Rapper, producer, philanthropist, political and social activist and entrepreneur Levell "David Banner" Crump is no stranger to historical firsts. Not only is he the first rapper to emerge from Jackson, Mississippi, and enjoy commercial success with his own indie label, BigFace Entertainment, but he might just be the first rapper to boldly and publicly criticize Black women for their chemical dependency—hair relaxers. During a speech at South Carolina University, Banner reportedly said: "Perming your hair is a clear example of Black-on-Black crime and media control." ESSENCE.com spoke with the award-winning lyricist about the truth of the matter, the lack of natural-haired Black women in his music videos, and why the media needs to focus more on the positive.
ESSENCE.COM: Thank you for taking the time out to address what has become a heated debate in the blogosphere regarding an alleged comment you made about Black women perming and how it's a form of Black-on-Black crime. Is that true?
DAVID BANNER: Yes, I said it but my speech was taken out of context. I was invited to speak to the students of South Carolina State University, a historically Black college, and my speech was about integration and how it has affected Black folks. The first thing I said before I began addressing the student body was that I was going to make statements that would purposely upset them because I wanted them to think about the [adverse] affect that integration has had on Black people.
ESSENCE.COM: How so?
BANNER: As Black people we gave up our power for control and how we teach our kids. So the point I was trying to make is that many of our grandparents permed their hair as well as their children's for acceptance in society or even to get a job. When I made the statement, I made sure to say that this might not be the reason why many of our women relax their hair today, but I was sharing and explaining the history of relaxing hair. In short, I really don't care what Black women do with their hair. I love Black women, period.
ESSENCE.COM: Are you concerned that your statement might have offended some Black women?
BANNER: As a Black man who stands for something and always has, I can't understand why every so-called media sites fail to do their research. Please know exactly what you're talking about and who you're talking about before you begin openly attacking people. None of us are perfect as artists or as a people, yet we never handle things inside our community everything has to be openly attacked. I happen to be one of those who is trying to help our community. So I made this statement, which was taken out of context, but I'm entitled to my personal feelings. I happen to love women with natural hair, but it doesn't make the person, because a person who's all natural could be robbing everybody blind, and someone who has a relaxer could have the deepest love for her people and community. At the end of the day, it's about your spirit.
ESSENCE.COM: As a rap artist, you received criticism for your statement primarily because there is a lack of natural-haired Black women represented in your music videos. Why is that?
BANNER: As far as the type of women I feature in my videos, I'd have to say that if more sisters with locks or short naturals showed up to casting then most certainly I'd be the first to cast them. One thing I've always done is make sure that there are dark-skinned women in my videos because I believe they are always underrepresented. Hair doesn't happen to be one of my priorities when I'm trying to manage so many other things to take care of, so excuse me if I failed to do that. But if anyone were to truly take the time to understand what I'm about then they'd know that I've always been the artist who has tried to be positive. How many rappers are going to colleges to talk to students about issues outside of the industry? So these bloggers should really try to focus on the positive rather than the negative.
ESSENCE.COM: Indeed, and you urged the students during your speech to start repainting the picture of Black folks that the media has portrayed. How have you managed that undertaking?
BANNER: Well, I could tell you about all the charitable and positive things I do in the community, like I just returned from Iraq from visiting our troops because, although I am not a supporter of war, I'm a supporter of poor people and a lot of those people in Iraq didn't think they were going to war. My biggest epiphany when I was there is how blessed we all are because my biggest problem is a blessing to somebody else. But do you ever notice the pressure that they put on young Black men to change the world? They don't do it with people who are paid to do that such as teachers. We hold what's safe to us but often never hold those people accountable should they fail. Music is my job, but not who I am.
Learn more about David Banner's organization, Heal the Hood, at healthehoodinc.org