Lloyd Banks Is the Most Important Man in Music
Over the last decade, hip hop has gone from niche genre to Billboard Top 100 fodder, with traditional pop stars frequently bringing rappers and hip hop superstars into the fold (Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, etc.) to generate increased revenue and relevance. This boom has had many figureheads – from Lil Wayne, to Drake, to Nicki Minaj – but none have succeeded in making hip hop a dominant cultural force quite like Yeezus (a.k.a. Kanye West). The enigmatic superstar has fundamentally changed music history, with several of the most popular and critically acclaimed albums of the 21st century belonging to West. However, despite West’s apparent omnipresence, Yeezus has not always been the force of nature he is today. In fact, it was rap’s hidden philosopher, Lloyd Banks,2 who helped make West who he is today.
In 2007, West was fresh off the successful release of Late Registration when he was preparing for the release of the landmark Graduation album. In the midst of the album’s promotional cycle, 50 Cent issued a challenge to West, whose new album Graduation would drop that same week: If West’s Graduation topped his Curtis, 50 Cent would retire from rapping. West, ever the competitor, took the challenge head on – and dominated. In the week of the simultaneous release, Graduation outsold Curtis by over 250,000 – with Graduation topping out at 957,000 albums sold, and 50 Cent’s eponymous release selling a paltry 691,000. The battle for rap’s future was over,3 with Kanye West’s newly electronic-and-synth-infused style taking hold. Ben Detrich of XXL cited the competition as the defining moment in hip hop’s mainstream shift, saying, “If there was ever a watershed moment to indicate hip-hop’s changing direction, it may have come when 50 Cent competed with Kanye in 2007 to see whose album would claim superior sales.”
Now this is all fine and dandy, but where does the star-maker Lloyd Banks come into play in all of this? A thorough examination of Graduation provides this answer: In his pre-Graduation albums, College Dropout and Late Registration, West incorporated little cross-genre exploration. The albums were well-produced, dripping in incredible soul samples and hinting at West’s artistic inclinations, but they weren’t the enigmatic, genre-blending innovations we see from West today.
That changed with Graduation, West’s first fully explorative album. On Graduation, Kanye West found inspiration in a variety of strange and unexpected sources: electronica, Johnny Cash, and U2.4 Graduation signified West’s transition from a rapper and storyteller to a true artist — a man who pushed the boundaries of what music could be. What prompted this change? Well if you go through the tracks on Graduation, it seems that there’s one idea that spurred West’s risk-taking, a notion he explains in the hit-single “Good Life”: “Go ‘head switch the style up. And if they hate, then let ‘em hate and watch the money pile up.”
In “Good Life,” West attributes that line to his challenger 50 Cent. However, this idea – one that seemingly spurred Kanye West to become the artistic enigma of today – was actually spoken by one Lloyd Banks.
You know Lloyd Banks, right? He was in G-Unit. You don’t remember G-Unit, 50 Cent’s rap posse and playable characters in 50 Cent: Bulletproof? You don’t? Well fuck. I don’t have time to explain the intricacies of rap posse dynamics and 50 Cent’s crew history right now.
Basically, Lloyd Banks was a mildly successful rapper and one of 50 Cent’s closest friends in the early 2000’s. On the day that would change the history of rap music, Lloyd Banks told 50 Cent, “Cuz go ahead, switch the style up. And if [redacted] hate, then let them hate and watch the money pile up.” 50 Cent was so inspired by this thought that he incorporated it into his breakout smash hit “In Da Club.” Years later, West heard this idea and felt similar inspiration, so he completely changed the face of music, but he mistakenly thanked 50 Cent instead of Banks in “Good Life.” But the story doesn’t end there.
West, the world’s biggest supporter of giving credit when due, eventually realized his mistake and jumped on a Lloyd Banks track, “Start It Up,” to personally thank Banks for changing his music and his life. SERIOUSLY. Kanye West was so inspired by Banks’ idea that he thought to record the verse on a Lloyd Banks song to make sure the world knew who was responsible for altering his musical trajectory and, in turn, the very future of the music industry.
So there you have it. Lloyd Banks is the reason for the current state of music. Think about that the next time you think little guys can’t make a difference in the world.