At first glance, Rob Mefford, 23, doesn’t appear as a typical “rapper.”
With long brown hair tucked and hidden under his black snapback and his tight black jeans, his appearance screams “skater.” But underneath his dark exterior lies Banks the Genius, an up-and-coming local Chicago rapper who’s grasping the challenges of being young and aspiring in a market full of competition, skepticism and challenges.
Here is a Q&A with Banks from reporter Vanessa Bernal.
So the name, where did you come up with that?
Banks was like a nickname I had in high school. I don’t even recall there being a specific reason, it was just what I was called in a close group of friends. So I just added the genius as kind of like a joke but it had a ring to it so I just ran with it.
How would describe your style?
Initially I would say it’s more conscious but what I really try to do is to be versatile and create something for a variety of different listeners, whether it be something low-key, laid back and introspective or something more upbeat and fun. If I had to describe my sound in one word, I would say diverse.
So what’s your favorite thing right now, in terms of creating music?
I would say my favorite thing that I’ve done thus far is a song called “Promise.” I released that sometime last year and dropped a video for it in December. That’s like a really personal project to me so I think that’s why I gravitate towards it.
What’s the song about it?
It’s kind of about overcoming the struggle of having lost my mother but also incorporated within that is the grind of being artist an and a student, and trying to persevere. It’s like “do you wanna follow your dream? Or handle responsibility?” It’s trying to find the happy medium between the two, but the underlining main theme is not giving up through the good, bad or whatever.
Do you feel that you always write about those topics or does it vary?
No, it’s definitely other things. I have a song that I recently released last month called “40 Below” and that’s kind of more progressive, in your face, kind of showcasing the flow and little of the braggadocio….kind of all the things you would expect from a hip hop song. My music doesn’t always have to be serious, but that’s what I gravitate towards to because I think it’s relatable to people and I really like to share personal experiences through a song.
Do have any inspirations or anyone who you’re really digging at the moment?
I would say a lot of local Chicago artists are kind of an inspiration at this moment, no one necessarily in particular, but just kind of the organic movement that’s been created here and how it’s kind of taken the spotlight in the last couple of years. I think the most inspiring thing is like everyone in the city doing well for themselves and all the talent that’s here, so you got to really do it to the best of your ability in order to stand out amongst that.
What do you think sets you apart from other musicians?
I would say diversity and versatility, and also on top of just rapping, I produce as well so there’s more to it than just penning the lyrics. I think just the ability to have a couple different skill sets and like a variety of different stuff to offer people sets me apart and also keeps it authentic.
If you had to put yourself into a category with other musicians, who would they be and why?
Honestly, I really wouldn’t, and I don’t think I’ve ever considered it. If people want to make their own connections then that’s cool but I can’t put myself into a category cause I feel like that would limit my ability and set an expectation of what I do and how I do it.
How do feel going into a part of the industry where African-Americans mostly dominate it and there’s a lot of controversy with Caucasian rappers?
I personally don’t feel any type of way about it, I think it could potentially affect how you are initially perceived, but at the end of the day it’s all about the music and if you’re good at what you do people are going to recognize that. Some of the time I feel like it works to my advantage because people have this preconceived notion that the music is going to be bad or the content will be watered down. I’ve had people approach me after shows and tell me that I took them by surprise because when I got on stage they had low expectations… so I think that’s super cool that even if people begin to write me off based on my appearance I can let the music speak for itself and it resonates with them.
Do you think the way you dress plays a part into scrutiny that you get?
I’m not really too sure, I want to say yes and no. I feel like some people judge artists based on their image, or in my case, lack thereof, but as I stated before if it’s about the music that sort of stuff should be irrelevant. Ultimately if you’re judging myself or any other artist for that matter, based on their appearance, I’d probably prefer to not have you as a fan anyway. What someone wears doesn’t make them less of an artist or diminish their talent, so why should it even be a factor?
So does that part or issue affect you as an artist?
Definitely not. You have to be comfortable in your skin and what you do in order to push that out. My personal opinion on that is how can you really classify anything as a black or white or Hispanic, or any particular race. Essentially there should be no standard for like who can do what across anything.
What are you currently working on? What can we expect from it?
Right now I’m working on my full-length project entitled “The Tide” and you can expect a wide variety of different sounds. The concept of the project has to do with the tide being a consistent force on a daily basis, whether high or low it’s something that is constant, I kind of took that concept and mirrored it to reflect my life and life in general. Regardless of what you’re going through or what you’ve been through it’s up to you to ride the wave and keep pushing. From the production to the actual content of the songs there’s not really one uniformed sound that you’re going to hear, it’s more like a culmination of a bunch of different things that fit together and paint a bigger picture of the triumphs and tribulations we all go through.