In many minority communities, depression, anxiety and mental illness are not often recognized as true struggles amongst individuals. While so much of our population around the globe faces a detrimental internal battle every single day, many minorities have had to overlook their own issues, which could be broken down to being a means of simply survival.
David Banner believes that mental illness in the black community, particularly, stems all the way back to slavery, and the community’s inability to obtain medical care throughout history because of the horrific odds against them. After multiple generations have passed down this habitual instinct to brush off their internal emotions, it has led to many of today’s generation to disregard the mental illness theory completely.
“Most young black people don’t know that they’re depressed,” David says in our recent conversation.
The award-winning music creative has openly battled with depression throughout his career, and has gotten a hold of the reigns of his mental health in recent years. Through meditation, an outstanding support system, a switching of surrounding energies, and the new path of his musical journey, Banner has been able to cope with his depression in a healthier, productive fashion.
With his new album The God Box out now on iTunes, David seeks to educate those battling with their own mental health struggles, and those who are deep in the depths of post traumatic stress.
From the making of his new album, to how trees play a crucial and heartbreaking connection to the black community, the producer sheds some incredible light on a lot of taboo subjects in this exclusive interview.
See David Banner get raw about mental health and the black community in our conversation below.
Lindsey India: You’ve said that The God Box is like an “art exhibit,“ hoping everyone gets something different out of it. As the creator of the project, what sort of things did you, personally, get out of making it?
David Banner: Wow, that’s a great question. That’s sort of a hard question because I don’t know…I don’t really look at it like that. It’s life. I had a really dope listening party last night, where we went through a couple of tracks, and I was telling the crowd [that] I am the person that you see now. Like, that’s me. It’s no façade. So I live this album. I’ll tell you something that’s crazy. I had a slight anxiety about putting it out because I had lived with this album for so long, it had become almost part of my lifestyle. I wasn’t quite sure, although the most high had given me the vision that our people were ready, it was almost like I was a single father who raised a daughter and it was time for her to go to college. And you know how they do the freshmen on campus when they first get there [laughs]. That’s sort of how I felt about my album. I wanted to make sure she had the best opportunity to get heard and to be successful in the world.
You know how they run through rap albums. It’s about the same way America runs through children. But what I did want people to get out of it was a sense of freedom. For artists to know that you can do it on your own, this is a 100% independent album. I paid for everything. Any poster you see. Any billboard. All of it. Now I understand why the record industry was scared of Master P. I understand the power of Tech N9ne now. So for me, I wanted artists to see that they can be free and that you can make money. I had the No. 1 album when this album dropped on iTunes without a radio single. 100% independent. Where does that happen in America? So for me and my small, and very bright staff, we put together a stellar marketing campaign. I created something where we literally sell God boxes with very conscious information in there like books and DVDs and flags and stickers. I can barely keep up with the demand of it. I wanted artists to know that they can do it. But for the fans, one of the things that I don’t hear much in music, and what it did for my generation, is that it took me to different worlds. They have tricked, especially young black men and women, to stay in the ghetto. Most of us rep our hoods and the situations that we in, but we don’t like them. We glorify them, but most of these rappers can’t go back and live in their own neighborhoods if they wanted to, and they don’t want to. So we convince these children to do it. Hip-hop literally went from “Up with hope, down with dope,” which was my generation, to being the dope user. I wanted to give these children and give my listeners the same feeling that A Tribe Called Quest did when they told us to go to El Segundo, or when Outkast told us to go to Stankonia, or N.W.A. taking us to Compton. They took us to different places. A young David Banner took you to Mississippi. But then I got popular instead of taking people on journeys. That’s what I wanted The God Box to do.
Lindsey India: Talk to me about the mind state you were in creating some of these powerful songs like “Magnolia.” They share some extremely prominent and stomach-turning imagery. What was your mental state like writing some of the more gut-wrenching tracks?
I’m from Mississippi, love. My great Uncle was hung. Tito Lopez, to me, is one of the most prolific artists who people don’t talk about ever, he said something that is so dope that I don’t think about. He said “Our kids have to play where they lynched us.” If you think about it, white people would have to go outside of their communities and terrorize black people. They never really had to deal with the horror that they left behind. Imagine if you’re a child and you still had to play around the same tree that your Uncle got hung on. Or still have to live in the same house that your mom got raped in. Or play in the yard where that burning cross was. As much as people would like me to give this introspective standpoint and get really deep, this is just a sad part of my history.
What I will tell you, though, is that “Magnolia” was actually a concept for a book that I’m going to write called If Trees Could Talk. When you go back and listen to the song, it’s going to freak you out now. We’re speaking from the perspective of two different trees. The way that this book is going to be written [covers] the relationship between trees and Mississippi and Africans who have come through the state. The taller the tree, the wider the perspective, but the less personal the story is going to be. The tallest tree is going to tell the story about the Moore’s who came to this continent even before the Native Americans were here. That’s history that people don’t talk about, but that’s the tallest tree. But that’s not personal. The smaller tree is going to give you the perspective of maybe one person, but tell you about that one person’s life. My verse was about the Magnolia tree and how I was sent by the Magnolia tree, and she explained the story of how she was used in the [lynching] of blacks. And she was sorry for that. So in one case, she broke her own arm, so his neck wouldn’t snap.
Cee-Lo’s verse was more of a smaller tree that has the perspective of this black man who was a cop who had certain things going on in his life, thinking that having a white wife, and having a certain job of power would actually make him an exception to the rule, but it didn’t.
Lindsey India: Let’s talk mental health. How do you balance your creative streak when dealing with times of depression?
Well, the problem is this. Most young black people don’t know that they’re depressed. So it’s sort of hard…well, one of the things that helps me with depression now is the fact that I know that I have bouts with depression. Sometimes just knowing what it is helps you to deal with it. And in a lot of cases, we mask it with drugs or hypersexual tendencies or alcohol. I found that I used to mask my depression and my fears and my anxieties with anger and being mad. The thing is that question is sort of hard for me to answer because once I found out I was depressed, I found mechanisms to help me deal with it. Like I do transcendental meditation. It was introduced to me by Bill Duke, who is a legendary writer and actor. I don’t know how, but he was able to see through my façade and could tell that I was going through things. And transcendental meditation changed his life, so he introduced me to that. I was dying at the time. My depression was that bad. I felt my soul slipping away. Then after transcendental meditation, I met my mentor in Atlanta, and he convinced me to go to therapy. I haven’t had but maybe one or two slight bouts because I work against [it], and I know my triggers now. So if I start feeling bad, I’ll go watch Step Brothers a thousand times or find something to make me laugh. I also got rid of all of my Debbie-downer friends. Everybody that’s around me is trying to do something with their lives. I guard my mind like I would a child. My mom knows not to call me and tell me about everybody in the town who got killed. People know not to gossip around me. I literally guard my mind. It hasn’t been as hard since I found out what depression was because I have people around me that supply me with the mechanisms to battle it. Before, I just didn’t know I was depressed.
Black men are always told to pull themselves up by their boot straps. We’re always taught that therapy is white folks shit. The stuff that was literally created by Africans that can help you deal or give you coping mechanisms…we’re always taught to just man up. When that has nothing to do with being a man. You’re sick, you feel me?
Lindsey India: Why do you think that mental health awareness and mental illness has been such a taboo subject in minority communities, and especially the black community?
I think it was a direct connection to slavery. We couldn’t go to doctors. Anything that black people had to deal with, we just had to wait it out. People talk about post traumatic stress disorder as it pertains to people who are in war. Most of the people who go to war go for two or three years at the most if you really think about it. You have to think about the fact that black folks were in slavery for three or four generations. People don’t really talk about the fact that, for the most part, the treatment of black people as a whole, to some degree, has gotten maybe a little better. But it never stopped. If you calculate the years that we were in slavery, black people haven’t been out of slavery longer than they were in it. We never got any physical, mental, or spiritual therapy. No one has ever dealt with that. In America, we need therapy as a whole. That’s not even talking about the pressure of cops, or the financial pressures. That’s not talking about the fact that literally slaves were told in slavery to just deal with it. There wasn’t a homestead act for us. Nothing was given to us. We literally just had to do it. So in a lot of cases, because we couldn’t afford mental health [treatment], we made something that was just negative because we couldn’t do it in the first place. It’s sort of the same way that black people have accepted the [n-word]. We didn’t have a choice but to hear the word. We couldn’t make that stop at the time when we were slaves, so we co-opted it. That’s a sickness within itself. Black people say all the time that they can flip the word and take the power out of it, but I say, in order for you to flip something, you must first accept that you are. I refuse to do that.
Lindsey India: What do you think are some solutions or coping mechanisms to mental health issues and mental illness that can be brought to those that might need help?
One thing that I’ll say, and I have to be clear about this, is that I did not do it alone. That’s one of the things that leads us into depression. We think that we’re alone or we have to do it all ourselves. I had a team of people that helped me. The thing is, that’s also not fair, the reason why I had access to these kinds of people is because I was rich. Most people don’t have the time to realize that there’s a problem. They don’t have the financial space to take a break for a second.
Lindsey India: Health care doesn’t always cover all of it, or even any of it.
Exactly, love. So that’s the biggest thing that I want to tell people. I didn’t do it alone, and it wasn’t something that I magically just discovered and picked up and started doing myself. Actually, at the time when I was depressed, I was a devout Christian. So doing meditation seemed practically almost evil to me. Religion has done so much to the minds of all Americans, to be honest with you. But because I was so depressed, I would do anything that wouldn’t compromise my manhood or my spirituality to get depression off of me. Let me tell you something. I would wish a lot of things on my enemies, but depression isn’t one of them. I would not wish that on my worst enemy. I never contemplated suicide, but I understand now. I have empathy of why a person [would think like that]. I used to think that people who committed suicide were weak people. Once I went through depression, I realized that that’s not the truth at all.
I’m not the toughest guy in the world, but I don’t take a lot of shit. So when kids see somebody of my stature and somebody who’s been able to accrue the amount of success that I have, to be able to honestly open their heart and show you all the pain that I went through, and not be embarrassed about it…I think that’s one of the biggest things that has helped my career. Not just from a financial standpoint, but I’ve had people come and tell me, “Dammit if David Banner can fight through this, then I can too.” Most of the time people feel like they’re alone and that they’re fucking crazy.
Lindsey India: Is there a particular song or studio session you can recall that might have helped your coping journey?
Yes. I don’t even remember the name of the song, but one of my therapists told me, in actuality, the old David Banner was more healthy for me. He said maybe not from a spiritual standpoint, but from a mental standpoint. He told me to think about this: if the old David Banner wanted to say “Fuck you. Kiss my ass. Die,” he would tell you that. That’s off of my mind, my heart and my soul, and I can go about my business. He said this more introspective David Banner and kinder David Banner is packing it all in, holding it on my heart, and carrying it around. Once I became more introspective, I took my diary away from myself. He told me that even though I may not want to put that music out, I don’t have to put that music out, but keep recording exactly how I feel. Get it off of your heart. Get it out of your mind and get it outside of your own head. That’s basically what therapy is anyway. My homework was to go and record this song. I recorded it and I put it on YouTube. I forgot the name of it, but I basically was talking about how I needed hydrocodone to go to sleep. I talked about all of the pain I was going through. I felt like in my old career, I let my people down and I was guiding my people to hell. Now that I’m a little bit smarter and bit more conscience, I see that that wasn’t the case. [4:20]
Lindsey India: What’s coming up for you for the rest of the year?
Let me tell you something. This has actually been the best time of my life. I want to show people happiness too. Actually, The God Box is going to be a happy album. What I realize is that I had to go back in to some dark places in order to bring people out. A lot of times when people don’t see the process they think that that’s just the way that you are. To be honest with you, unless it’s Tupac or something like that, I don’t listen to a lot of negative music. Unless it’s a video game, I don’t watch too much crime or killing or drama and gossip. I don’t watch the news. If it’s not anything about opulence or success or happy times or comedy or something to lift my spirits, I don’t do it. So in saying that, I’m just excited. When I tour this year, I don’t think I’m going to just run through cities. I think I’m going to spend three days there. Instead of doing maybe 20 cities, I think I’ll only do 10. [I’ll] spend some time, lecturing in cities. Go to the colleges. Go to the schools. Touch the kids. Go see where Nat Turner lived. I want to get an opportunity to go into the cities to live and have fun.
I’ll end it on this. I had an ex-girlfriend once that told me I looked at the ground so much, that I never saw how beautiful the sky was. Even if you’re in the worst neighborhood in the world, the sky is still beautiful. This world is so negative, that we don’t get to take in the blessings that we do have. Just being able to breathe and see. The things that are the most valuable, you can’t pay for. We have those things. Everything that God does is perfect. You are perfect just the way that you are.