From the late-80s to the mid-90s, Oakland producer Ant Banks was one of the best known and most prolific producers to come out of the Bay Area. After massive independent successes with MC Ant and Pooh-Man, Banks went on to play an integral role in Too Short’s early albums and form the production team The Dangerous Crew.
While Banks has many accolades in his career, the success of his work with MC Ant and Pooh-Man is something to marvel at. In an excellent interview with the website DUBCNN, Banks explained the success of his early work. “In ’87 we put out the first MC Ant CD and Cassette and all of that and it had sold over 80–90,000 just in the Bay Area/California area alone,” he said.
“I was doing independent tape, after independent tape, and they was all selling like 200–300,000 units. Just independently, with no label, no nothing.”
Let’s pause for a moment to consider this. Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late just cracked 1 million in sales and was the best selling rap album of 2015. He was the only rapper to break the 1 million ceiling last year. While it is hard to compare album sales from the late 80s to modern sales because of the differences in access, availability, and technology, it is still remarkable that an independent rap act was able to do so well before rap had been accepted by many mainstream consumers.
Banks went on to explain his continued hot streak of indy records after his work with MC Ant. “From there, I did Pooh-man in ’88, and he sold over 200,000.” he told DUBCNN. “Then in ’89 I followed with Spice-1, who was close to 300,00. I came with Dangerous Dame in 1990, and he sold well over 100,000. So I was doing independent tape, after independent tape, and they was all selling like 200–300,000 units. Just independently, with no label, no nothing.”
Although Banks continued to make music in the early and mid-2000s, his peak success came during the early years with Too Short and the rest of The Dangerous Crew. According to Short, Banks’ decision to step back from music came down to family. Short explained in an interview that Banks started to distance himself from the rap game after he left Atlanta, where Too Short had relocated, and moved back west. “Ant Banks, for his life, he had to get back to the Bay,” Short told HipHopDX in an interview. “He married the woman that he was in love with, and they had kids, they had a big house. So he had to get back. If he would have stayed in Atlanta he would have never had that life that he wanted so much with her.”
“In ’87 we put out the first MC Ant CD and Cassette and all of that and it had sold over 80–90,000 just in the Bay Area/California area alone.”
Banks’ story of incredible success as an independent artist is an important reminder of how much things have changed for the modern musician. While one could argue that it is easier to get your music in front of a broader audience today, it seems like it is getting increasingly difficult to get people pay musicians for their work. Selling hundreds of thousands of units out of the mom and pop shops and the trunks of cars is a remarkable feat, no matter what era, and an indicator of how loyal and invested Bay Area rap fans were.
It seems like there is a fascinating book here waiting to be written about Bay Area album sales back in the day. The author could talk to artists, distributors, fans, and shop owners. In the meantime, interviews like the ones at DUBCNN do a great job of capturing this important chapter in hip-hop history.
Gino Sorcinelli is an academic support teacher and writer. He writes for Cuepoint, HipHopDX, and his Bookshelf Beats and Micro-Chop publications. You can connect with him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.