Lloyd Banks's suave, silky voice is everywhere these days, but until a year ago, when the rapper began touring with his mentor, 50 Cent, and 50's G-Unit posse, he'd never left his native New York. "Being so involved with 50 just gave me so much more to see and think about," says Banks, 22. "If you stay in one place, you can only rap about one thing because that's all you know. In the last few months I've seen and learned enough to keep my music fresh and spread out."
Banks's first solo album, "The Hunger for More," isn't a travelogue in the sense that a Peter Mayle would understand, but it's a tour of his own obsessions: with love, death and, of course, success in the world of hip- hop. Featuring guest appearances by Banks's childhood buddy 50 and production help from Eminem, it should lure rap fans back north in a year dominated by such Southern acts as OutKast and Ludacris. The hit single, "On Fire," mixes club-friendly beats with bring-'em-on lyrics: "I ain't bias when I'm riding through the town/Like 'em small, like 'em tall, like 'em black, like 'em brown." And it doesn't hurt that the 6-foot-2, brooding-eyed Banks, unlike the battle-scarred 50, looks like a teen idol in the making.
Banks's "Hunger for More" isn't just about women, diamonds or Hummers with 26-inch chrome spokes. "I've been hungry in many ways," Banks says. "There was a point when I was literally hungry--didn't have enough to eat back in the day. Then there were times, such as the last few months, where I had some success but became hungry for something else and a lot more." To get that, Banks needed more than a gift for rhyme. "When 50 was working out his deal with Interscope, I was in there with him, and some of the stuff I understood and some I didn't. After the meetings, I'd grill 50 about what this or that meant in the contract. Sometimes he knew, sometimes he didn't, but we learned a lot together. The most important thing is, it's the business of music and not the music business."
Banks's success hasn't simply helped him expand his own horizons. He's also sent his 72-year-old grandmother Edith on the road to Australia and New Zealand--a source of intense pride to a kid who dropped out of high school at 16. "Whenever I would call her up from the tour and tell where I was all over the world," he says, "she would tell me where I had to go and visit. Now, she'd never been to these places, so I was like, 'How do you know that?' She'd read about these places, and I knew when I got myself to where I wanted to, I was going to make sure she got to see them. She's having a ball with her friends, going everywhere. That makes me feel good." He'd better have her take notes. Something tells us Banks is going to be too busy taking care of business.