679/Warner Records recent signee Benny Banks is hailed as one of the UK’s rap heavyweights. Shireen Fenner and Maz Halima headed down to The Social in Little Portland Street to see what the rapper had to say about being the subject of diss tracks, Bada Bing and what’s next on his agenda…
M: Who did you aspire to when you started rapping?
I grew up in an older era… like I think American rappers inspired all of us. But over here, Mike Skinner, Klashnekoff and Skinny Man. I listen to a lot of Hip Hop.
S: What track got you noticed by the masses?
I don’t actually know, I think that’s a matter of opinion. Personally I think it was my SB.TV warm up session; that let everyone know I could rap. I would like to think it was that because it was the most meaningful to me – but I don’t actually know.
S: Your roots and experiences in Islington have provided a lot of inspiration for your lyrics, do you think as your situation changes your content will too?
Yeah, that’s the main thing I want people to notice really, the way I’m growing up and maturing. Obviously Bada Bing isn’t the main reflection of Benny Banks; it was just a fun tune init. But I’ve got a lot more music to come. With my content, I’m just going to keep it Benny like, I’m going to be myself, I just want to appeal to a big variety of people rather than just the streets. In general I want to spread it out a bit more, and learn how to word it to make people listen.
M: When did you get signed to 679/Warner and how has life changed since?
November 25 last year. Obviously its changed, but I’m just trying to be the same person, I don’t want to let it get to me. I haven’t made it yet; I haven’t got anything in the charts, when I get their maybe I’ll show off a bit more! But right now I’m still working man.
M: Do people treat you differently now?
I think I get a bit more respect. But I feel like I deserve it so I’m just accepting it.
S: Do you think you can get mainstream success without altering your style?
Ummm, in ways, but I don’t really go studio and make a tune specifically for the charts or to attract a certain amount of people. I just write the music and it does its own job. If I keep going with it then hopefully it will just mature. I just got to up my vocab a little a bit, but I’m confident though. I got a vision.
M: You are known for delivering quite dark lyrics in a laid back way. Do you still live the life that you rapped about?
Nah! Course not! Obviously I still mix with the same people I still live in the same area, I just don’t personally do the same things that I did before init. But then again if I wasn’t involved in music maybe I would init. But I’m here now and I’m grateful.
S: You’ve had some beef and been the subject of a few diss tracks… do you expect more of the same as you grow more successful?
Yeah! When a man looks in the mirror and realises he’s underachieving, they get bitter. I’m inspiration for them man, all these diss tracks just make me feel good about myself! None of its true, I’ve never met none of these people in my life, so if they know so much stuff about me, good for them man. I’m getting paid for my music. I dunno man, they’re probably fans! I can’t really comment on people I haven’t met.
M: Which artists and producers would you want to work with this year?
Not in particular, I’m not desperate to work with anyone in general. If I got to work with someone and made a good song… I just want to make good music; I can make good music with someone unheard of.
S: You and K Koke have a strong underground following… do you feel that being a white rapper has helped to an extent?
Yeah maybe, the fact that I am white, possibly, I don’t really agree with that though – I don’t think colour matters. It’s not the 90’s or the 80’s no more but… maybe it helps, but its like ‘why?’ It’s a stereotypical opinion. I just think its talent man. I know there have been some white acts that have been signed like Vanilla Ice or whatever, but I mean come on, I’m not that guy! I am not Vanilla Ice – I can rap. [Laughs] Obviously they’re ‘marketable’ init, I understand the whole marketing thing. But I don’t think it applies to me.
M: Do you think that novelty will ever wear off?
Umm.. nah! Its like… if a white girl goes in the club and starts doing the duttywine, she’s going to stand out, cause its more of a black girls thing to be good at dancing. Obviously rap started with Run DMC and them people there, not a white guy. It originates from a black background init so if you see someone whose not black doing it then they’ll probably always stand out.
M: Bada Bing has a very different sound compared to what you normally bring to the table. Can we expect more of that sound?
Well I don’t plan to stop having fun so… I’m sure I’ll go back to the studio and make another fun tune. Like I said that tune was just for jokes, it’s not my kind of music, it’s not me. But it was fun init. And to me, it doesn’t sound too pop or commercial, but I know it’s very different for me. But I liked doing it. I would make something like that again; if I could make something better I’d follow it up.
S: You, Joe Black and Squeeks make a strong team. What can we expect from you lot in the future?
The takeover. Just expect good music, I can’t guarantee the charts but the music is always going to be good.
M: Can we expect an album from you this year?
Defo defo! I can’t tell you anything about what’s going to be on there though! But there’s definitely going to be an album. It’s going to be very exclusive, nothing like no one else’s. Ideally it will be out in the summertime.
S: Have you had any crazy twitter fans?
Yeeeeeeeah! I get weird messages man, some weird messages… But I think everyone does though man. I get loads of messages from people asking me how to rap. Obviously I can’t tell them how to do that, its just natural init. The funniest tweet I got was the other day… this girl… big up this girl man! You know you can search your name to see if people are writing about you yeah? She wrote ‘I still remember Benny Banks tryna chatting me up on the street last year’. I do not chat girls up on the street, I’m 24 man, my kid is 4, I haven’t done that since I was 17! I tweeted her saying ‘Big up you for making that up’. She replied and tried to be cheeky, but it was just funny.
M: Wrapping up, what can expect from Benny in the far away future?
A house in Dubai, a big Rolls Royce [laughs]. Nah, just progress. As long as I’m making progress it’s all good. I’d like to achieve my dreams that we all have… But as long as I’m still relevant in 5 years I’ll be happy. I think keeping relevant is what matters.