“I just want to do it. I just want to move off this whole entire wave,” Bank$y said over the phone about the response to his latest project. “There’s no more waiting and sitting around hoping that this move is the next move—we’re just moving.”
The 23-year-old lyricist has dabbled in hip hop for some time, releasing his first EP, #BANKSY4THEKIDDAS, in 2016, but the new album was his way of announcing to the world that what was once a hobby is now a bonafide lifestyle.
“This story is the real me,” he said. “I started waking up and caring about taking care of my parents and stuff like that. I flipped the image of me.”
Though Bank$y wasn’t always fully committal to the rap game in the past, he’s still managed to carve out a nice niche for himself in New York’s underground scene. He can be found performing at some of the five borough’s best kept secrets like the Brooklyn Bazaar and Mercury Lounge, usually opening up for more well-known acts. However, Bank$y hopes his latest project will help ignite his career and offer the chance to headline some shows of his own going forward.
The album opens with legendary beat poet Saul Williams reciting “Amethyst Rocks,” a two-minute spoken-word verse from his 2006 book, The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip-Hop. The intro sets the mood for an evocative and sombre 8-song album that’s self-reflexive at times, but abstract at others. Unsurprising for an artist who’s inspired by a wide range of eclectic artists all the way from 90’s hip-hop legends to renaissance artists.
“Van Gogh was makin’ art to be poppin’, but at the same time he was going through some life shit,” said Bank$y, reminiscing about the renowned painter. “I think most artists really want to fall on the timeline somewhere between depression and genius, you know?”
The rapper’s seminal work thus far is a reflection of this mantra, juxtaposing a poetic, in-depth look at his complicated life with the sounds of dusty drums and loops that make up a contemporary rap album. One theme and accompanying imagery that’s repeated throughout the album is the cold, harsh winters that Bank$y has had to annually trudge through in upstate New York.
“I wanted people to understand that it’s cold here,” said the rapper. “I don’t know if it was luck of the draw, but it was snowing up until March,” he continued, adding that the prolonged winter provided the perfect lead up to the single, “Coldest Out,” which dropped a week prior to Coldest Day in February Shines the Amethyst Rock.
The revelations contained in Bank$y’s lyrics about the aesthetic and feel of his daily life are in line with what he hopes to do with his music—communicate with his audience on a deeper level than most modern rappers intend to.
Bank$y’s earliest hip-hop memories are listening to his uncle’s recite lyrics from old-school New York rappers like Biggie Smalls, Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep at his grandma’s place in the Brooklyn projects.
Today, the on-the-rise rapper lives with his father upstate and works retail to make ends meet but sees this latest project as a chance to separate himself from the pack of wannabe rappers who claim to spit bars but aren’t willing to put in the necessary work to make something of themselves.
“Everyone sees that this is serious,” he said. “The whole packaging of it, the cover art, videos, everything, everybody was just like, ‘wow, this kid separated himself from being a local rapper.’”
The album has brought with it a stream of opportunity for the young emcee, leading to opening for artists whose YouTube hits are viewed in the millions, like Bishop Nehru and Bank$y’s long-time friend and collaborator, Gus Dapperton.
“He’s the homie … first time I met him I wasn’t even Elijah Bank$y,” he said of his friendship with Dapperton. “I’ve known him since I was a junior or sophomore in high school, he’s a great kid.”
Dapperton’s loveable indie-electronic sound has been hugely successful since he released “I’m Just Snacking” in 2017, leading to a worldwide tour and features on the musician in Vogue and elsewhere. His success story provides a prime archetype for the underdog success story that Bank$y is hoping to replicate with his own career. The fact that it’s happened for a good friend of his makes it that much closer to home.
“My first real shows were definitely the Gus and Bishop ones as far as playing at a venue, getting paid and being treated like a real artist,” he recalled. Bank$y loves recording but said that live shows are the ultimate test of the music’s substance. “The real battle is getting in front of people,” he said. “The songs are real when you see people react to them.”
Coldest Day in February Shines the Amethyst Rock leaves plenty of room for a wide range of responses and reactions from hip-hop heads. “Wavcapkilla,” is reminiscent of some of the old-school sounds Bank$y might’ve grown up listening to, and had an accompanying music video drop in early May. On the track, the rapper warns his critics and rivals that he has no time to waste, proclaiming “We are not the same / You can miss me with the nonsense and the gossip / I am not entertained.”
Later on, Bank$y takes listeners down memory lane with the track “Only God Knows,” painting a grim picture of some of his high school experiences that helped mould him into a man: “Shit I rap ‘bout 10th grade, two friends losin’ they life / five years later me and the fam losing our nights / From them tears to enticing them cheers under them lights.”
The penultimate track on the record is “Coitus,” a collaboration with Dapperton that illustrates Bank$y’s versatility and blends his hip-hop aesthetic with the former’s charming indie sound.
But perhaps the most powerful declaration on the album comes on its finale with “Stoop Kid,” Bank$y’s final proclamation to the world that both he and his music have matured. “Stoop Kid off the stoop now / Blue faces like woo child / 90’s baby Imma Wu child,” he raps. “Tryna say I’m brand new now / It ain’t me it’s just you now,” he adds, before closing the chorus with a vow to stay true to his roots: “Still rollin’ with the crew now / Still 100 proof down / Can’t tell me what to do now.”
The February album has opened up the door to new possibilities for the Big Apple beat killer, leading to more shows, more fandom and, he hopes, more of a platform to share his art with the world. His artistic expression is constantly evolving, too. Bank$y is torn between his desire to follow in the footsteps of mainstream heroes like Jay-Z and Kendrick, and the other, similarly underground artists that possibly inspire him even more.
“He’s so in-tune with giving people what they need, not what they want,” said Bank$y of Jay-Z. “You listen to Jay and you’re like, ‘I don’t need to go to college, I just learned so much.’”
Like Jay-Z, Bank$y wants to give his audience what they need, not what they want.
He counts under-the-radar New York rappers like Wiki and Roc Marciano as some of his main inspirations, as well as Canadian emcee Danny Lover and UK-based Trellion.
“Those guys right there are the guys that push me and make me want to move forward,” he said of the lesser known, yet, he says, hugely talented artists. “People who are doing this off the strength of wanting to create art, obviously they want to be poppin’ and get noticed, but it’s more like, ‘I’m doing this and this is how I really feel.’”