For the rapper formerly known as Lyriqs da Lyricss, a new name is a chance to reinvent himself and talk about more personal things.
[Updated] Alfred Banks, 24, left Loyola University two years into his degree in 2011, but he still has meetings there. "It's my place of solace," he says. He likes the environment, but he doesn't plan to return any time soon. “Music is becoming something for me, so the day job I have is probably my last day job,” he says in a lounge tucked away in the Communications and Music Complex on campus. “With the Internet, everything, anything can become a job.”
He’s not looking for a job, though. He is in the process of rebranding himself, building his name and “Underdog Central” as an idea, and he’s in the process of planning a spring 2016 tour with 3D Na’Tee. The two will play a show at Cafe Istanbul Thursday night with DJ Strategy and Dappa.
Banks is thinking practical but big. He’s trying to build a grass roots fan base that will help him navigate the precarious hip-hop marketplace and insulate him from its volatility. The lifespan of hip-hop trends is alarmingly short, which means artists go from cutting edge to old school at a dizzying pace. “If you got two years, three years in the hip-hop game, you had a good run,” he says. “The only good example of aging gracefully in hip-hop is Wu-Tang Clan. They’re going to be The Rolling Stones if they live to be that old and can still do music.”
“There are only so many Kanye Wests and Drakes,” Banks says, and while that lack of stars with enduring careers is disturbing, the churn of cycles means that Banks has a chance. It’s a chance like everybody else with mic skills and a mind to rhyme, but it’s a chance nonetheless and the key to his brand. His website is UnderdogCentral.com, and that’s how he sees himself.
“It’s the place where the overlooked go to hone their skills to come back to be admired,” Banks says. “It’s my life mantra.”
For years, Banks performed as Lyriqs da Lyraciss, but he has let the name go. He began using in when he was 17, and he chose it on the advice of someone who told him to pick a rap name that told people quickly what he wanted to be known for. Proud of his lyrics, he chose Lyriqs da Lyraciss but soon found that the name created problems. Some websites thought the name was wack and wouldn’t use it. It didn’t always fit easily on flyers, and the strong identification with lyrics meant people thought of him as a guy who relied on words more than skills to move a crowd.
“It put me in a box,” he says.
Alfred Banks, on the other hand, doesn’t signal anything too clearly. “Is he about to tap dance? Do a cartwheel? Who is Alfred Banks?”
Banks believes his new album will help answer that question. The planned album is part of the reason Banks decided to launch his rebranding efforts because it is, he says, “extremely personal.”
“I’m a rapper first and foremost so I’ve got bars, but a lot of things have happened to me in the past year that have been very important and had an impact,” Banks says. “I have more to say this go around. I’m not just rapping to rap these days.”
A big part of his inspiration for the album comes from his brother, who dealt with schizophrenia until he committed suicide last year. Banks had a show out of town the night of his brother’s funeral, and his family encouraged him to keep the gig even though it meant leaving the funeral early. The pain that accompanied that choice and the experience of following through with it sent Banks down a period of reflection that he had to explore in his music.
“My album encompasses his funeral, his ride from the funeral, and his show,” Banks says. “On the way to that show, I developed schizophrenia. On this album, people are going to hear a side of me they’ve never heard before.”
Banks is dealing with every artist’s challenge—how do you deal with your past? In Lyriqs days, he had some rough edges, and the fact that he got little attention for the first couple of years was for the best. He used the chances he got to get on a mic to up his game, and now he’s in much better place physically and mentally. “In those days I was homeless,” he says. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and now I have a better idea of what the end result should be.”
“Lyrics da Lyriciss was featured on a lot of small stuff and then some big stuff. Alfred Banks has only been featured on big stuff, and I want to keep it that way,” he says. One of those big things was an appearance on Revolt, Sean Combs’ hip-hop cable network and website. Late this spring, Revolt hosted the “Local Love Tour” contest, which featured two to three indie rappers in a city on a show with a few more established artists, and Banks was on the New Orleans show in a parking lot in the French Quarter.
“I didn’t know it was a competition,” he says. He treated it like a networking event and collected email addresses, met people, then moved on. A few weeks later, Banks says, “I got a call from the editor-in-chief for Revolt who said, Congratulations, you won the competition.” Banks was flown out to Los Angeles to appear live on Revolt. “The day I appeared on Revolt, they were picked up by AT&T U-verse, so their audience went from two million to eight million that day, so a lot of people saw me. I actually trended in New Orleans for a second.”
The performance and accompanying interview took on lives of their own on social media and helped raise Banks’ profile. He has got work based on the appearance, and now he’s trying to parlay that into something bigger. The album is finished, but before he releases it Banks wants to secure links to organizations in the mental illness world who might be able to use the album and his his experience to help people like his brother and those who live with them. It’s a step he doesn’t feel like he could have made as Lyriqs da Lyriciss.
“’Alfred Banks’ is better,” he says. “it’s fresher, it’s new. It gives me the opportunity to reinvent myself.”
Updated 5:09 p.m.
The story has been updated to correct Banks' relationship to Loyola and information about his tour with 3D Na'Tee.