Everyone has the chance to be great. That’s something I truly believe. That’s where the idea of opportunity comes in. But if we’re being frank, opportunity is more of a fantasy for some people rather than a reality. A lot of things affect opportunity: location, money, gender, the color of your skin, and so on. Even if you’re able to fight against those factors, there will still be others who will try to stifle you — who believe you shouldn’t be granted that opportunity to fulfill your innate greatness.
Jacob Banks stands tall and proud on stage. His voice has a deep timber and he effortlessly carries it with grace and power. Off stage, he’s quietly confident; chilled, relaxed, 100% comfortable with his potential. Banks is like a fighter that would knock you out but you ultimately want in your corner. “My ethos in making music is for the everyday person,” he tells me backstage at The Roxy in Los Angeles. “It’s for the person who forgets they’re the shit. I want to remind them that they are the shit. No one can fuck with you — you got this. I hope I can aid a couple people to see that.”
“When it’s all said and done, music is music but what matters is how we’ve touched someone and how deeply we love.”
After talking with Banks for a few minutes, his optimism is contagious. That silver lining he looks out for might feel like it’s getting blurrier by the minute but he still sees it. “I think we’re in a good place — I know that’s such a bold thing to say. With everything that’s happened, there’s more magic than people realize. For the first time, everyone is on the same team. Everyone is out marching, protesting — it doesn’t happen very often but we have a bigger bully to focus on. All the turmoil that’s happening is bringing people together. Oppression always gives a voice to people.”
His forthcoming EP, the brilliantly titled The Boy Who Cried Freedom, really hones in on Banks’ ideals as a singer and as a man. Using his iteration of soul, R&B, and electronic music blended with his African roots, all of the tracks on the EP rattle and vibrate with social consciousness that sticks to the edges of your soul. That magic he spoke about, it’s there.
There’s a reason the EP is called The Boy Who Cried Freedom and it centers around that fantasy of opportunity — something that Banks has been able to actualize. “If you take a boy and you take away his opportunities, his right to live, you systematically imprison his father, and you institutionalize racism — he’s going to be a monster. You’re not giving him a chance. For me, I felt like I was constantly in a space where people kept pushing me and taking stuff away from me — just to see what would happen. When I’d come at them, they’d be like ‘Whoa, settle down.’ But I don’t want to be like this. You’re making me like this. That’s how I look at the world. We keep forcing people in these situations where they have to protest, just so people will listen.”
In a way, The Boy Who Cried Freedom is Banks’ version of protest — giving encouragement to those people who seem to have forgotten their greatness, those people who need to be reminded that they’ve always had it. “For a long time, we lost empathy. You could never relate to a kid in Syria because he’s so far away but now that stuff is on our shores. There’s so many good things happening — people are standing up for each other.”
Banks is only starting his journey. That power and assurance he possesses both on and off stage is just as infectious as his optimism. He truly makes you believe that opportunity is achievable for everyone, and that your greatness is just waiting to be unlocked. “Whenever you’re making something, you have to make it for the times that you’re in. You have to move forward. [The Boy Who Cried Freedom] pushes a lot of boundaries. It’s a story of someone who wanted more and got it. And we’ll just have to see what he does with it.”