How Hip-Hop Ukelele Player Einer Bankz Became The Unlikeliest Rap Star

06.20.18 10 months ago

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If you haven’t heard, there’s this kid running around with a ukulele and recording videos with a bunch of burgeoning hip-hop artists. His name is Einer Bankz and you probably caught his video featuring Chance The Rapper at Coachella when it made social media rounds back in April.

That viral performance led to an opportunity for Bankz to attend Grizzly Fest out in Fresno, Calfornia equipped with an artist pass, thanks to the efforts of his good friend and manager Anthony Rodio. The next step for bringing the Tuned Up movement, what he affectionately calls his combination of ukulele and hip-hop, to Grizzly Fest was seeing which artists would be down for making a video with Bankz — and Jhene Aiko was totally down.

It all took place in the confines of her festival trailer. The two sat on a cream-colored, leather couch as Bankz plucked at the strings of his darling ukulele. The thump of heavy bass from the festival threatened to overpower their sacred performance but never succeeded. Jhene performed the whole song, including Swae Lee’s verse.

“She sent over a couple of songs and she had this record with Swae Lee, ‘Sativa,’ and I heard it and was like, ‘This is raw.’ We did it in one take,” Bankz explained to me in the hotel lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles recently. “It was in her private trailer and with just her team. I love her team. They are just so down to earth. I love seeing that with somebody who is that successful on that level and they’re just very human.”

I met up with the Bay Area native one weekend at Crowne Plaza to see what happens when he links with an artist to perform their music with this peculiar stringed instrument. For a while, it was up in the air who we’d meet up with but eventually, I suggested we focus around him linking up with Jhene Aiko at Grizzly Fest for their acoustic rendition of “Sativa.”

Less than 24 hours later, I received a text message from Rodio to call him because they might have someone else for tomorrow, so I called him immediately. “Hey, do you know who Trae Tha Truth is?” he quizzed me.

“Of course, I know who Trae is,” I quipped back. Now, I was going to watch Bankz make a video with an H-Town legend. Soon after our conversation, Rodio texted me the details of the location for our meet-up in the morning, and here I was at the designated hotel the following day. Once I hit Rodio up to let him know I was in the building, he and Bankz arrived soon after along with their camera guy. Trae hadn’t arrived yet so Bankz plopped a seat right next to me and we engaged in small banter as he clutched to the esteemed star of our conversation close to his chest. Playing this traditional Hawaiian instrument while covering popular hip-hop songs is how Bankz got his start.

“I just got drunk one night and picked up the ukulele that was in the garage,” he shared with me. “I had never played it before. I did a Snoop Dogg cover and he re-posted it. I just started doing covers of just me singing the artist’s song and I got posted by E-40 and some other people from The Bay.”

That song was Snoop Dogg’s 2015 Bush hit “Peaches N Cream” featuring Charlie Wilson. When Snoop re-posted the riveting clip to his own, things began to grow for Bankz from there.

He told me stories of him linking up with Bay Area producer Juneonnabeat and collaborating with him to make songs for Mozzy. All the producers and rappers from Sacramento to Oakland wanted to hit the studio with Bankz to work.

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