In the world of East Coast rap music, rhyming about gangs, gunshots, and drugs wasn't just a trend; it was the life of New York rappers like 50 Cent and his friend Lloyd Banks. At the start of the new millennium, Banks, 50 Cent, and their group G-Unit thrived in the city's mixtape scene. After rap star Eminem signed 50 Cent to Interscope Records imprint, Shady/Aftermath, G-Unit's life, including Banks', was never the same. G-Unit's first major-label release went double platinum before Banks released two successful solo albums. "To define yourself as a complex individual in the G-Unit clan is a difficult task, but here's a rapper who can do it," David Jeffries of All Music Guide wrote about Banks.
Born Christopher Lloyd, in 1982, in Baltimore, Maryland, Banks was raised in Jamaica, Queens, by his Puerto Rican mother and African-American father. His mother did most of the work as Banks' father spent much of his childhood behind bars. Growing up in the extremely tough and dangerous Southside Jamaica, Queens, Banks saw early on the effect that drugs, money, and violence had on his family. At 10, Banks saw his first murder when one of his father's close friends was shot and killed right outside his own house. When Banks' father was out of jail, he would lavish his son with gifts he couldn't afford before usually ending up back behind bars. Banks never paid attention to his studies, instead he kept a notebook of lyrics. "I always wrote a notebook," he told I Like Music. "The books I was supposed to use at school I was writing in them what was going on around me. It wasn't even rapping up to that point, it was just me jotting down things real fast and after a long period of time I started to take the rap thing more seriously. It started off in 6th or 7th grade just me sitting there and writing in the classroom." With the nickname "Lazy," Banks dropped out of high school when he was 16.
Partnering with Queens' friends 50 Cent and Tony Yayo, the trio formed a rap group G-Unit. Banks was a legend on local mixtapes, dropping rhymes about his neighborhood. Banks and G-Unit didn't just rap about gunshots, they also received them. On September 10, 2001, Banks was shot outside of a nightclub. The aspiring rapper had a bullet hole in his liver, but quickly recovered. G-Unit never beat down any doors or pestered record labels with their demos; their skill was just undeniable, something Detroit's star Eminem realized early on. But before G-Unit was ready for the big time, 50 Cent became the crew's biggest star. In 2003, 50 Cent released his multiplatinum solo record Get Rich or Die Tryin' on Interscope/Shady/Aftermath. G-Unit's album was put on hold, but they toured behind 50 on his solo tour and multiple group tours with Eminem. Also in 2003, Banks said goodbye to many loved ones, including his grandfather, his uncle to a stroke, and two friends who were murdered.
Supporting 50 Cent at every turn, Banks and G-Unit took time to finally record their debut album. Much of the 2003 double-platinum release Beg for Mercy was recorded on a bus while the group toured with 50 for the Roc the Mic Tour. As Banks toured with G-Unit, he began releasing a selection of mixtapes with DJ Whoo Kid. In 2003, Banks won the honor of Mixtape Artist of the Year at Justo Faison's Mixtape Awards. Banks soon began to compile ideas for his own solo album. Banks knew New York City up and down, and sang about it to a tee, but touring with G-Unit and Eminem gave the rapper a new outlook on his music. "If you stay in one place, you can only rap about one thing because that's all you know," Banks told Newsweek's Allison Samuels. "… I've seen and learned enough to keep my music fresh and spread out." Watching and learning from 50 Cent, Banks grew smarter about the industry and his music. "I always wanted to be complex, not too complex, but complex enough to excite people and make them want to rewind and hear what you said again,…." he told I Like Music. "If you've got a style and a certain swagger to you, people respect you for it. I never wanted to be or sound like anybody else, so I think I'm really in my own zone…. You just have to practice your craft."
With producers like Eminem, Kwame, and Timbaland, Banks' June 2004 solo debut Hunger for More, debuted at Number 1. Much of the Interscope record was, once again, recorded on the tour bus while Banks was on the road. The album's first single, "On Fire," was produced by Eminem, and reminiscent of G-Unit and 50 Cent's style. "From G-Unit's early mixtape days, he's specialized in rewind-worthy quotables marked by an assassin's cold heart, an ironist's savage humor, and a willingness to say what others won't. Or perhaps shouldn't," Chris Ryan of Vibe wrote about Banks' skill. With six tours under his belt, for Banks' first solo tour, unlike the big productions of G-Unit or 50's tours, he performed most shows on stage with only DJ Whoo Kid to back him. "My whole life we've been tryin' to get out and just see things. Just to be on the road, it makes me feel like I'm alive," he told Pollstar. "Being able to get out there and perform in front of these people who buy my CD, it's a whole other feeling. And to be able to leave with that impression that they're gonna go home and talk about your show for the next two weeks … that's what it's about."
With the triumph of Hunger for More, Banks was soon ready to do it again with a new album. He continued his series of underground mixtapes releasing Money in Da Bank, Vol. 4 with DJ Whoo Kid. For his sophomore album, Banks rounded up a more eclectic group of producers and singers. In addition to producers Eminem, Timbaland, and Havoc (of Mobb Deep), R&B singers Alicia Keys and Musiq Soulchild, and rap artists Rakim, Scarface, 8 Ball, and of course members of G-Unit produced a well-rounded collection of songs. In October of 2006, Banks issued his second solo album, Rotten Apple. In an interview with Alexander Fruchter of SoundSlam the rapper explained the meaning behind the more aggressive album, Rotten Apple, as a flip on the city's nickname the Big Apple. "I'm giving them what they see with the naked eye, but I'm also giving them what it takes for you to ride through these neighborhoods for you to see," he told Fruchter. "For you to see police harassment, for you to see the murders, and the teen pregnancy, and the broken homes … and situations that we're put through every day…. This is a continuous struggle that's not gonna stop. People think that just because I'm a rapper and I live a certain lifestyle based off success, that changes you. It doesn't change you. I lived 21 years in Southside Jamaica, Queens. It's hard for … success to erase all of that negativity, and that's still going on today."
(With G-Unit) Beg For Mercy, Interscope/G-Unit, 2003.
Hunger for More, Interscope/G-Unit, 2004.
Rotten Apple, Interscope/G-Unit, 2006.
For the Record …
Born Christopher Lloyd on April 30, 1982, in Baltimore, MD.
Formed rap group G-Unit with 50 Cent and Tony Yayo, group released Beg for Mercy, Interscope/G-Unit, 2003; released solo debut Hunger for More, Interscope/G-Unit, 2004; Rotten Apple, Interscope/G-Unit, 2006.
Addresses: Record company—Interscope/G-Unit, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404, 1755 Broadway, 8th Fl., New York, NY 10019, website, http://www.interscope.com. Website—Lloyd Banks Official Website: http://www.lloydbanks.com.
Newsweek, June 28, 2004, p. 54.
Vibe, September 19, 2006.
XXL Magazine, May 4, 2004.
"Lloyd Banks," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusicguide.com (November 11, 2006).
"Lloyd Banks," Pollstar, http://www.pollstar.com/news/vie-whotstar.pl?Artist=LLOBAN (November 11, 2006).
"Lloyd Banks Interview," I Like Music, http://www.ilikemusic.com/interviews/Lloyd_Banks_interview_2006_G_unit-3033 (November 11, 2006).
SoundSlam, http://www.soundslam.com/articles/interviews/interviews.php?interviews=in060604lloydb (November 11, 2006).
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