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Alfred Banks is on the ‘Road to Rolex’

By Savannah Evanoff

Alfred Banks doesn’t need a Rolex to tell time.

The hands of his future timepiece will read a different, more ambiguous unit to measure — success. The New Orleans rapper released his latest EP, “Road to Rolex,” on March 3, and it explains his relationship with money. The concept stems from a young Banks seeing his grandfather wear a Rolex watch.

“I thought it was the coolest thing on the planet,” Banks said. “Throughout the years, I always said to myself I wanted to get one. The Rolex is a metaphor. It’s for me to get to that place I want to financially so I can afford to get one, and it won’t even hurt me. It’s that path, that grind to become successful … the day I get that Rolex will be a symbol that I got where I wanted to be, and I got what I consider success.”

Banks’ road to success isn’t without construction. Banks was homeless his sophomore year at Loyola University.

“My mom came home and said we were getting evicted and said, ‘Do you have somewhere to stay?’” Banks said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I have somewhere to stay.’ I didn’t have anywhere to stay. I just didn’t want to worry my mom.”

Banks stashed his possessions in a storage unit and crashed on friends’ couches until the yeses turned into nos. Over time, he hustled his way into his own crib.

Later on, Banks’ father died, and his brother, Orlandas, committed suicide. It awakened Banks to the issue of mental health, he said.

“I’m black and I’m from an African-American family where mental health wasn’t a thing,” Banks said. “If you had issues, you prayed on it.”

Banks didn’t know anything about mental health until he found out his brother was struggling with it. No one is immune.

“He was one of the strongest people I knew,” Banks said. “He went to the Marines—17 years old, skinny guy. Came out with 50 pounds of muscle—swole dude — and it struck him. It taught me that anyone can go through it.”

Banks put the pain into his music and released an album about mental health awareness, “The Beautiful.” He plans to speak and perform at mental health conventions.

“I was so blind to it,” Banks said. “It taught me millions of people go through it. It’s OK. It shouldn’t be a taboo thing. We should talk about it. We should open the conversation. In my music, I’m always about opening conversations and starting dialogue.”

Banks wanted to lighten up the mood of his music with “Road to Rolex.” It’s a soundtrack for people pounding the pavement, he said.
“I wanna create that soundtrack to make someone get up and go get something,” Banks said. “Get up, get off the couch, get out of bed and go work. Kinda hear my story and where I come from and what I went through from being homeless to losing my brother and my pops and I was still able to pursue it. You can do it, too.”

If there is one thing Banks makes clear with his seven-song EP, it’s that he isn’t ashamed to say he wants to make money. He doesn’t think you should be either.

“I feel like there’s this weird connotation if you want to make money, especially if you’re a rapper, like, ‘Oh, you just doin’ it for the bread,’” Banks said. “That’s not really the case. I do music because without music, I literally wouldn’t be alive. I also can’t pay my rent off passion.”

“I want to break the stereotype that if you’re focused on making money, you’re a bad person or your intentions are wrong … it’s OK to grind. It’s OK to work. It’s OK to struggle.”

The South doesn’t breed the same opportunities as other regions, Banks said. Growing up in New Orleans is what instilled in him a sense of self-sufficiency.

“That’s what I’ve learned, too, being an independent artist traveling the world, doing it on my own,” Banks said. “I do a lot of tours by myself. I’m doing six-, seven-, 10-city runs in the car by myself.”

Banks is proud of growing up in New Orleans. The city was as loving as his family.

“New Orleans is a city unlike any place else because of the culture,” Banks said. “We have a loving, homey culture here … People know us for Katrina, Mardi Gras and jazz music … and beignets—Café Du Monde. There’s so many other things here that are so much more interesting.”

“Our city started jazz, which is basically the great grandfather of hip-hop.”
New Orleans isn’t a hip-hop city, though, he said.

“I had to get it out of the mud,” Banks said. “I had to force people and be like, ‘I’m gonna be here for a while, and I actually do this, so check it out.’”

Banks is 10 years into his music career, but, then again, measuring time has never been his concern. Booking a larger tour with Tank and the Bangas, exploring new markets and returning to familiar ones on a bigger stage is his way of clearing his wrist for a timepiece that makes more than a fashion statement.

“For me, this music thing’s been a path,” Banks said. “It’s been a journey, and I’ve been underground for a long time. I think now it’s time to take it to that next level. I want to get a Rolex.”

ALFRED BANKS
WHAT: Alfred Banks with Tank and the Bangas, Maggie Koerner
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 7
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox.
COST: $20
DETAILS: underdogcentral.com or vinylmusichall.com