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Rocky Banks: Don’t Call Him a Rapper [Interview]

Header Photo: Hector Mendoza (IG:@713mm/Twitter:@hectormendozatx)

Rocky Banks is the artist you didn’t know you needed. I got to sit and talk with him during SXSW and get his take on the role of rap music, art, and progress.

A yellow hat with an upside down heart and an exclamation point in the middle and a gold grill is all I could see from the audience (probably due to my height deficiency). Hearing his flow with the raspy voice made me almost certain I had to go get the scoop on Rocky Banks before he said his name, but when I recognized the name from several of my more trustworthy friends’ retweets, I knew I had to get an interview.

My feeling proved correct. Talking to Rocky, you just want him to win. He’s not your “I’m doing this for money” rapper, nor is he the “I’m better than everyone” type of rapper. He’s the kind that wants to bring rap back to its roots – the voice of the streets that tells a story and invites listeners to learn from it.

HC: You can tell a lot about a person by what they tweet. Your last tweet says, “I’m just in the industry im not an industry nigga…..don’t call me no rapper………. im a musician! I’m standing by this !” Please explain.

RB: I feel like a “rapper” is a persona – it’s a image created. If you can be put into this one box and just be categorized as a rapper they won’t put you in any other genre. Like, you can’t expand and win a Grammy in any other place. So, I feel like, I take the time out to really get into my music. I build it from the ground up. I don’t just get tracks and rap over them. You know what I mean? I actually time my time. I handpick every instrument, and build a bar on that instrument, and I’m really musically inclined into what I’m doing with my music. I’m making music, not just a rap record, if that makes any sense. And you know, I didn’t want to get tied up into…I just see the behavior of rappers. They don’t really care about the music, per se. I would be more about what’s going to happen after I make this record with you – it’s not for the love of the actual music that you’re about to create, and I feel like that’s the difference between a musician, artist, and a rapper.

HC: OK, so I just had this talk with another artist, Jax Yohana, and he said Drake is the best rapper out right now, and I told him I didn’t agree. But he was calling Drake an artist as a product, meaning something that would sell. So when you say “artist,” you mean for the sake of art?

RB: Yes, definitely, for the sake of art. Of course, we understand that we get into this to be profitable at some point but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a love for it because that’s what gets you paid. I feel like if you are going to make money at something why not do it off of something that you actually, really, really love? You know what I mean? Just like a basketball player – they have to first love the game before they pursue the career to be a professional basketball player. It’s definitely about the art first. Always about the art.

HC: In that regard, there are a lot of people out here – rappers, musicians, artists, or whatever they may call themselves – who we think are trash. But if you’re talking “art for the sake of art,” do you think it’s fair for us to tell them what they do is not art? Or is it a purely personal thing?

RB: I believe that there are some people that try to misdirect judgment by saying “I’m not this or that” and try to cloud it, but they really are “that,” but then there are some people who really are, in their mind…they created a sound in their mind, and whether we like it or not, we may not understand it…I wouldn’t discredit somebody by saying, “Oh, that’s not art.” If I could find glimpses of some originality in it, I’ll definitely give it more credit and say, “OK, this guy may actually be taking an artistic grasp on what he’s doing and not just following a wave.”

I can give you some examples of artists who I believe have similar waves to other artists but at the same time, they put their own twist on it like Lil Uzi Vert. I wouldn’t necessarily say that he’s phenomenal or blew me away or he’s doing anything different but it’s something about him – he pays attention to everything he does from the way that he dresses to the way he says a word, the beat selection…I’ve seen him and I’ve heard him say, “This is what I emulate.” And then I can hear glimpses of other genres that he splashes into his music and it’s like OK, maybe he doesn’t just listen to ONE thing. You could sit up and listen to Chief Keef all day and really just come up with a Chief Keef-type record and really not be able to tell the difference between the two. But if Lil Uzi Vert was to make a song, you could definitely sit there and say, “Yo. They’re trying to sound like Lil Uzi Vert.” It wouldn’t be the other way around. But you can still hear splashes of other artists. Everybody gets influenced by someone else. So Lil Uzi Vert is someone that could be put into the category of a “wave rider” but he says he’s an artist.

HC: Now YOUR music, what era of hip hop would you compare it to? Which one inspires you the most?

RB:  I’m inspired by 90s gangsta rap and NWA. That’s what I grew up on – NWA, Jay Z, Nas, Eminem – I grew up on them. And then we Kanye came out as an artist, he made me see the forward thinking of traditional hip hop. He still has the samples of dirty drums in his music but it’s like a futuristic sound to it. So I would say those are my two influences as far as my music.

HC: If you could make a song with any artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?

RB: Michael Jackson. That’s like, my biggest inspiration. He made me want to touch the stage and perform and be an entertainer. He was so well-rounded. Like I was saying when I was walking up, he went to acting. He did movies, as well. I wanna be so well-rounded as an entertainer, not just be a rap musician, artist, or whatever you wanna call me. I want to be an entertainer, period.

HC: I caught your show, and it’s very energetic. What do you do to prepare for a show?

rockybanksshowRB: I just kinda get up there and do it. It’s like a therapeutic release for me. I keep a lot bottled up and I just get up there and that’s what you feel, that’s what you get. You wanna know how I’m feeling that day? You’ll see it on the stage when I perform. It’s a lot of  stuff that I say in my music that I really, really, really mean and it doesn’t have a time restriction on it. It’s how I think I feel all the time and I’m gonna feel like that for the rest of my life.

I always feel like you gotta be somebody that’s making it different. You gotta push forward. You gotta walk the opposite direction, because it’s a lot of people out here that’s doing what everybody else is doing. I just want to influence my generation and the ones coming up behind me and the ones that come before me, too! It’s still some people out here who are not trying to be the best person they can be. They’re just settling for the average. There’s no reason 75% of the world [should be] average.

HC: So then what “opposite direction” are you traveling?

RB: My content matter. I don’t push forward the things that are detrimental to my community as far as sex and violence, and just a whole bunch of stuff that’s ignorant at the end of the day. And I’m not saying that people that rap about those things are necessarily ignorant, I just mean that you’re planting the idea in these kids’ minds that, “Maybe I should see what’s up with that,” instead of saying, “Nah, they already told me about that. I don’t wanna mess with that.” And that’s what I’m doing. That’s the opposite direction I’m taking.

Then it’s the real impact that I give to people who feel like I do. I’m not saying it for the support of anybody; I’m really trying to get there, to where I can create the opportunity I had to work for, and make it easier for those kids so they don’t have to go through those steps that I did. They can get a head start. That’s my vision with it. I don’t try to look and compare to anybody that’s doing something mainstream. It’s just what I wanna do – work every single day and try to make sure that happens.

HC: You mentioned earlier that what you rap about is what you feel all the time. Give me one of your lines that you would say you live by.

RB: “Self-improvement, I admire/On my mama, I retire/Anything to fuel the fire.”

…I know people that make bone-headed decisions. And it might be the worse thing you can think of, but I can tell after that they really feel bad about it and they wanna be different, but it’s something about the community that they’re in that they can’t break away from it – it’s just in them. If they’re trying to be different, that’s just something I admire. If you’re trying to be better, bro, that’s inspiring. You’re trying to BE SOMETHING. And anything that’s bad for me, I’m gonna leave me. That’s why I don’t hang around people who do drugs like that – that would inspire me to go back to the lifestyle that I was in.

Anything that’s not in the light of what you’re trying to do, please separate yourself from it. Your surroundings have a great hold on your progression.

If you’re gonna be around me, you better be trying to do something…I’m not waiting on you to figure out when you wanna be better…I wanna be a good person. If that inspires people, then I’ll take that.

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Hope Carter
Hailing from "Screwston," Texas, Hope has been immersed in music since birth, first being exposed to Motown by her parents, then discovering her love for all genres as she trained as a dancer. Her unique set of life experiences growing up in Houston's Historic Third Ward as a lower middle class child, attending schools in more affluent neighborhoods, all the while attending an international church in which she was very involved, created her open-minded approach to music and art. Hope is very socially conscious, and prefers to take songs as a whole - both lyrically and sonically - before making her final judgment on their quality. As a dancer, she is inclined to be interested to anything she can move to, but her Dirty South roots give her room to appreciate a more laidback, chill (screwed) vibe. Her taste in music continues to change as she discovers new artists and as genres evolve.