Rapper David Banner visited Harvard last weekend to speak at a conference entitled, "LA Riots: Twenty Year Later," a reflection on social justice and inequality in America in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots in 1992. Flyby sat down to talk with the successful rapper, producer, and social activist, who has worked to raise awareness about the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
1. Flyby: What do you feel is the most pressing or important problem in our society now, and do you feel as though your experience as an artist has aided or complicated your involvement in these issues?
David Banner: Oh, it has definitely aided…because as much as we would like to think people are interested because of the movement, sometimes it's because of who we are, and that's fine with me because hopefully I can put them in a situation or around something that will maybe spark some level of involvement. In order to feed people, you have to get them to the table first. And hopefully my being a rapper can help bring certain people to the table so we can all sit down to eat. If you really look at it from Sean Bell to Oscar Grant to Trayvon Martin, these are things that have been happening to people in the United States since, you know, Africans were brought over here on boats. This is nothing new. And the sad part is America has the feeling that racism doesn't exist anymore. In Boston today there were racial slurs coming from all the Bruins fans. That in itself shows that we have a long way to go.
2. Flyby: What is a celebrity's role or responsibility—if any—for being a vehicle for social change?
DB: Well, what I will say, and what I can only say is what my responsibility is. And my responsibility is not from an artist's perspective but from a man's. As a man, it is my responsibility [to promote social change], because hip hop has given so much to me...but you can't ask every artist to do something because they aren't built like that. A lot of them don't have the expertise about the situation, and if they don't feel it in their hearts, I don't feel like they should speak.
3. Flyby: You have said that "hip hop is sick because America is sick." How do we find a cure for this?
DB: Well, one of the problems in America is that we don't admit that the symptoms exist, so we never actually get to the disease. Racism, racial profiling, and all of the things that go on in our community are things we think are not true or don't happen, and that's a lie. I think racism and discrimination are plowing through the underbelly of America. We won't admit that they exist. First of all, we have to get what it is, acknowledge it, talk about it, and find steps to make sure that it doesn't happen again. We need to admit there is a problem.