should affect culture when in actuality, it was the culture affecting hip-hop. At some point, we allowed our culture to be co-opted the same way we’ve allowed our religion to be co-opted. And hip-hop has sold its soul.”
According to Banner, when rappers started to collaborate with popular top-charting singers, rappers lost their street credit, forcing rappers to continue to make popular music.
“R&B is dead, right? But do Justin Timberlake, Adele or Sam Smith have any trouble selling R&B?” posed Banner. “The reason that hip-hop doesn’t sell doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of the music.”
The crowd made up of mainly young African-Americans agreed with Banner’s opinions until it came to one aspect relating to religion.
When the outspoken lecturer suggested that people of color refer to themselves as God as a term of endearment instead of using derogatory names, one older black woman in the audience quickly uttered “Uh, uh,” causing Banner to quote passages from a Bible app on his phone and the audience to chuckle.
Banner then returned to making his point about the music industry in connection with world events.
“Everything that has to do with black music is totally opposite of what we need right now,” said Banner. “During the 1970s when the country was at war, [soul singer] Marvin Gaye was asking, ‘What’s Going On.’ The music reflected the streets then.”
Banner suggested that it might be time for change.
“As black folks, we have been praying, marching and hoping for 30 years and a damn thing hasn’t changed. The two most powerful black people in the last 40 years were Malcolm and Martin. As a whole, who do we go with? Martin, right? And look at where we are right now. As harsh as that may sound, we have to be honest with where we are,” said Banner, who told the crowd he relates more to Malcolm X over the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Banner said when he decided to stop rapping, he had the No. 1 single [rhythmic airplay] in the country with singer Chris Brown called “Get Like Me.”
“And I had the opportunity to travel and tour globally. But I saw how America was broadcasting black men and women. And it embarrassed me. As Americans, we get to see strong role models, like scientists and doctors who may live next door to us. But globally, they only see what America broadcasts. And at the time, all they were broadcasting was gangster rap and reality TV shows. I could no longer be involved in sending my peoples’ images to hell. If we hate ourselves and we don’t understand why, then no solution that a person gives you will work.”
Banner will release his latest album, “The God Box,” on May 19, Malcolm X’s birthday. Banner likes to point out the date’s significance.
“ ‘The God Box’ is going to be a new frontier and really opening up jamming consciousness,” Banner said before his energetic talk.
In addition to making music, Banner has also been on the big and small screens. In the 2013 film, “The Butler,” he played Earl Gaines, the father of Cecil Gaines, played by Hollywood actor Forest Whitaker. Banner said the role changed his life. He also appeared in 2014’s “Ride Along” alongside actors Kevin Hart and Ice Cube.
In conclusion, Banner told the audience that they didn’t have to believe what he has to say, but just to consider and research it.
One of the reasons I tell jokes is because I’m saying very harsh things. When I first started getting conscious, I went through one of the worst depressions
of my life. —DAVID BANNER