“They Don’t Know I’m Waking Up With Cold Sweats:” An Interview With BandGang Lonnie Bands

Lonnie Bands got shot in the head in Las Vegas earlier this year. His latest album is a testament to the fact that, in the face of everything he has been through, he's still here.
By    November 17, 2021

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The title of BandGang Lonnie Bands’ new album, Hard 2 Kill, isn’t hyperbolic. This past May, while the Detroit rapper was in Las Vegas, he was attacked and shot in his head, hand, mouth, and wrist by assailants. Only 48 hours later, Lonnie had already discharged himself from the hospital; only a week later, he was already out and about running errands.

A member of marquee Detroit rap group BandGang, Lonnie was only 13 when he, BandGang Javar, BandGang Biggs, and BandGang Paid Will initially decided to come together and form the crew. By the time he was in high school, the group had already begun to find regional success when their music video for “BandGang or No Gang,” which featured them clad in crisp True Religion jackets and matching pairs of white Cartier Buffs, went viral. Within years, the group would begin to make waves nationally as they began notching collaborations with artists like Tee Grizzley and Shoreline Mafia.

The attempt on Lonnie’s life was just the latest in a string of tragic shootings which interrupted Lonnie and BandGang’s trajectory. In September of 2020, BandGang member Jizzle P, also known as BandGang AJ, was tragically shot and killed in his mother’s driveway on Detroit’s west side. Less than two weeks later, Lonnie’s best friend Lenny Skinny was shot and killed while driving around in a Porsche in Houston; in December of that same year, fellow co-founding group member BandGang Paid Will also lost his life in Detroit in a similar shooting.

Lonnie admits that the losses of some of his closest friends, along with the additional tragedy of the death of one of his newborn sons in 2020, left him in a rut where he felt he was not as passionate about his music. But his state of mind changed, he says, when one of his daughters asked him why he had no longer been recording music. This struck a chord within Lonnie, and he returned to the booth with renewed focus and intensity. The result is his new album, H2K.

The album sees Lonnie return with his unique, off-kilter flow, something which has always separated him from other Detroit scene peers. Over H2K’s hard keys and stark 808s — a soundscape which mirrors the cold, iron jungle of Lonnie’s native west side — Lonnie raps with a restlessness and jumpiness that is becoming of someone who has been through as much as he has. This is perhaps best heard in the music video single released in anticipation of the album, “Federal Nightmares.” Lonnie’s delivery and skittish flow charge the verse with an urgency and hunger that is palpable. “I been so stressed ‘cause I don’t know what’s finna happen next,” Lonnie raps. “They say I’m so blessed, but they don’t know I’m waking up cold sweats.”

Despite all the hardships Lonnie has endured, and despite his own very nearly fatal brush with death, Lonnie stands brazenly unfazed. His barbed and sneering shit talk has remained uncompromising —in fact, if nothing else, the failed attempt on his life has given this aspect of his music new, even stronger legs to stand on. When Lonnie taunts his would be killers on the title track, “H2K” — “hard to kill / how the fuck [they] can’t get Lonnie out the way?” — it positions Lonnie’s music in rarefied space in the annals of hip hop history with the likes of YG’s “Who Shot Me?,” Cam’ron’s “Oh What A Night,” and 50 Cent’s “Many Men.”

The album is a testament to the fact that Lonnie, in the face of everything he has been through, is still here. He’s been an immovable fixture of the Detroit scene for half a decade, and not even the bullet still stuck in his head can shake him off the spot. With the project featuring big out of town names like Young Nudy, OhGeesy, and EST Gee, it’s apparent that Lonnie is a name to be watched — because if there’s one thing Lonnie has made absolutely clear, it’s that he refuses to tap out. Dario McCarty

I know you’re from the Westside of Detroit, but where specifically? What neighborhood?

BandGang Lonnie: The Six Mile Bronx.

What was it like growing up there?

BandGang Lonnie: Shit, it was fun. It ain’t get dangerous until we got grown forreal.

Tell me about your parents. What did they do for a living?

BandGang Lonnie: My momma always had a job, she was like a super woman. I don’t even know what the fuck my dad did because he wasn’t really around when I was growing up.

You’ve talked a lot in interviews about how important your relationship with your mom was growing up. How has that relationship shaped who you are today?

BandGang Lonnie: She kept it real. She was a real mom, like she took care of us and all that shit but also she also really knew her kids. She would really sit down and talk with me and my brothers, you feel me? She knew our minds, she knew when we were going through something, she knew when we was doin’ some bullshit — man, she knew everything. All that made me a better person, made me really think before I do shit. And I got three kids myself too, so you feel me, I got a lot of people depending on me to do right.

What were you like as a kid?

BandGang Lonnie: Shit, early on — like my first ten years — I was bad as hell. But then I went through a phase when I was like 10, where I got baptized and started trying to play sports seriously. But that changed when I got to highschool — I went back to being bad as hell.

You dropped out of high school in 12th Grade. What prompted you to make that decision?

BandGang Lonnie: Money. And hustlin’. And when it came to having to take the bus to school and all that — I was like I ain’t doin’ this shit. But also — and I always tell people this story — what really made me drop out of school was, I was in computer class and this one girl was watching one of the first BandGang videos — the “BandGang or No Gang” video. I wasn’t in that video. But I’m like telling her yeah, that’s my shit. And she said “No you ain’t, you ain’t got no buffs on!” I left school literally that day to go and cop some buffs, and I ain’t come back.

You’ve also spoken about how influential your 4 older brothers were over you in guiding you when you began to get into the streets. What was that dynamic with your brothers watching over you like?

BandGang Lonnie: I mean, I really had it good, for real. That was a blessing. I didn’t need for shit cause I had my four big brothers. Three of them was always in jail though, but my brother Poody was like my real life fuckin’ superhero.

Where are they now?

BandGang Lonnie: One brother is in jail, one brother is dead, and two brothers are out of jail. One of them, [Poody], is the CEO of TF Entertainment.

What did they say when you first started getting involved with music?

BandGang Lonnie: Well, when I first started getting serious with it, I told my brother Poody he gotta be my manager, he gotta control this shit, or I didn’t wanna do it. He agreed — even though he ain’t want to. He still did it because, you feel me, he ain’t want me out there in the wild with all that industry shit. ‘Cause everybody knows if you jumpin’ into that shit, that shit crazy.

I know that you’ve said growing up you were a big fan of Tupac, and even one of your first songs was a cover of Tupac’s Picture Me Rollin.’ What got you into 2Pac?

BandGang Lonnie: Aw, you hard, how you know that? [Laughs] You hard. Shit, I don’t know, I just liked that shit. But also I guess my uncle put me on — my cousin BandGang Javar daddy, that’s all he would listen to was 2Pac. Everybody loves the 2Pac hits and shit that comes on the radio, you feel me, but Javar’s daddy would always play the shit that don’t nobody else plays and I took a liking to that.

Do you feel that has been an influence for your music?

BandGang Lonnie: Yeah, because that’s like my favorite rapper ever. I feel like I’ve tried to incorporate his work ethic, and I also be talkin’ about what’s really going on in my life like he did. Like there’s a lot of songs I got that I feel like I’m not ready to put them out — like I got some deep ass songs, like some super super deep ass songs.

You’ve also said that growing up you never asked for toys or anything on Christmas — you would ask for classic albums. Could you tell us what some of those albums were?

BandGang Lonnie: I would ask for Tupac albums, Michael Jackson albums, and the Hot Boys albums.Whatever album I ain’t get the year before.

What made you gravitate towards the classics?

BandGang Lonnie: I don’t know, I was just like a different type of kid. Even back then, I was an old head. Like I ain’t watch cartoons like the other kids did, I would watch sports. Or like I started going to church when I was ten years old because I wanted to, like I got baptized because I wanted to — like my mama wasn’t even going to church with me. I was just a different kid.

Did you take anything from those albums into your own art?

BandGang Lonnie: Yeah, I think that the whole Detroit sound is like Hot Boys, honestly.

Other than those specific albums, what other types of music did you listen to?

BandGang Lonnie: Old R&B Jams. I listened to that shit too. This shit might sound funny, but my favorite R&B artist is Teddy Pendergrass.[Laughs] And Kem too. His first two albums are like the hardest shit in the world. I’ve known both those albums by heart since I was a kid. He from Detroit too.

Speaking of Detroit, growing up around there, what were the artists that people were bumping at the time?

BandGang Lonnie: When I was a kid it was like Street Lord’z. Then it went to like DoughBoyz CashOut, then it would be like Team Eastside. Then it was us [BandGang].

If you could only have one album for the rest of your life, which one would it have to be?

BandGang Lonnie: I’d have to say Tupac’s All Eyez on Me. But I need the first and the second disc though, I can’t just have one disc. I gotta have the whole thing.

Now you’re also a part of a rap group called BandGang, which formed when you were 13. Tell me about that, how did you guys all meet?

BandGang Lonnie: Well shit, we technically like, all from the same neighborhood. In the beginning it was always like me Javar, Biggs, and [Paid Will], because Javar, Biggs, and I were blood cousins and [Paid Will] was Bigg’s best friend. That’s how it started when we were like 13. Then [Jizzle P] started going to school with us, and he became one of our best friends. And Masoe was always hangin’ with the homies that was like two, three, four years older than us, so that’s how he came into it.

What is that relationship within the group like?

BandGang Lonnie: We family. Can’t none of us really fall out forreal, like we real family. But it is different now ‘cause we all grown with real lives and kids. Also since we been grown, half of the group been in jail — and then when half of the group came home half of the group was killed. It’s difficult, but it ain’t, because no matter what we keep that shit together — ain’t nothin’ change.

I know BandGang has been popping in Detroit long before the rest of the country took notice. When did you begin to understand that the music was really starting to take off?

BandGang Lonnie: We was originally poppin in Detroit, but then it was Oakland and the Bay Area. Nobody had a license, but we drove all the way to the Bay, like twenty deep, for a show. They shut the show down because they said we were a gang, so it ended up that we went out there for nothing. But that was a great time in my life ‘cause it was super love out there. That fucked everybody [in BandGang] head up, ‘cause it was like super super love.

Yeah, that’s dope because I feel like the Bay and Detroit have always had that connection in hip-hop.

BandGang Lonnie: Yeah, for real.

BandGang played a big role in starting the current sound from Detroit which is just now starting to shine nationally. What aspects of your guys style do you think others have taken from you guys to help define the Detroit sound?

BandGang Lonnie: Really just the beats. And the cadence of what we talkin’ about. But I don’t get offended with that shit, I love it. I’d rather the whole world be rappin’ like Detroit instead of fuckin’ using all the autotune and all that. But that shit doesn’t fit for everybody.

Your new album is called Hard 2 Kill. This is obviously a reference to the fact that earlier this year in Las Vegas you survived getting shot in the head. What was going through your head when that happened?

BandGang Lonnie: Shit. Don’t panic. That’s really all that was going through my head. Just, don’t panic.

After that happened, you got discharged from the hospital only 48 hours later. How were you able to shake it off so quickly?

BandGang Lonnie: Because man, who the fuck wants to sit in the hospital? That shit be cold. Plus since I got shot in my wrist and arm I couldn’t use my arms and they didn’t even wanna feed a n***a — I was like I gotta get the fuck up outta here.

Has that experience changed the way you view life?

BandGang Lonnie: Hell yeah. That shit can happen anywhere, anytime. It wasn’t like I was puttin’ myself in danger doin’ something when it happened, it was like — I don’t know, maybe it could have been karma or something. Because I always moved right, but after that I really be on some I don’t want to go nowhere if it ain’t been official.

What is it about rap success that you think leads to others in your city putting a target on your back?

BandGang Lonnie: It’s because we’re fuckin’ they hoes. [Laughs] Pretty much that’s what it boil down to anywhere in the world. It don’t be about no money, or about the fact that we can rap better than this n***a — if you fuckin’ they hoes, then they ain’t gonna be friends with you. That’s what it really boils down to.

Obviously you and the rest of BandGang have gone through a lot this past year. What are the things that give you the strength to keep pushing through and keep succeeding?

BandGang Lonnie: Shit. I can’t give up with everything that’s happened. I got a family, my kids — so there’s people that are believing in me and I can’t let them down, you feel me? And I ain’t gonna let myself down either. I don’t wanna look back ten years from now and be thinkin’ what the fuck I could’ve did.

I wanted to talk about your song “Gatekeeper” with Reese Youngn. This is a song that is really vulnerable and we get to hear you open up in a way that we haven’t fully seen before and is really powerful. Was this a difficult song to record?

BandGang Lonnie: I recorded “Gatekeeper” two days before I got shot, when I was in LA before I had to go to Vegas. Then I just sent it to Reese and he did his verse in like thirty minutes. But no, it wasn’t difficult to record. Like I cried when I was recording it, but shit, I done cried behind a lot of songs. Like I got a whole mixtape that when I was recording it I cried on like every song. But I ain’t ever let anybody hear that mixtape. I just play it for myself when I’m in a fucked up mood, but I’m gonna release it later in life when I feel it’s time.

Speaking of Reese Youngn, it seems like on this album, for the first time, you got a lot of features from out of town big names like Young Nudy, EST Gee, and OhGeesy. It’s interesting because in past interviews you’ve talked about how you don’t like playing the industry games with other rappers and that you feel you are by nature antisocial, but it seems like you’re now starting to break down these barriers. Has that been hard for you? Are you happy that you are beginning to do this?

BandGang Lonnie: It isn’t hard for me. It’s really like, I just had to get out of that. I got my mind right that like I gotta do this shit. Because, honestly, if it was up to me I wouldn’t want nobody on my shit but the BandGang, but that ain’t how this music shit go. This shit a business for real, so I’m starting to treat this shit like it’s for real like a business.

How did the Nudy track come together? What was it like recording in the studio with him?

BandGang Lonnie: Shit, we was just in Atlanta and we pulled up and he did it. [Laughs]. But it was cool, he was like the coolest one honestly.

Where do you see yourself in 5, 10 years?

BandGang Lonnie: Shit man, happy. That’s it for real man, everything else is an afterthought. Being happy though, I care about that more than anything.

That’s real.

BandGang Lonnie: No fakin’.

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