There’s a reason we meet each of the people in our lives. What role they will play is always a mystery in the beginning, but time uncovers every truth. What we initially perceive as insignificant connections, suddenly become coincidences, gradually shaping the rest of our lives.
For New York-based artist Elijah Bank$y, meeting a few other artists who were into the same kind of music enabled him to become the spirited rapper that we see and hear today. He’s been absolutely destroying the mic for years, and as I’ve seen, is only getting more comfortable with his presence in the studio.
“50 40 90” (2020) was the first offering I received, and I was hooked. From the moment the sample in the intro of ‘Fendi, Fact’ played in one of his promotional videos, I was hooked just like Patrick Star. About a year later, I’m still in awe of Bank$y’s ability to bring together amazing artists who drop insane verses and vocals over some of the most soulful beats ever to reach my ears.
After a while, though, I had enough. I was sick and tired of listening to his music… without interviewing him. I had a feeling he is a decent dude, but I always want to know more about the music I’m listening to. So, on a fairly “normal” day in the Two Bridges area of Manhattan, I spoke with Bank$y exclusively for HangTime Magazine. At a street median pretty damn close to some train (that’s all I could hear while transcribing this), we spoke about the progression of his sound over the course of his career, working with his homies, and what motivates him to tough out the underground rap scene.
C: You’re from Chester, New York. I know there’s Westchester and Eastchester, but I’ve never heard of just Chester before, so that kind of threw me off.
E: My mom’s from Brooklyn, where my Grandma used to live. There’s literally a train just like that, so I’m used to this. But yeah, Chester’s like the suburbs, it’s not anything crazy. There’s neighboring towns where it’s fucked up, that are down bad, but where I’m from is pretty much middle class. It’s super calm, nothing crazy.
How do you like the city compared to Chester?
It’s way better. I get why my parents moved away from this, but now, as an adult, making music, wanting to do shit, it’s obviously way better to come here and knock shit out, or come here and vibe.
Nice. So your mom moved y’all out of the city, moved upstate. At what age was this?
Well my dad is from Nyack, kind of near Utica. [My parents] met at college, and then from there they went to Utica, went to Brooklyn, and I was three. That’s why I never claim. People are funny; some people claimed that, but nah, I grew up upstate. I grew up with my mom’s side more often, and my mom’s Puerto Rican, so they put me on to a lot of stuff. I was raised by city people, people who are not from well-off places like where I lived. Though I had a silver spoon, I had to work for everything I got.
It was nice though. I got to meet a lot of my friends. The reason I even know Toby (his manager) is through one of the homies that I know from upstate. Everything works out.
So that’s the early years. Tell me about your beginning in music.
My parents split up for two years when I was in the fifth grade. I was already loving music, I recited all the WuTang and Mobb Deep songs and looked up the lyrics. I was already watching battle rap at this point too. As I’m looking at the lyrics, I’m like “I wanna talk about something, I’ve got some shit to say.” My dad just left the house, so that kind of sparked the writing. So I’ve been writing since about the fifth, sixth grade…middle school.
I took a year off. I wasn’t really taking it that serious, I was playing football and I was into sports. When high school came, it just came up again. I started getting the urge to really rap again, and I had way more of a vision of what I wanted to talk about then when I first started.
[Rap’s] what I grew up listening to so I just did that. Once I learned what I wanted to talk about—talking about me, stuff that I grew up seeing because of my dad leaving, and just dealing with that, the struggle—that’s when I was like, “I want to do this more.” I started recording on phones; I recorded little videos of me rapping, trying to position the phone right so that I get just enough of the beat, and just enough of me rapping, trying to level shit out at an early age.
That was my first way of figuring it out, then my uncle took me to a studio. That was my first time ever going to a real studio. It was fun, [he] was teaching me how to write songs. I had no clue about ad-libs or none of that stuff.
At what age is this happening?
That’s sophomore year. So that was fun, that was cool, I got to do that. My dad was paying for it, so it taught me: “Don’t waste his time when you come here, make sure you have all your raps practiced. Make sure you’re ready to work, don’t come in here wasting studio time.” So now whenever I go to a studio, I’m going with five songs ready to knock out. Super tapped in.
That’s the work ethic, and the beginning of it. And then I started linking up with homies like Tomas Tomas and my homie w.swisher, we had a close knit group of kids, so we just worked all the time. Every time we link each other, we’re knocking out three to four songs, really trying to put man hours in to perfect the craft.
Funny thing: You have “FLEE TAPE” out now, and Flee is a word I used to use back in Queens when I was growing up, going to high school. Like, “oh he don’t get flee, ah ah ah.” My question to you is which came first, the rapping or the fleeness?
Definitely the rapper. Fleeism definitely came way after. Like most kids, my parents took care of me wearing clothes or whatever. So when I had the chance to, I really had no style, I was just rockin’ whatever. I was wearing Ecko in middle school. My parents had me pretty decked out nice, but when I got my own style it was pretty weak at first.
I always heard flee. I always heard people saying “flee,” I never started using it until the past couple of years, but I knew what it meant just from hearing people talk. Since my first drop, “Coldest Day,” I’ve kind of come into my own with rapping, and making sure not everything sounds so stiff on the mic, getting more fluid. Just more me, more of my swag, me talking my shit, so that’s when the flee started taking over.
“50 40 90” I was really tapped i, so when I started getting that way, I was like, “fuck tryna rap. I’m doing my shit and I’m doing it my way.” When I did “FLEE TAPE”, I was like, “What’s something different?” I’m definitely buying way more clothes than I should be. I like concept albums; what can I do with the trap style that’s a little bit different. I feel like people don’t really do concept trap albums.
Like my cover art, my homie James went nutty on it. To me, it felt like “real” art. I’m giving you real art, and I feel like people don’t do that with trap albums, or just modern day albums now. Especially when people do the trap style or the drill style; it’s art because people are giving their pain and talking their shit, I just mean as far as the cover art. I’ma hit my homie up, put this on my wall. It’s real art to me, not just a cover art.
It’s funny you bring up “50 40 90”; that’s the tape that got me into your music. I heard and was like, “Damn!” It was actually that promotional video with whoever driving around and the buildings splitting, that was hard.
I have this album I still haven’t dropped yet, so I was working on that, and I was working on “FROM ME 222 YOU.” I had it pretty much done by that time. So I had some shit, and I was just like, “fuck yo, you know what? I’ma just drop. I got mad songs.” On “Coldest Day,” the songs were giving you bits and pieces of me. This was like, “alright, cool, I’m skipping that part. I’m ‘bout to give you just raps. I’m really about to bar up on you; I’m about to show you what I’m really on now.” I just felt free, and it felt free to do it too.
You’re saying this is the difference between “222” and “50 40 90?”
No, so “222” was an even bigger step up. “Coldest Day” was like my first official release. So from that to “50 40 90” was like night and day to me, recording wise, the beats I was picking. Me and my homie Tomas made those beats, but at that time they were much slower, that’s what was more my vibe. Now I’ve changed it, picked the tempo up, and I rap way better on up-tempo beats than I do slower ones. Not that I’m bad on slower ones, it’s just like I’m in a pocket. I kind of treat it like boxing; I see I’m punching there. I’m hitting into the body so much, okay, I’m ‘bout to go up top now. That’s just how it feels.
Staying on the note of “FROM ME 222 YOU,” and you stylized it as “222.” Do you believe in angel numbers?
All my life, anything I do day-to-day, I take that and I reflect on it in rap form, just everyday type shit. So, my homie Breeze used to text me “222.” He’s super into all that, like numerology, angel numbers and all that. So when he was texting me that, I was like, “Yo this is fly, I’ve never seen anything like this. This is fire. Is it cool if I use this,” and he was just like, “Bro, yeah.” I felt like it was natural.
Even “50 40 90,” I was talking to Tom, I said, “I feel like I’m putting up crazy stats.” From ‘G-Shit’ to ‘Fendi, Fact’, I’m scoring different ways, it’s not the same song over and over again. I’m 50% from the field, 40% from three, 90% from the free throw. I’m really giving you a lot of game here. It’s not just the same slow beat, or the same up-tempo beat, I’m tryna show you the range.
Same thing on “FROM ME 222 YOU,” how can I dive deeper into this. Yonqi completely changed the soundscape, adding all the extra nuances in between songs. There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s not just me; I create a world where everyone who’s involved in it feels like it’s their project. Yonqi, that fool put in many hours to mix that project, to find little clips to put in there, and I’m giving him clips, but then I just let him rock. I just let him do what he has to do on the mix. It’s real community vibes, it’s always about my homies. Pretty much anyone I do a song with is the homie. It’s nice to help them too, even giving them a promise like, “damn, I’m a part of something cool.”
When you do stuff with your homies and it comes out fire, what’s better?
I noticed you have Jodi on a couple of your tapes. You have ZekeUltra, I know those are the homies, but I was very interested in seeing you get Deem Spencer. He’s been blowing up. I’m interested in learning about how you too linked up, how you got the feature, and just working with him.
Actually the process was kind of weird, because I do things through email, but usually I talk to the person. With Deem, to this day we never really spoke. My homie Big Flowers told me Deem was doing features, and it was a price that had me like, “oh, this is nice.” I don’t really pay for features, but I know who Deem is. I’m a fan of his music, I listened to him before I got him on the song. I first met him at an art show with my homegirl Lauren Arch, it was at the Half Moon space in Brooklyn. It was for her show; she’s from the UK. A bunch of people from the scene were there. That’s the first time I saw him, met him.
Big Flowers, I met him online. He did the cover for “Pink Sky,” something I released last year. He set the line out, and I had a beat from Nico already, I just didn’t know what I was gonna do with the beat. So I was like, “if Deem does a fire hook over this, I’ll write something to this and I’ll get it done.” I liked the beat, I just didn’t know what I was going to rap about. When I got it back from Deem, I was like, “fuck, what am I gonna do with this?” He kind of did something different on it. I talked to Zeke, played it for him, and he was like, “this is fire, you should go crazy on this.” I said, “bro, throw a V on it, I’ll throw a V on it, and it’s outta here.”
Getting Jodi, Zeke on it—they’re homies. I met Zeke around 2017 I want to say. We have a mutual friend. I was doing a show in Philly, got Zeke to do the show with me. I met him in person, chopped it up, and from there on we’ve been like brothers. Jodi was there too, which is the crazy part. Swish is pretty much on all my projects. That’s really my homie, he’s from around where I live too, so it’s kind of easier to get him on shit. We’re always making songs; he produced “PRICE OF GASOLINE IN THE THIRD WORLD.” I’m always over there cooking up, so it was easy to get him on “222.”
I saw the show you had. There were some people from Queens there.
It’s crazy how people come together sometimes.
My homie Rainy Miller—I’m just name-dropping cause these are all my homies, it doesn’t feel weird to me—but I’ve known him for 7-8 years, never met him a day in my life. He’s from London, so that’s how I met Zeke, cause Zeke was cool with him too. Everything is an intertwining circle of, “damn…how do we both know this nigga in London who we never met.” He’s not even from London, he’s actually from Preston, north UK I believe. Let me get that straight cause he’s gonna kill me for that.
It’s just crazy to me how the internet made everything small. I met people from the city that had me like, “I didn’t even know you were cool with people like that.” It’s funny how it all works out.
What’s something you’re into right now, outside of music? Anything that makes your days better.
As of late it’s been UFC. I’m into sports. Anything I get into, I dive deep into it. It’s never simple and casual. Even though I consider myself to be a casual UFC fan—I don’t do jiu jitsu—but I wanna do jiu jitsu, I want to learn. It shows you what it takes to go to the next level. They’re putting their life on the line. I put my life in my songs. I put many hours in, working a full-time job for the past five years, doing that while chasing my dream, doing what I have to do, investing in myself.
To see some of these dudes come up in UFC is the same thing. These dudes are fighting in the regional circuits for like $5,000 and that basically goes right back into their camp that they’re preparing. For me, any big paycheck I get from rap or working my job, I just put that right back into myself. That’s the connection I have with it. I really fuck with it. Now I’m a madman, watching it any chance I can get, catching up on old stuff I haven’t seen.
Even basketball. I was into basketball. The reason I got my braids was because of AI. I wanted to get braids, get a bunch of tattoos, a shooter’s sleeve. Any time I created a player in 2K, I tatted him up, instant braids, instant headband, instant shooter’s sleeve, instant everything, all the finger tapes. It was just the energy he brought to the game, it was something different. It was something that was not the norm.
That’s how he stood out, and why he influenced so many other players in the league today.
I’m about that. I see stuff like [Frank Ocean’s] “Blonde,” or even Roc Marciano. When I got on to him, niggas was doing loops, but it wasn’t exciting, cause niggas did loops already. He brought a different excitement to the loop game. “Blonde” was exciting to me because it shouldn’t work. Frank took loops of guitars, and used his voice as percussion, really driving the record with his voice rather than the beat. Usually I feel like the beats drive the record, so for someone to take an unfinished and fill it in with his voice, sing over it, and just do something really creative, it shouldn’t work.
When that went platinum, I was like, “okay, cool! The respect for art, for doing the opposite of the norm—obviously it’s Frank Ocean so it’s gonna blow up, but even for him it’s a risk to take. He could’ve come out and just did another “Channel Orange.” That nigga is crazy. People didn’t like “Blonde” at first.
I didn’t know how “FLEE” was gonna go. I’m thinking about how I’ve never really done trap music and to that magnitude of 15 songs. I was like, “This could be bad.” But then I was like, “fuck it, I’m gonna go crazy on them. There’s no chance this is gonna be bad.” It didn’t pop, but it definitely didn’t do bad. It did what I wanted it to do, as far as growing the brand and showing that when I do features, don’t just send me loops, don’t just send me sample based shit.
I could go crazy on pop shit. I’m working on a record with my homie Tomas. It’s not your regular, run-of-the-mill rap-pop feature, we really create music. I’m about making music, whether it’s writing for people, being in a studio with someone, I’m just about creating.
I know what you mean when you say you want your music to sound like you, and you don’t want to give up your creativity for the sake of making music people will like.
I didn’t talk about doing one drill on any of those beats. I don’t kill people, I don’t sell drugs, but I easily could’ve been in the burbs. Anyone can sell drugs, but I don’t do any of that. I just rap about me, the clothes I like so I’ma rap about em. I like my girl, my family, my niece, my homies. I’m rapping about me, my experiences with stuff. I don’t have time to be faking any persona. It’s as authentic as I can possibly keep it. Whether it’s a drill beat or a loop beat, it’s gonna get killed either way.
You already touched on this briefly when you spoke about your interest in UFC, but I’ll ask again: what motivates you these days?
The homies. I see Tomas out here grinding and I go, “fuck, I gotta get on my grind.” I see Gus out here, Zeke’s out here going crazy, I have to get on my shit. But right now it’s just me and my moms living in the house together. I want to change her life. As much as I want to do this for myself, and prove to myself that I can really do this, I got so much other shit going on that I’m really doing it for that. I’m tryna do it for my mom even though she wants me to do it for me.
I’m tryna move to LA. I’m tryna grind out here and stack up and get this shit poppin’. I wanna live with my girl. It’s just life that motivates me. I’m not satisfied; I’m never satisfied. Even if it’s good, I want it to be better. [Machiavelli] said, “good is the enemy of great.” I feel that. When people tell you something is okay or good, it’s like, “why isn’t this great to you?” As someone who puts in a lot of work, when you get a subpar answer to something, you can take it two ways: you can be mad about it, or grind until it’s great, until it’s undeniable. Before I started coming to city and fucking with everyone out here, I dropped “50 40 90” and was like, “yeah nigga, I’m here! Y’all can’t avoid me! I really knock out verses like it’s nothing. I really stack up songs. I got like three projects that I’m working on, effortlessly.”
By the time I was done interviewing him, it’s like he went home and continued gearing up for another one of the releases. ‘Fetti’ dropped July 2, featuring longtime collaborator, Jodi. On August 6, he released the video for ‘59FIFTY’, directed by Tom Bender, which you can watch above. But before these, he released a shit ton of awesome music, definitely worth the discography dive. For your convenience, you can find all his music via Bandcamp, and be sure to follow Bank$y on Instagram to keep up with the Best of Chest(er).