David Banner Heals the Hood

David Banner Heals the Hood

“I lost my house,” said one victim of Hurricane Katrina, although this particular victim was equipped
with some wildly refractive ornamentation and, more importantly, a very loud microphone. The crowd fell silent. “I lost my
cars,” he continued. “But it ain’t about me.” Then, without pausing to acknowledge the absurdity, he delivered an
exuberant, bare-chested ode to the shiny rims on the wheels of vehicles he no longer had.

This was, in a twisted way, one of the most moving moments of Saturday night’s concert. The victim was the New Orleans
rapper (and reality-TV veteran) known variously as Young City or Chopper, an aspiring star who joined loads of established
ones inside the Philips Arena for a concert called Heal the Hood, a hip-hop fund-raiser for – and, in a few cases, by –
victims of Hurricane Katrina. (A New York hurricane relief benefit is to be held Monday night at 10:30 at the B. B. King
Blues Club and Grill in Manhattan.) On Saturday, Atlanta’s famously competitive hip-hop stations had joined forces to
promote an event that would be, as the jocks constantly reminded their listeners, historic.

And they were right. The night was organized by the tireless Mississippi rapper David Banner. He had corralled an
impressive lineup of rappers, especially Southern rappers: Young Jeezy, T. I., Big Boi from OutKast and many others. The
cause had everyone excited, but the “because” had everyone even more excited: the night was made possible by the
extraordinary continuing success of Southern hip-hop.


“I lost my house,” said one victim of Hurricane Katrina, although this particular victim was equipped
with some wildly refractive ornamentation and, more importantly, a very loud microphone. The crowd fell silent. “I lost my
cars,” he continued. “But it ain’t about me.” Then, without pausing to acknowledge the absurdity, he delivered an
exuberant, bare-chested ode to the shiny rims on the wheels of vehicles he no longer had.

This was, in a twisted way, one of the most moving moments of Saturday night’s concert. The victim was the New Orleans
rapper (and reality-TV veteran) known variously as Young City or Chopper, an aspiring star who joined loads of established
ones inside the Philips Arena for a concert called Heal the Hood, a hip-hop fund-raiser for – and, in a few cases, by –
victims of Hurricane Katrina. (A New York hurricane relief benefit is to be held Monday night at 10:30 at the B. B. King
Blues Club and Grill in Manhattan.) On Saturday, Atlanta’s famously competitive hip-hop stations had joined forces to
promote an event that would be, as the jocks constantly reminded their listeners, historic.

And they were right. The night was organized by the tireless Mississippi rapper David Banner. He had corralled an
impressive lineup of rappers, especially Southern rappers: Young Jeezy, T. I., Big Boi from OutKast and many others. The
cause had everyone excited, but the “because” had everyone even more excited: the night was made possible by the
extraordinary continuing success of Southern hip-hop.

No other event has ever mobilized so many rappers so quickly. Just about everyone heard Kanye West’s impassioned claim
that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Fewer know that some stars (like T. I. and Fat Joe) hit the radio
airwaves for impromptu telethons. Others, like Paul Wall, led clothing drives. And yet others, like Eminem, wrote sizable
checks. Rappers from the fertile New Orleans hip-hop scene responded particularly gracefully: Juvenile was one who lost his
home, but he plays down his own story, focusing instead on those who lost much more.

Even by these standards, David Banner’s response has been extraordinarily energetic. He says he turned his tour bus into a
relief truck for victims on the Gulf Coast. (“I got back to Mississippi before our government did, with food and supplies,”
he says.) And since then, he has turned his charitable foundation, Heal the Hood, into a disaster-relief clearinghouse.

From all this came the idea for the Heal the Hood concert, a small benefit that ballooned into one of the year’s most
important hip-hop shows. A few hours before it started, Banner was in a small hotel room, wearing flip-flops and socks with
a tight tank top that turned his enormous, shoulder-to-shoulder tattoo into a crossword clue: starts with an M, ends with
an PI, lots of letters in between.

David Banner has a birth name that might be even better than his stage name. He is Lavell Crump, a Mississippi native and
a graduate of Southern University in Baton Rouge. He renamed himself after the “The Incredible Hulk,” and he clearly
relishes playing the part of the superhero. In 2003, he released both his major-label solo debut, “Mississippi: The Album”
(SRC/Universal), as well as its sequel, “MTA2: Baptized in Dirty Water” (SRC/Universal).

Those albums established him as a wildly versatile and often thrilling rapper and producer, careering from the
anatomically minded club hit “Like a Pimp” to the slow-motion gospel moan, “Cadillac on 22s.” On Tuesday he is to release
his far-reaching but uneven new album, “Certified” (SRC/Universal). But he’d rather talk about the Gulf Coast. “If this
would have happened in New York,” he says, “water probably wouldn’t be on the ground now. And the president would have been
there the next day.”

Rappers are often criticized for their perceived greed, but as Young City’s bittersweet boasts made clear, being flashy
doesn’t mean forgetting where you came from; in fact, it can be a way of remembering. Not so coincidentally, the
impoverished New Orleans neighborhoods that were hit so hard by Katrina are the same impoverished neighborhoods that
popularized the term “bling bling,” the name of the 1998 breakthrough hit for the New Orleans rapper B. G.

On Saturday, contradictions like that were on display all night. The Atlanta rapper Young Jeezy thrilled the crowd with
his addictive rhymes about life as a drug dealer. “Look, I’m tellin’ you, man/ If you get jammed up don’t mention my name,”
he rapped, in a drawl thick enough to make the lines rhyme. Then he abruptly switched directions for a startling and
effective hypothetical. “This could have been us in Atlanta right now, living in this building,” he said, and suddenly the
arena looked very different.

The night’s program began with gospel music and ended with Nelly, a not-quite-Southerner (he’s from St. Louis), who asked,
“If we don’t heal our own hoods, who will?” In between came five hours of entertaining and sometimes ragged earnestness,
shamelessness and exuberance; the crowd was appreciative, if somewhat subdued.

T. I., who has one of the South’s most elegant rhyme styles, used his set to showcase his group, P$C, which makes a solid
major-label debut tomorrow with “25 to Life ” (Atlantic); he also insulted his main rival, whom he didn’t name. (Let’s
follow his example.) “If you can’t put nothing up for the cause, I don’t wanna hear it,” he said.

The Tennessee pioneers 8Ball & MJG showed off their tough but smooth style; Big Boi spit motor-mouthed rhymes with his
Purple Ribbon crew; the emerging Atlanta group D4L came armed with gaudy, infectious rhymes and gaudier (and, let’s hope,
less infectious) outfits.

And then, of course, there was David Banner himself. His set included a shirtless romp through “Gangster Walk” and a
besuited (and then, by the end, shirtless) version of his sex-rap “Play,” both from the new album. And when it came time
for “Like a Pimp,” he found a way to deliver a topical introduction. “Bush is giving his homeboys Halliburton the
rebuilding contracts to our cities,” he said, continuing, “Bush is the biggest pimp.”

Banner also made a heartfelt plea to the evacuees. “I need y’all to be sure that you go back home,” he said, finding a new
twist on his usual message of hometown pride. “They been waiting to tear our ghettos down and separate us from our land.”

Hours later, when the concert was over, Banner could still be found signing autographs and posing for pictures with a
handful of the fans who remained. As he no doubt knows, the hard work is just beginning: after a concert this size, there
will be lots of scrutiny of his foundation.

It’s true that this concert coincides with the release of his new album, and it’s true that the Heal the Hood campaign has
given him more exposure than he has ever had. But skeptics should know this: Banner spent most of Saturday in front of
microphones of one kind or another. And all day long, he resisted the temptation to advertise his new album.

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