Black History Month Spotlight 2020: David Banner Parlayed His Rap Career Into Unapologetic Black Activism

For the past three years, in honor of Black History Month, FN has celebrated African Americans in footwear and fashion with our ‘Spotlight’ features series. For 2020, we’ve added a theme: Diversity as a Superpower. This year, we’ll highlight movers and shakers who’ve used their voice to drive change and create access for others. Also new for 2020, FN commissioned New Jersey-based artist, Briana Woodburry-Spencer, to design the series logo.

David Banner has an uncanny ability to see the bigger picture.

Like most multihyphenates, the rapper, actor, entrepreneur and activist’s handprint is spread across a plethora of projects. But perhaps what sets him aside most from his peers is his unwavering focus on what it all adds up to: “The betterment of our people,” as he puts it.

Banner stepped onto the rap scene as one part of “conscious” (music of the mind) rap group Crooked Lettaz in 1998 before launching a successful solo career. This month, he debuted his first sneaker collaboration with Ewing Athletics: the David Banner x Ewing Rogue.

While rappers and fly kicks have long gone hand in hand, in true Banner fashion, this isn’t your typical collab: the vibrant sneakers, adorned in the colors of the Pan-African flag, saw Banner tap his longtime business associate Salih Robinson for key elements of the design. What’s more, the project is only the most recent step Banner has taken to advance the cause of boosting black empowerment.

“I want to give other people opportunities,” Banner said during a candid conversation with FN. “Everything I do — from my production to my clothing line to my website — it’s a collaboration between me and my people. I just want to be one of those people who gives [others] their proper shine.”

salih robinson david banner
Salih Robinson and David Banner.
CREDIT: Courtesy

Indeed, this mantra has become a de facto mission for his multimedia company, A Banner Vision, which offers tools to people of color to help them create and “leave a generational legacy.”

Here, Banner talks inalienable superpowers, advice from Erykah Badu and the importance of supporting black businesses.

A lot of people don’t know that you were into activism long before you became a popular rapper. What made you want to become an advocate for people of color?

“The path to my consciousness started with a book I read called ‘From the Browder File.’ I read that book when I was in the 11th grade; it changed the course of my life. Right after that, I read ‘The Autobiography of Malcom X’ and it changed my thinking. But it took me getting into a certain position, probably when I got to college at Southern University in Baton Rouge and started meeting people from all over the world with different ideologies, religions and lifestyles and took note of all these things. Then, as [basic necessities like] food and shelter were not as much of a problem for me, I was able to put some of these things into my life and change the course of how I live.”

Lately, you’ve used social media as a tool to help bring awareness to matters impacting the black community. Why is that such an important outlet for you?

“Erykah Badu actually called me up when Instagram first started up, and I was like ‘I’m not interested in doing that.’ And she was like, ‘Instead of waiting for the news [networks] to give us an opportunity to tell our sides, we can go directly to our fans. This is going to be one of the greatest platforms for artists in recent history.’ So I [got on board]. But, I think the activism has always been a part of life. Sixty percent of my albums were spiritual or conscious, [which was my way of] trying to find balance in a world where people claim they want better [messages in music] but don’t [necessarily pay for conscious music].”

You’ve described using your platform to create more opportunities for African Americans to build generation wealth. Where did that idea come from?

“I watch how much African people, or descendants of Africa, affect culture. And this is just in fashion, sports, music and entertainment alone — not even counting math and sciences. And then we look at how much of that money stays in our community; it’s not there. My own legacy doesn’t reflect the hard work and level of work I do. My legacy and what I’m able to pass on to my employees and people that I love is in no way comparable to [the amount of money] I’ve made [with] other people of other cultures. It’s upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars, but that doesn’t reflect nor has it come back to my community.”

How are you fostering the change you want to see?

“Here’s [an example]: Salih Robinson who works with A Banner Vision, I saw potential in him. He designed the colorway for the shoes. I would tell him, ‘Bro, you’re so much bigger than the things you want to do.’ Most of the black men I meet have the potential. They have the potential to be scientists and to change the world. All they need is the thoughts to be implanted in their mind. So I said, ‘Hey bro, design this shoe for me.’ I wanted to show him that he is the god of his existence. Our connection with god is our ability to create. Let’s stop constantly being consumers and let’s start creating things for our culture. I keep young, fly people like Salih around me. I’m into wealth management now; I’m going to be a billionaire. I’m going to be a billionaire that’s not parasitic; I’m going to be a billionaire with a purpose.”

CREDIT: Ewing Athletics

What are some barriers in the way of black ownership and legacy-building, and how can they be overcome?

“In order for us to become who we were [destined to be] on this earth, I know [it doesn’t seem fair] but, along with selling our goods, we’re going to have to educate people at the same time. We’re going to have to show people how important it is to support [people of color]. It’s my responsibility to shop at a local, black-owned store. Don’t just shop for style — even though I think our shoes are fly and better than a lot of what’s out there — you have to support [a black business] in the [early stages] so we can eventually compete with the major brands. As black people, we have a duty.”

Is your heritage as a black man your superpower?

“Hell yeah. We are the creators. We were the first on this planet. It has been my superstrength. As a matter of fact, [that’s signified by] the logo on our shoes. We’re working on a commercial right now where I say, ‘We’re all superheroes — but you can borrow my cape until you find yours.’ ”

David Banner
David Banner.
CREDIT: Courtesy

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