May 22, 2023
Insightful, brilliant, and talented
Growing up, I loved the hip-hop I saw showcased on programs like “Yo! MTV Raps.” The music had a heart and a message. Over the years, though, hip-hop has evolved away from the rhymes and verses with meaning to ones more focused on excess. This was when I stopped paying attention and started focusing my musical tastes elsewhere … until one man appeared and started taking hip-hop back by rhyming about anything and everything. His catalog of work is so diverse, it’ll make your head spin. Alfred Banks can look at a blank piece of paper and develop a rhyme on the spot about it.
Banks is a hip-hop musician based out of New Orleans, La., and his latest release, “Blessing,” is a nod to the city that raised him. In the song, he says, “It’s a blessing coming from the Crescent” and for Alfred Banks, indeed it is. The man reps New Orleans wherever he goes, and we are lucky to be able to enjoy his talent.
Banks got his start in the industry under the moniker Lyriqs Da Lyraciss at age 17 and has shared the stage with Rakim, Lupe Fiasco, Wu-Tang Clan, Tyga, Desiigner, and Kendrick Lamar, among others. He has performed at New Orleans-based events Voodoo Fest and Jazz Fest, and he even visited Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, Germany. Did I mention one of his songs was used for a Volkswagen commercial and that numerous songs of his are licensed to shows and movies? His knack for rhyming, his charisma, and his insightful lyrics are what got him noticed in the biz and, as we like to say, the rest is history. He has been steadily churning out music ever since, with many new ones this year, but he does not limit himself to solo material—no. This man is involved in so many projects, we lost count after a while. We did ask him about all those wonderful endeavors, though, and you can read more about them in this interview.
Currently, Alfred is focused on promoting his newest album “Nectarine Peels,” which is part of his collaboration with Albert Allenback of Tank and the Bangas in a group called Saxkixave. These two are like the odd couple of hip-hop and their infectious videos are beyond hilarious and showcase Bank’s personality in a whole new light. In fact, the duo goes together like peanut butter and jelly and truly do complement one another. Albert makes these killer beats and Alfred comes up with the wittiest rhymes to go with them.
In addition to Saxkixave, Alfred is continuing to perform shows like crazy, showcasing his solo material. Check out this convo we had with him recently, then go check out his catalog of material. You will fall in love with him as much as we have.
MaM: When I first discovered your music, the thing that drew me in was your use of words. You can pretty much make a rhyme about anything. When did you realize you had this gift with words to take it to the next level professionally?
AB: I remember when I was in sixth or seventh grade, I used to freestyle a lot. I lived in Tallulah, Louisiana for, like, three years and I would freestyle a lot with some of the kids around there. I would gravitate towards anybody who rapped—actually, I’ll go back a little further. Fifth or sixth grade was when I started noticing that I liked remixing songs in my own way. Me and my man Nigel would make comedic remixes for them. We would take any song that was hot at the time, which was 2000/2001, and remix them about food. I started noticing I could do that off the top of my head. … Junior high was when I started to write raps, which were kinda cool. I was more into that battle type of energy. My sophomore year of high school was when I truly started writing, though. … I really started freestyle battle rapping and I noticed I could think of things on the spot. My whole thing was coming from New Orleans, you have to know how to rib and I got ribbed a lot … picked on a lot and my way to fight back was to just rap. I would just head to toe and people would die laughing. That’s kind of how I got my name.
I started uploading music to MySpace and stuff. It started getting a little bit of traction and I did some shows around town. I started battling first. … I just started noticing that if I looked at someone, I could make a rap about it to whatever degree. I fell off it for some years, though, and focused on my songwriting and touring. Around 2019, I did a tour with my man Mega Ran and he did this thing where he would ask people to hold stuff up in the air and he would freestyle about it on the spot and I [thought that was amazing and wondered if I could do that]. I started doing it with Saxkixave and it goes over well and keeps my freestyle sharp. People kind of know me as a freestyle guy now, so it’s kind of cool, then you meet someone like Ray Wimley, who is a freestyle savant, and he went viral because he freestyled with Common a few years back for Essence Fest. We actually did a freestyle battle at a Pelican’s game and that was me in front of thousands of folks having to put my freestyle skills to the test and, respectfully, I was the victor in that situation. … I don’t really write a lot, not as much as I’d like, but freestyling just kind of works.
MaM: Well, as far as your lyrics for your songs, what inspires your lyrics? “Blessing,” of course, is based upon your love for New Orleans, but I was listening to your music and you’re all over the place with content and what you talk about. None of your songs are the same.
AB: I know sometimes it makes it hard to be marketable when you do a lot of different things, but I just have a lot of different interests and I’m not always in the same space. To some degree, I guess I need to find a vein, but for the most part, I’m all over the place and I love that.
MaM: Where did Underdog Central come from?
AB: That’s my life mantra I live by. Underdog Central is the place where the overlooked go to hone their skills to come back and become admired. It’s my label name, too, and my social media handle. I made it my social media handle ‘cause Alfred Banks was taken, but because it’s my label, I wanted that name to be first before anything. I want people to know what my brand is. When I first came out, I was a little rough around the edges, a little unrefined, so I had to go back into my proverbial batcave and fix things. I came back out, though, and now am who I am. I feel like the people who are extremely talented tend to get overlooked and are always having to fight from behind from a deficit and always must prove who they are no matter if they are the most talented one in the room or not. You can’t take anything for granted and you must treat every moment as if it’s your last, so that’s what Underdog Central is about.
MaM: Are you born and raised in New Orleans?
AB: Uptown, yeah, uptown New Orleans. Uptown kid for sure.
MaM: Your brand of hip-hop is the type that is missing these days. It has those classic undertones and that hint of nostalgia. Your lyrics with “Blessing” are so insightful and that song truly resonates with me.
AB: Yeah, that’s a style of record I have never done before. One thing I have been noticing lately is I am the most off-brand New Orleans person you will ever meet. [I’m] born and raised in this bad boy, but when you look at my everything … I don’t even look like I’m from New Orleans. I don’t act like I’m from New Orleans…like some things I don’t even relate to, but I am definitely from here, but I never made a song I felt could resonate here. All the music I make is more for everyone. I also made it from the angle of where if someone from Detroit heard it, they could be like, ‘I feel this way about my city.’
MaM: What struggles or roadblocks did you encounter when you first tried to break into the industry?
AB: Just making hip-hop in New Orleans. There was a big scene from 2007-2015 where it was a community and there were shows happening and people would come out to the shows and we all tried to support each other and spread the word about each other’s stuff, then after that, there was a shift in the music. I can say to a degree that I’ve stayed contemporary with my style. It doesn’t sound like it’s from 1989 or anything, but the more lyric heavy and conceptual idea-driven music doesn’t have as big of a platform here as other stuff. The people in the scene here, though, started to get older and started [coming out less]. That and the fact that New Orleans is not a hip-hop city, and so it doesn’t matter how talented you are. It’s been like, ‘Where’s your bounce song?’ or ‘You got a dude playing trombone on it?’.
It’s funny now, though, the response I’ve gotten for the song “Blessing” … thirteen years into my career, you would have thought it was the first song I ever made because everyone is like ‘Finally, you got a record we like.’ I’ve got albums that have charted across the U.S., but that record is doing pretty good in New Orleans, specifically. Pick your battles. My biggest thing was just trying to do my brand and my style of hip-hop and bust open these doors that are solely reserved for people who do Zydeco or brass band music—stuff people consider New Orleans but, to a fault, it’s so New Orleans that no one wants to hear anything else. But I always thought it was weird that these big platforms—these big festivals here—only portray a certain style of New Orleans; where’s the hip-hop? That’s always been the main issue with me.
I want to be the guy that can go into a room filled with musicians who do not do hip-hop to any degree but do my thing and it resonate or translates with them. I’ve kind of become that guy, though. I’m the guy in a room full of brass bands and zydeco bands who is the hip-hop representation, which is a gift and a curse because I never get to perform for my people. I always get to perform for people who are being exposed to what I do for the first time, so it kind of creates this very uncomfortable energy, which can be a bit weird at times. I’m a part of this group called Global Warming and we’re doing this Wednesday at the Square thing, which I don’t know the last time they had a hip-hop group perform there, but … I have this never say die, blind optimistic view of life, though, so I just keep going for some strange reason.
MaM: No, but that’s a good thing! You’re not admitting defeat at all. You’re just like, “I don’t care what you’re gonna throw at me. I’m just gonna keep doing my thing until it resonates,” ya know?
AB: …and the funny thing is it hasn’t stopped me. I’ve been able to tour all over the world. I guess it’s not that big of a deal, but for me it is. I’m doing it less about me and more about the next. I’m a young guy, but I’ve been out for a while, and so I just want to look out for the next guys coming up that feel like me because everybody is a street rapper, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I come from the hood, but I don’t see it from that angle. I was in a house and my mom kept me in the crib, and not everyone is from that cloth. There are people, though, that take those experiences and turn them into something else. Not what you would expect. I just try my best to be that alternative for people who love hip-hop, care about bars, care about lyricism and concepts, good beats, melodies, etc.
MaM: … and you bring it all. You’ve got the whole package with it.
AB: I appreciate that.
MaM: Global Warming—tell me more about this.
AB: Word, so Global Warming is a collective about 35 people in the city from engineers to producers to singers to rappers, graphic artists, etc., and we just all [come together] … so Global Warming is like, ‘Nope! We can!’ So that’s what we’ve done and as a collective. We’ve performed at Buku Fest, we’ve opened for Tyler the Creator, and we’ve played Jazz Fest. We’re going to be playing Wednesday at the Square, and so we’re using this as a platform to get some of the guys in the group exposure with their first big stages to give them that experience and to be around people like Pell or Train or me to help usher in those guys to just make great music. I love being a part of Global Warming. It’s very interactive. It’s teaching me how to support people from a very active standpoint and I truly mean it when I do it and vice versa. It’s allowing me to also get involved with other people’s careers to some degree, which is fire.
MaM: Well, it’s a collective grouping of like-minded individuals all supporting each together, which is awesome.
AB: Yeah. Global Warming put out an album during the pandemic and I’m on it. Saxkixave is on it. It’s called ‘Global Warming Vol. 1’ and it’s a dope record. We’re working on Vol. 2 right now, but at the end of the day the one thing I have learned is that collaboration is very important, especially for me the past three years. Working with Soul Rebels, working with Brassaholics, working with Flow Tribe, working with Global Warming, working with Tank and the Bangas, and all these different people has been helping me elevate my platform and get in spaces where I probably wouldn’t be normally. I’m very grateful for that. Just working to get that buzz to where it needs to be and it’s been a trial at times, but I want to just keep rapping and keep working and the inevitable will happen at some point.
MaM: So, 2023 you’re gonna just do a lot of touring or are you working on any other new solo music?
AB: … Instead of putting out new stuff to the same folks, I already have music that resonates, so from there I think I’m going to use videos and promos as a ploy to get people to check out the catalog I have and then go from there. I have a lot of music that hasn’t been unearthed just yet. I have a project called Mere-Exposure Effect, which I feel is one of my best projects writing-wise. It shows I could do radio records if I really wanted to.
Mirror Exposure Effect is an idea that if you recognize it, you’ll like it, so the whole project sounds like radio records. If it sounds like something you already know, then you’ll like it by default. I have a project called ‘Road to a Rolex’—some of my hardest hitting beats. I’m rapping about getting money the entire project but from a couple different aspects. I have a project titled ‘One Guy Standing by Himself.’ That project debuted at number three on iTunes. It was one of my most successful projects to date. That’s a project I wrote to get myself out of the mind state of COVID. I wrote that project in like a week and it’s more introspective and a little lighter-hearted.
I [also] have a project called The Beautiful and that’s my magnum opus and is my biggest project to date. That project is about my brother and his struggle with schizophrenia and his ultimate suicide. The day of his funeral, I had to leave in the middle of his service because I had a show to play that night, and so I wrote an album about the car ride from the funeral to the show, so in that album, I develop schizophrenia too; so, I sort of battle it throughout the album. That’s my biggest project to date and a lot of people don’t even know it exists. I’ve also got The Range 1 and 2. I do a song with Wheatus and a bunch of people. It’s like five different genres in one project.
MaM: I am just blown away with all the projects you have. How do you even sleep?
AB: Well, for me, I did go through a time where I was putting out a lot of music and it does seem like a lot, but it really isn’t. I’ve got songs that if someone goes back in like 15 years to discover them, they’ll be like, ‘That shit was fire!’. A catalog full of those records. Some may consider me a conscious rapper and I’m not conscious in the vein of social or political issues, but I rap about things from my point of view.
MaM: Well, just life. I’ve listened to all your music, and you are all over the place. No song is alike. You have so many different styles and facets to your personality and what you do. You can go from a silly track to something super serious.
AB: For sure.
MaM: … which I feel is so endearing and is going to continue to resonate with people—even those who are just now discovering you for the first time.
AB: Honestly man, that’s just how my brain works, cause we’re human. We all go all over place. There are some days where you are very happy and so you want to listen to a happy song and then there are days where you are not happy and you don’t want to even hear music, but if you do, you want to hear some sad stuff that is introspective. Some days you want to hear something lyrical. Some days you will want to hear something conceptually driven, but that’s just how I feel. Sometimes I don’t want to write a rap record, I want to write a dance record. I want to do some EDM. I want to do like a hyper-pop record. There are some days I want to do some industrial shit.
MaM: That’s what I’m talking about. That’s my kind of music.
AB: Some days I wake up, I want to go work with Albert and do some jazz or acid hip-hop or some days I just want to rap my ass off to show people how good I am. That’s just where I’m at and the path I’m on and people seem to like it.
MaM: I think it’s a great path and, in fact, I don’t think you should change a thing with what you are doing. I think it shows diversity and it does not keep you in a certain type of music or anything. You are unique and different and have your own brand that is going to resonate because it is so unique and different.
AB: Thank you. I’ll tell you this with all the things that have gone against me, all I’ve ever had [were] my skills and [they have] gotten me further than anything else I’ve ever done. I think that is what is going to keep me busy and keep my lights on. I just care about music, and I care about being good. I do come from the competitive aspect where if you put me on stage with other rappers, I’m going to try and outperform. I want to be the best in every room I’m in and I don’t know too many who still care about that.
MaM: You are nothing but heart.
AB: Thank you. I want people to go, ‘I want to be invested in his brand of great because that boy is good.’ At the end of the day, though, I’m an entertainer, so it’s not about me. It’s about you, the audience, and I like to keep those things in mind.
MaM: What are your plans for the rest of 2023? I know we’re halfway in, but where do you see the rest of the year headed for you?
AB: It’s weird, I’m at this weird transitional part of my career where the business infrastructure that has been supporting me is not there because we decided to do our own thing and go our separate ways, but I’m back solo. I’ve been adjusting to that. We do have some other things down the line, though. Pre-COVID, I was doing close to 100 shows a year and in June, I’m going to Ohio. I’ll do three shows out there, then I’m going to Colorado in July. Just trying to get back to the West Coast.
To experience all that is Alfred Banks, hit one of the links below. You won’t regret it.
*Cover photo by Gary Governale
Nicole Brice loves good music and loves discovering new music she has not heard yet. Do you have something you’d like her to hear? Hit her up at firstname.lastname@example.org.