VIPER’s founder Lily Mercer spoke to South London rapper, Ms Banks on the set of the JD King of the Game Christmas campaign. We’ve got interviews with the stars of the advert dropping on site every day until Christmas, stay tuned for chats with Snoochie Shy, Bugzy Malone and more…
You released your new project ‘Bank Statement’ this year, what’s the best feedback you received about the project?
Everyone having a song they can relate to, some girls love ‘Favourite Girl’, some people love ‘Bare with Me’. They’re like, “‘Bare with Me’ made me cry,” loads of different reactions. It was good because I had the hard songs, I had the sexy songs and I still had the more vulnerable songs. I feel like I touched base on a lot of subjects in a small project.
Do you feel like showing that vulnerable side is something that you’re happier to do now?
Yeah, I used to be very honest in the beginning of my journey, I think I lost sight of that, enjoying life more, having fun and turning up. But it is a bit hard, I’m not gonna lie and I want to learn to be more honest. Because it’s easier to act hard all the time, it’s harder to be honest when you’re not feeling like the baddest B or not having a good day or reminiscing on the past. So, I want to do that more, I want to bring it back.
It kind of builds your relationship, right?
It does, everyone already thinks they know you, when I’m out people say “hello” like you’re longtime friends. I have to ask them sometimes, “I haven’t met you before?” Because honestly, they feel like they know you from what they see online but we live in such a different generation that it’s not like back in the day where your faves were untouchable. You had to write fan mail and now it’s like jump on Insta and see them right there. Everyone feels so close so why not just give them that bit more. I do want them to understand me and even though I feel like we’re more accessible, they still look at a lot of artists like we’re living a different life and they forget we’re human. They forget we go through similar things so sometimes you have to remind people
You were a local star even before you started music, right?
Yeah, that’s true, definitely Thyra from the ends. But I don’t mind because people really root for you because “I seen her when I lived there, I know her mum and dad, we grew up together.” Then there’s the music side, people feel it; they know me both ways.
You and Megan thee Stallion linked up in London recently, would we be lucky enough to get a collaboration from you both one day?
Yes! It’s so annoying because even though we know each other through music, we’ve actually built a friendship where it doesn’t feel business based. When we talk it’s not just about music, she knows I want to work every time she’s in town. She’s booked back to back but I’m sure when the time is right, we’ll make it happen.
Do you have a different approach when making mixtapes to say an album or EP?
Yes, I’ve learned now how to tell a story a bit more and make my projects more cohesive. Working on ‘Bank Statement’, it wasn’t just a random bunch of songs we put together, I ended up doing a camp where I focused and worked with similar people and thought about what I was talking about. Every song was about making a statement and just saying, ‘I’m here’ and this is me, showing I’m that girl. I think I showed it in different genres, which is important and definitely a different approach now. I think in general as I grow, I realise what I need to do to make a good body of work and to make it all one harmony. So EP, mixtape, whatever it is, I’m always trying to make sure it slaps.
‘Bank Statement’ was a long time coming, how do you feel now it’s out?
‘Bank Statement’ was initially ready from the beginning of 2020 and then didn’t see the light of day till 2022, it needed some rejigging. Especially after COVID, I felt like I can’t just come out not saying nothing because I was really in that club mode before lockdown. I was just partying, single, no kids, having fun. I’m a snack, I’m a bad B, take me to Novikov period, that was just the vibe. But I felt like I wanted to give them something a little bit deeper, that’s why songs like ‘Bare With Me’ are so important and ‘Too Far’ I wanted to be more honest and not just make it all fun and games.
It’s nice to show that vulnerability when you’re known for more turn-up vibes.
That’s another thing, because sometimes when you’re always popping your collar, or I guess, bragging, people only see that. They don’t see anything else, it becomes very surface level and that’s not the artist I want to be in the long run. It’s all good to know that you’re lit and have fun but sometimes people want to know that you go through similar stuff.
For a long time, females in Rap have almost had to display masculine qualities to succeed.
Chile. Yeah, and then when you go too hard, it’s too much. Like you lot want me to be bad, good, fun, serious, sweet, fierce; everything at the same time. But yeah, women are multifaceted.
We saw your work through the summer, but is there something that we haven’t met?
I’m gonna do some visuals for some of the songs on the project real soon. I might do one for ‘Drip’ first because I really love ‘Drip’. But there’s some more coming.
‘Favourite Girl’ is incredible, what was the best part of shooting the video?
There was a moment on the sofa, one of these models was so fine. Chile, I don’t get no action. That was like my highlight, he was fine. I originally picked the [models] but I didn’t pick that guy, I don’t know how that happened, but he was good looking.
You’ve worked with a range of international artists, is there a sound that you haven’t tapped into yet, but you would like to?
I’d like to do a Pop record, maybe Dua Lipa; that would be out the box. Then if I want to do rap or drill maybe Central Cee because that makes sense. His LA Leakers freestyle is hard. I wanna work with him. I’d make it a drill vibe, not hardcore, just pop your shit, talk your shit; it’d be fun.
You work with a lot of international artists, you and Kida Kudz always make magic!
Yeah, we’ve got another one! I don’t know why he’s stalling, we have another banger. But it’s his song, I’m gonna chase him up like boy what’s going on.
Who else are you tapping into, any Ugandan or Nigerian artists?
Yeah, I was thinking about working with a lady named Spice Diana. Her latest single is a amapiano song called “Tujooge” it’s sick. In Nigeria I love Ruger right now, I would love to work with Ruger and then obviously in the US, Megan thee Stallion. I wanna make that happen, I love Latto as well. Me and GloRilla worked already, we was in the studio when she was in London. We’re waiting on that, it was dope. We worked on a few things, I love GloRilla, ‘Blessed’ is my song, “he’s got 99 problems and the biggest one is me,” that’s my song.
What’s your favourite festival appearance of the year?
I did Sundown in Norwich, that was fire, they were ready to party. I did Splash in Germany, that was big. We had them moshing from the second song in, that was an intense set. Even a security guard was in there in his visor, I’m sure he’s not supposed to do that. It was fun, I was getting booked in Europe from early, before I even had a big song. We did a lot of shows in Europe, I used to go to Sweden, a lot. I did European shows this year and we did the first Rolling Loud in Portugal.
How do you maintain boundaries while still being open and honest with your fanbase?
Just knowing that everything is not for public knowledge. I’m not a fan of acting like everything’s always swell and amazing. But I don’t feel the need to run online, I’ve got friends and I’ve got family in real life. Mostly what you get is sympathy and that’s not what I need. Keeping some things private is important. If I don’t need to put a relationship out there, I wouldn’t. If I don’t need to talk about something online, if it’s not for public awareness, I won’t. I think that’s a good way to keep the boundary because I would rather you think I’m a robot than for me to overshare, you should know I’m not a robot. Of course, life isn’t perfect, no one’s life is perfect. But to me social media is for work and for highlights, it’s not about letting you know all my ins and outs. Keeping some things private is a good way to set a boundary between me and the fans. I think everyone’s different, sometimes it’s good to express that your mental health isn’t good, because they be taking it too hard on you and sometimes, they really do forget, and you have to remind them. I’m sure someone like Cardi B’s not going to tell them everything she’s going through in a day that’s stressing her out. But it’s good to let them know sometimes I’m on thin ice, just chill. You don’t have to get at me every day because you think I’m rich so I don’t care, or I’ve got a big following so I don’t see it. Definitely within balance though, you have to do what works for you. Everyone’s different; some people want to clap back, some people would rather ignore it.
You can always get those feelings out by writing a song.
I can always say what I want in my music. It saves me from being a douche in real life. Because I could just let Banks do all of it in a booth. Yeah, I’m gonna talk it all there, but that’s why I thank God I’ve got that therapy, not everyone has that.
What would you do without it?
Probably go crazy. That is my place of respiration but sometimes I’m so stressed I don’t even listen to music. If I drive in silence, you know I’m stressed out, but music always lifts my mood; I don’t know what I’d do without it.
Rap is not a vulnerable space traditionally.
Exactly, that’s why it’s been so hard for me to be vulnerable. Especially as a rapper, you’ve got to pop your collar, be that girl and really put on a strong front. When I was younger, I used to listen to Nicki, I always used to put her on when I was feeling rubbish and just wanted something that was gonna get me out of bed and make me feel like I’m that girl. I’d put it on and I’d be in the mirror; it would give me armour or a shield. I’ve always wanted that for other people and I think that’s why sometimes I find it hard to be vulnerable. But there’s strength in being vulnerable sometimes as well.
What’s your personality as a human?
People used to meet me and they’re surprised I’m nice; I didn’t understand it but the music was so hard. I have to express that she has to live somewhere because on a day to day, I’m very empathetic. I need a release, so that’s where the hardness comes out. People feel it because it’s real emotion.
Men lose all composure around you, but what’s the best compliment that you’ve been given?
I like when people like my energy because I’m me. I can’t feel what people feel, so when people say, “you’ve got a nice aura or energy,” I love that because everything else could probably go away. I’m not gonna have looks forever, I may not have nyash forever but hopefully I do. When people enjoy your company, nothing can beat that. Because not everyone will and that’s just something you can’t hide or deny. People always tell me I look better in real life and I’m starting to think, “Am I not photogenic?” I don’t get it but I don’t mind. It’s good to know that I look goodin real life though, I appreciate that.
What was your first thought when you got the call for the JD ad?
I was like, “oh my gosh, again? I love you too.” I was really happy because I just gotta keep bringing looks on looks on looks honey, you need some of this chocolate in your campaign.
Earliest JD memory?
I really love working with JD. I feel like they represent the culture, they’re part of it. Even before the Christmas campaign, that was my go-to spot to get my little cousins, little sisters, everyone presents. I feel like trainers and sportswear isn’t just for sports, it’s actually a way of life especially coming from South London, it’s normal to wear trainers daily, tracksuit daily; you ain’t gonna be going to the gym. This is very much a part of me already.
So talk me through the outfit.
Nike two piece, it’s a co-ord, we’ve got the grey jumper with pink Nike logo, grey leggings, pink Nike logo just below the waist. Very cute, it’s my favourite shade of pink, my Nike socks and we’ve got some white Air Forces Ones, these are hard to get, you know where to cop them! I’m trying my best to make sure they don’t get creased. There’s a severe drought, don’t hate, just cop when they drop again.
Are you competitive?
I’m so competitive that I try to kill it but that’s not good. I feel like being competitive in the workplace is a good thing, you need to work hard in your workplace. When people speak on the best of the best, I want to be mentioned. It’s not bad to have opps either because they’re good people to compete with too. Compete with friends, compete in the workplace.
Any opps in the family when it comes to Christmas games?
Everyone’s an opp when it comes to Christmas games, I must win. One time I tried to help my friend in Blackjack then I lost. I thought, this is an example of the world, put yourself first. Why are you trying to help your friend? Now you’re last out of 10 people, why? I like winning.
What game do you know you’re winning?
Blackjack. I’m actually sick at Blackjack; without helping anyone else. I just gotta think about myself, I gotta play the right rules too.
Is there a game that you have PTSD from?
I used to have PTSD from that Blackjack game. It’s a love and hate relationship, but that’s one of my go-to games. I think I got PTSD from Twister, that was such a silly game when I was younger. I used to really love Dance Mat on the Nintendo Wii, I was addicted. There was one song I got to the highest level. You sweat on that you know? It’s hard.
What’s the worst L you’ve ever taken?
I’m sure I’ve taken a lot, any game that I’ve lost has definitely hurt me. Maybe running, when you used to do the egg on a spoon? Joke ting.
If you were a trainer, what style would you be?
I would be a pair of low Dunks. Dunksare my favourite, maybe black and white. My black and white Dunks are my go-to, they’re hard, they make anything look sick.
I’ll go with a pair of Blazers, Blazers are nice, I’ve got some banging black ones now. Yeah, Blazers are sick.
What colour do you think your aura is?
Yellow, and they say yellow is the colour of desire, I like yellow.
Any fashion disasters?
I don’t know if my goth phase is a fashion disaster because I kind of liked the goth. One time I went to this awards ceremony, and I was just rushing, it was a mess. I had a red dress on but then the shoes had blue gems, and I thought they were green, so I wore green jewellery with it. It just wasn’t hitting, it wasn’t cool. My goth phase was cool, I was wearing black lipstick, my septum was pierced, ripped up nets, bowler hat, black braids, just black, winged eyeliner. I worked in Topshop, we were actually cool, we were lit. It was just grungy.
Do you have any secret skills?
I don’t have any secret skills, everyone knows my skills whatever they are. I know how to clean really well, that’s one of my skills; clean freak. I’m really good at organising, I could make everything colour coordinated. If the house is messy, I know that I’m not okay or I’m really busy. My house literally reflects me, nothing can go untouched in the house.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Just making it as far as I have. There’s a few people I spoke to but there’s really no guidance, just me and my team finding ways to make things happen. So sometimes I am really hard on myself but just to get into the position that I’m in now is a super big blessing. I’m doing what I love and I feel like even before I performed at Sundown, I was super grateful and it was a great show. I was like, ‘wow, this is my job bro!”I pop my shit, I shake some ass and it’s great, I get paid. Making it this far is a big achievement for me. I’m always nervous, but it’s not as strong as it used to be, because all I want to do is put on a good show once I’m out in front of the crowd.
Nerves are good.
Yeah some people try to play it cool, I’m like, “Nah, I’ve got to make an impression every time.” I don’t know who’s a new Ms Banks fan or someone that I can make a fan today. I feel like no matter how big of a song you get, or how many hits you have, some people aren’t going to know you, so you have to step up to the stage and perform every time like it’s your first time.
What advice would you give your 16 year old self?
You’re gonna make it, you’re a star. Stay confident in you, your story is relevant; just keep pushing.
Dream dinner party guests?
Jay Z. Nicki Minaj, my dream dinner party. It’s all artists, maybe Drake or Lil Wayne. I just want to pick their brains, being great rappers.
Interview by Lily Mercer