“I think I might be happy.”
It’s one of the first things we hear on Broward County, Florida rapper Robb Bank$’s most recent project, Road to Falconia. If you’re a longtime listener, the tagline is familiar, as Bank$ has been using it throughout his music for nearly a decade. The phrase—taken from the U.S. version of the young adult drama series Skins—is built in to be a noncommittal response for how Bank$ could be feeling on any given day, across any given project.
When we meet in late January, at the Kandypens house in the Hollywood Hills, Bank$ is finally straightforward.
“I’m happy,” the 25-year-old creative says. He’s settled across from me on a gray couch, the two of us sitting opposite a blazing fire. Bank$ is wearing a lime green jacket over a softer, worn-in grass green Weezer T-shirt, and green velvet Off-White Timberlands. “Not with my spot, because I always want more,” he continues. “I’m an artist: I’m hungry. I always want more and more and more. But I’m happy with the little genre and niche I’ve created for myself. I like it because I feel like all my fans is smart. All my supporters are smart.”
When I tell Bank$ we, as listeners, have to be willing to put in a certain amount of work to keep up with him, he laughs.
“Yeah, ‘cause you got to listen or you’re not gonna catch nothing I’m saying and talking about,” he says. “You’re not going to get the little hidden messages.”
To be a fan of Robb Bank$ is to commit yourself to repeat listens, constant Googling, and immersion in as much obscure pop culture as possible. Since I began listening to Bank$, I’ve made it a point to watch anime series he endlessly references in his songs; One Punch Man, My Hero Academia, and Inuyasha are a few.
Bank$ and his stans exemplify a top-level partnership between artist and listener, one, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. That degree of dedication—a choice of endless studying—has become enmeshed with my personal approach to music consumption. It’s why nearly every other hip-hop artist can seem bland to me in comparison. To put it simply, Robb Bank$ is my favorite rapper. And, much to my dismay, he’s retiring.
“I’m trying to put artists on,” he says of his new career direction. “When I look at the artists that I’ve helped break—and I’ve never spoken on this, especially publicly, on an interview scale. It’s never been with paperwork, ‘cause I was young and I just… the way I am, I see talent, and I’m like, ‘I just want to help you.’ I don’t know why, but that’s just how I’ve always been. I just want to help. If I got a platform, I’ma help you.”
Bank$ lists in-house producer Cris Dinero, and rappers Ski Mask the Slump God and the late XXXTentacion among the unofficial beneficiaries of his guidance.
“Half of Florida, I took on their first tour,” he continues. “I took DaBaby on tour. Road 2 Falconia tour in 2017. Me, DaBaby, and Kid Trunks. That’s how I met Baby, and I’m so happy for him. He’s doing great. The thing that I love, that I’ve noticed a pattern of, it’s like, ‘Yo, everybody that I came in contact with or helped or put on a tour of mine, they always got right.’”
Bank$ says he’s chosen to have such an active role in artists’ careers because of the lack of a shepherding presence in his own.
“When I was 16, 17, I used to pray a ni**a would just come and I have a big homie in the music business,” he says. “[Birdman] was the only one that did that. Only one that ever did that for me. That’s Unc.”
While Bank$ makes it clear any reports of him previously signing to Cash Money are “fake news,” the artist has been working with Rich Gang Management and soaking up game from the No. 1 Stunna himself since at least 2017. All the while, he’s been working to position himself as a boss in his own right. Bank$’s current company is called 430 Entertainment, evolved from the nascent Smart Stunna (SS) Records. “Even with Bird, that’s my inspiration as far as like, a CEO and just building, accomplishing what he accomplished from nothing,” Bank$ says. “From just being a young ni**a in New Orleans, in the slums, and made a billion-dollar company.”
Robb Bank$’s self-proclaimed magnum opus, Falconia, will serve as his exit from the recording artist lifestyle and into full-blown mogul status. “You’re still going to get content from me, but there will be no more ‘Robb Bank$’ projects,” he explains. “No more full bodies of work.”
Bank$ released his first full-length solo project in 2012, the underground hit Calendars, which saw Bank$ spitting over well-known, throwback beats like Aaliyah’s “One in a Million” and Master P’s “Bout It, Bout It,” as well as recent, subterranean production from SBTRKT and Clams Casino. The marriage of old and new, hardened and hazy, quickly put Bank$ on the radar of listeners frequenting the Tumblr platform, in its heyday. “I can’t even listen to that sh*t no more,” Bank$ admits. “Like that type of sh*t is just, the style of rap was older. It was more traditional.”
Post-Calendars, Bank$ has announced new drops like clockwork; while numerous EPs, mixtapes, and official albums have come about, not all of the projects have seen the light of day. It’s one of several facets that makes the MC an enigma. “It’s a lot of music that exists,” he says. “People be thinking I just be lying. But when you’re an artist, you kinda fried. You kinda crazy. And I know I’m fried. So I’ll do sh*t where I jump the gun and be like, ‘This project is about to come out!’ And I’ll have the name and the concept ready. But then I’ll start recording for it and it’ll turn into something completely different.”
One project fans have been hotly anticipating: the sequel to Bank$’s popular 2016 mixtape No Rooftops, modeled after Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings. In addition to original songs, No Rooftops featured the rapper jacking beats like 2 Chainz’s “Watch Out” and Denzel Curry’s “Ultimate.” In an interlude on the tape, Robb teases the follow-up, saying it could be released within weeks of the original project’s drop. It’s still awaiting a release date.
“[My listeners] will be like, ‘Well, what happened to this? What happened to that?’” Bank$ says. “They be asking me about No Rooftops. That’s like… my ni**a. That’s still gon’ come out, but I’m in a whole different space, you know what I’m saying? I had to do this first.”
Bank$’s current focus, Falconia, is conceptually designed to mirror the Berserk manga, and scheduled to be released in a three-arc rollout in the near future. Despite persistent imploring from his cult fan base, Bank$ won’t say when Falconia, and his subsequent departure, is coming.
“I’ve learned from my mistakes as to don’t say no times,” he tells me. “The thing people don’t understand is, sometimes it is me being a perfectionist, like, ‘No, we can’t put it out yet.’ But a lot of times, it’s the music business.”
According to Bank$, 2019’s Road to Falconia was constructed as a bridge to tide listeners over before Falconia’s orchestrated arcs begin to fall into place. “This one was more so—to the people who read Berserk—it would be like the Black Swordsman Arc,” he explains. “The intro, almost. Just a, ‘Hello, how are you doing? This is me.’”
Considered Arc 0, ahead of three installments to come, Road to Falconia is Robb Bank$ on full display, doling out each of his styles like a money machine. You want to be aurally annihilated by straight bars? “Top Man GOTTI” and “Broward Coward” are for you. You want introspective rhymes that veer toward the vulnerable? “Intro” and “Onme / PrivateShow” are for you.
Bank$ is unsatisfied with simultaneously existing on opposing ends of the standard rap spectrum. Instead, he takes a figurative serrated knife and extends the edges of said spectrum toward territories previously unexplored. To say the result is attention-grabbing would be an understatement. Robb Bank$ knows this.
“That’s the goal, to be honest,” he says. “My goal was always to get people’s attention. Whether you making them upset and making them uncomfortable, making them happy, like anything: any attention for me would be good attention. That’s how I used to think. And I’m just trying to stay true to how I was when I first came in.”
I’ve been in rooms where people are legitimately taken aback by Bank$’s delivery (“I know some people be like, ‘Turn this sh*t the f**k off!’” he jokes), so I press further and ask why he chooses to go to such extremes. He admits it’s his natural inclination.
“I just get bored easily,” he says. “When you’re in the studio for like, 18 hours straight type sh*t, you gon’ do some dumb sh*t. I feel like I have the shortest attention span in the world. So I have to keep doing new stuff. I just want to do something else.”
For Robb Bank$, boredom leads to tracks like the near-inexplicable “430 Kuban Doll,” a Road to Falconia standout. The “interlewd” borrows production from SpaceGhostPurrp’s “730 Goth Blood Gang,” and features jarring, irregular snare chops, and squawks and roars from a pitched-up Bank$, who uses the song to rattle off his own women rapper-influenced version of Pokémon. It sounds like necessary chaos. “It was completely unmixed,” Bank$ says of the finished song. “It sounded like sh*t. We initially was always going to mix it, but we ended up losing the session. The file got corrupted. So I was like, ‘We gotta just put it out how it is.’”
Bank$ also takes a moment in “430 Kuban Doll” to express his frustration over XXXTentacion’s death: “Ni**as took Jah[seh] and I wish they would’ve shot me / ‘Ni**as blew your dog head off and you ain’t kill ‘em?’ / Them ni**as killed X and turned themselves in before we got there.”
While Bank$ is “happy” today, as with any person, that can change at a moment’s notice, especially when dealing with as many losses as Bank$ has experienced. During our conversation, he tells me he started therapy. When I ask specifically why, he exhales deeply. “Bad lifestyle choices,” he says. “Sh*t like that. I just needed to go to therapy.”
He’s had more than one session and says he plans to proceed with the experience. “I like it,” he says, convincingly. “I like it.”
Like countless others, Bank$ and I have therapy in common. My reasons for therapy tie back to 2016, shortly before I had my very first manic episode; I’ve since been diagnosed as bipolar. In my bouts with extreme mania—a heightened mental state that feels like euphoria on a supernaturally interconnected, yet unstable level—I gravitate heavily toward Bank$. Very heavily. I become hyper-obsessed with his music, tweeting about it, playing it on repeat at max volumes, and finding patterns and “clues” in the music that somehow relate back to me. By the time I’ve reached peak elevation, I’m fully convinced it’s me and Robb against the destructive forces of the world: he’s the voice in the sky and I’m the feet on the ground, getting people ready for a global transformation unlike anything the human race has ever seen. In my mind, Bank$’s discography (and the music of a select few peers) is the audio version of a contemporary Bible, the soundtrack to a new, deeply engaging story of life and creation.
In my most recent episode, last October, I took it a step further and did everything in my power to emulate the rapper: I squawked; I roared; I yelled at the top of my lungs about the opps; I mimicked his outbursts and ad-libs. My family sent me straight to a mental hospital, and told me they no longer wanted me to listen to him.
To keep it a buck, I went into this interview thinking I’d have to “break up” with Bank$. I was prepared to tell him to his face that I couldn’t listen to his music anymore, that I couldn’t support him on social media or involve myself in anything that pertained to him, in the slightest.
If anything, the complete opposite happened.
When I tell Bank$ about my manic transformation, a diamond-sprinkled smile extends across his face. “That’s hard,” he says, repeating the phrase several times as I go further into detail. “That’s hard.” It’s a simple response, but it tells me everything I need to know: that I’m a pure fan, and Bank$’s music has done what it was designed to do—stick with me. Neither of us have a real answer for why I react the way I react. There’s no exact way to prevent myself from burrowing him into the chemically imbalanced crevices of my brain. Further, there’s no way to extract what’s already been placed. I might as well enjoy the ride, and enjoy the f**k out of Bank$’s music while I’m riding out, manic or not.
After we wrap up our formal interview, Bank$, his manager, and security guard lead me outside to a black SUV, where Bank$ plays unreleased music, including an updated version of a collaboration with Lil Uzi Vert, tentatively titled “ShootOut.” Minutes earlier, I questioned why Bank$ had not yet released it.
“It’s just timing,” he says. “Everything’s about timing. It’s going to drop at the right time. It’s going to do what it’s supposed to do: f**k up the internet. Just f**k everything up.”
For the past several years, I’ve been on the edge of my seat, waiting for Robb Bank$ to shoot into the musical stratosphere a.k.a. the top of the charts. I’ve always believed he’s more than capable of being mainstream. I ask if that’s something he wants, after having a cult fan base for most of his career.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t,” he candidly replies. “Yeah, of course, I want to be mainstream. But I want to do it on my terms. I don’t want to do it on nobody else’s. I don’t want to have to go in there and have a writer next to me and like, tell me what to do. That’s not what I came here for. I promise—it will be on my terms.”
Another thing Bank$ refuses to compromise on is his penchant for fast-tracked evolution. His listeners exist on both the adoring and analytical sides of fandom, and some can be critical of Bank$’s habit of leaving behind old vocal styles and topics as he grows into a more mature artist.
“I get it,” he says. “When people be like, ‘I don’t like this sh*t, go back to your old sh*t,’ unfortunately, I’m just not one of those people. I’ve tried. I’ve tried everything—everything—to go back to that old Robb like they be saying, but it’s impossible at this point.”
Bank$ continues, sounding resolved, but compassionate toward his day-one fans.
“I can still do that same sh*t, but the subject matter won’t always be the same,” he says. “I’m not going through the same things I was going through then. A lot of that sh*t back then was kid sh*t. You know what I’m saying? I was 17, like, kid depression. Not the sh*t I’m going through now, the real-life sh*t. This is life or death. No matter what, the only thing that will not change, I will always leave everything on the song. Everything that I’m going through, always.”