Lay Bankz Talks ‘Tell Ur Girlfriend’ Success, Taking Notes from Beyoncé & Repping Eritrea

Your biggest haters are often your biggest fans, and few people know that better than Lay Bankz


At just 19 years old, the Philly native is part of a generation that’s acutely aware of how they are perceived. Thanks to social media, they hear – and sometimes internalize – every last compliment and piece of criticism. But it takes an artist like Lay Bankz to harness the beast that is the Internet, and transform it into a self-promotional tool to fully realize her childhood dreams. 

“I’ve always known this is what I wanted to do since I was a baby, and everybody around me can vouch for that,” she says over Zoom. “I’ve been doing this my whole life. This is nothing new. I played the violin, I played piano, I was in orchestra, I was in vocal [lessons], I did musical theater, I took poem classes and I learned how to write poems and write raps. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.” 

Before the sugary ‘00s-indebted “Tell Ur Girlfriend” conquered TikTok and became her first Billboard Hot 100 entry (No. 58), Bankz’s “Ick” took the Internet by storm – for better and for worse. Despite vocal critics deriding the lyrics and sound, as well as her hip-rocking Jersey club-inspired dance moves in the accompanying music video, “Ick” became the soundtrack to over 200,000 TikToks, reaching No. 8 on the TikTok Billboard Top 50 and earning 73.1 million official on-demand U.S. streams, according to Luminate. 

“Ick” followed a string of smaller regional hits that flaunted Bankz’s versatility, and its success even landed her a surprise performance at Houston rapper Monaleo’s 2023 tour, during which the headliner brought out Bankz alongside fellow ascendant female rappers Cleotrapa, Maiya the Don and Connie Diiamond to perform their respective hits during her Brooklyn stop. Bankz’s performance of “Ick” was electrifying; if people weren’t convinced of her star power before, her seemingly effortless balance in spitting verses and executing full-body choreography certainly changed their minds. 

A gifted rapper and singer, Bankz’s growing catalog pulls from myriad genres and influences, but R&B and hip-hop — by way of ‘00s heavyweights like Beyoncé, Ye (fka Kanye West) and Brandy – reign supreme. Those influences shine through on “Tell Ur Girlfriend,” which leveraged its Timbaland-nodding production to success beyond TikTok, landing on additional Billboard rankings such as Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (No. 17), R&B/Hip-Hop Streaming Songs (No. 10) and Hot Rap Songs (No. 14). “Girlfriend” has logged 53.4 million on-demand official U.S. streams since its Feb. 7 release. 

Between her live performance abilities, her ear for melody, her innate understanding of how to most effectively use the Internet and a support system in Artist Placement Group (APG) and manager Kenney Blake – whom she connected with after he challenged her to sing on the spot in front of a crowded barbershop — Bankz has collected practically every infinity stone necessary to ensure that she’s “here for a good time and a long time.” 

Billboard spoke with May’s R&B/Hip-Hop Rookie of the Month about her “messy” relationship with music, putting on for the Eritrean girlies, and her favorite songs from the Kendrick LamarDrake beef.

Walk me through how you created “Tell Ur Girlfriend.” 

I make songs based off of real-life experiences and “Tell Ur Girlfriend” is truthfully something that I went through. At the time, I knew what I was going through, but I didn’t have a song for it, and I feel like I have a song for everything at this point. Well, at least I’ve made a song for everything. I walked in the studio with Johnny Goldstein and Ink – a dope producer and a dope writer —  and I told both of them, “Yo, I had this idea!” Johnny played me the chords for “Tell Your Girlfriend,” but there weren’t any drums. 

I’m like, “I want to talk about how I’m feeling right now, and I basically sat there with Ink and Johnny for two hours before we made the song and I broke down the situation that I was going through. We were sitting there like, Alright bet like this is what we’re going to talk about. 

I got on the mic, freestyled some melodies, came up with some things that I liked and then [Ink] helped me write some lyrics and piece together the hook. I freestyled verses, so I just went in and said how I felt. I actually had to re-record [the song] from the first time I recorded it because I felt like some things needed to be changed to make it a little more truthful. It was probably a two-week process to get this song where I really wanted it to be, but I actually recorded [it] two months before I dropped it. 

Do you ever feel nervous or scared to get that personal on the mic? 

Not really, because I feel like music is an outlet for conversation, and it’s also a way for me to express myself when I feel like I can’t. Getting on the mic and saying how I feel is never the hard part. Saying how I feel on a regular basis without the microphone is where it be hard for me. 

So far, “Tell Ur Girlfriend” has peaked at No. 58 on the Hot 100. Congratulations! What does an achievement like that mean to you? 

Honestly, it’s a blessing and it feels like a dream. I’ve been working! Me and my manager met each other five years ago and I signed my deal two years ago — we just been working really hard. I prayed for this and everything that’s happening for me. It don’t feel too unrealistic or surreal, because when you work towards something your whole life — I’ve been singing since I was 3 — and then it starts happening, you don’t really realize it’s happening until the big moment. I feel like I’m having so many big moments and every time I think I got my biggest moment, I always get that new big moment.

You really do tend to eclipse your big moments with even bigger ones, even when you were gaining traction online as a personality. How do you think you’ve used the Internet to your advantage? 

I think the Internet is a playground, and it makes everything easier to market yourself if you use it the right way. [It’s] a gift and a curse, because without it, I think we would be back in the old times where star quality was higher — like Michael Jackson star quality, where people faint when they see artists. Stuff like that doesn’t happen anymore, because if someone wants to see you, they could just see you on their cell phones. And there’s beauty in that. There’s also a downside to it, but it’s really been the easiest way [for me] to promote myself. I control my social media narrative, and nobody could convince me otherwise. 

Has your relationship with the Internet evolved in light of your recent success? 

Honestly, I don’t find it stressful now. I think when I first started, it was more stressful, because I wasn’t used to all the attention and people commenting on my everyday life, how I look, how I dress and what I do. Then again, I’m from Philly, so people judge you by everything and that’s just how we are here. I got a tougher skin.

The Internet really can’t get to me, because at the end of the day, don’t none of these people know me in real life. All y’all doing is streaming my music and that’s helping me. I learned that [by] being yourself unapologetically, you’re going to be more happy than trying to please a bunch of people on the Internet who don’t know you anyway. 

You mentioned growing up in Philly, which, of course, has its own lit music scene. What are your earliest musical memories of your hometown and what from Philly do you want to carry with you throughout your career? 

My earliest memory of music is probably being in the car with my mom on our way to daycare. We would listen to albums on top of albums early in the morning because she worked outside of the city. She wanted me to go to this really good daycare, so we used to drive 45 minutes outside the city every morning. I remember her playing a bunch of Beyoncé, and that’s one of the reasons why Beyoncé is one of my favorites. We listened to Keyshia Cole a lot, Sevyn Streeter, a lot of what was popping in the early 2000s. 

What I want to take with me from the music scene from Philly is that authenticity, never losing sight of who I truly am. Everybody from Philly is truly unique, and I think growing up in such a nitty-gritty city, if you’re not yourself, they’ll knock you down for not being yourself and they gon’ try and say you trying to be like somebody else. I’d die before I try to be like anybody else and I mean it. 

You’re also putting on for the Eritrean girlies. What does it mean to you to be able to pursue your dreams to this extent, while still honoring all the different parts of your identity? 

I think it’s amazing because there’s not that many of us — Habesha, Eritrean, Ethiopian people – in the industry. Putting on for Eritrea and letting people know, Hey, this is a country! This is where I’m from, what I grew up eating, what I grew up learning, this is my second language, this is a part of me. 

That’s super important to me — because I got family in Eritrea that watch me on their phones, and don’t have half the things that I have, or aren’t as fortunate as a lot of people that I know. I want to let them know that they can do this too, it don’t matter where you’re from, what you look like, or anything. Anybody can do this as long as you believe in yourself! 

You signed with APG in 2022. What drew you to them and why did you decide to stay independent? 

I felt like [APG] really cared about my artist development. When I first signed, I wasn’t ready. I’m only 19 now, so I still have so much room to grow. When I signed, I just turned 18. Signing with APG was a decision based off of [knowing] that they’ll care about me growing as an artist and not just me coming as what I am. I feel like since I’ve signed, I’ve grown so much from being over there and big shoutout to my manager too because he did his research on APG before he went over there. 

Your big song before “Tell Ur Girlfriend” was “Ick.” Did you learn anything from that song and its success that you brought to the campaign for “Tell Ur Girlfriend?” 

When I first posted “Ick,” nobody liked it! I kind of shied away from it because I was like, Wow, nobody likes it — oh s—t, am I doing something wrong? In reality, I’m just being myself. I didn’t let it get to me, so I’m like, All right, I’m still going to promote, I’m just not going to feed into it. But when I start looking at the bigger picture, I [decided to] start replying to hate comments with videos of myself. When I started doing that, I started controlling the narrative. Whether y’all like me, hate me or whatever, y’all still listening to it. 

“Tell Ur Girlfriend” was the same thing. When the song really started blowing up, everybody was making comments like, “Oh, we can’t condone cheating songs.” I’m like, “Whatever, y’all listen to Keyshia Cole’s ‘I Should’ve Cheated’ and y’all listen to ‘Break Up With Your Girlfriend’ by Ariana Grande.” Music is a form of expression. There are people who felt exactly what I said in the song and they’re just afraid to say it. I’m not afraid to say those things. Once I really leaned into not being afraid to say what it is that I felt and stand on it, I think that’s when it really changed for me. 

What is it about your relationship with music that gives you that kind of fearlessness to say what you want to say? 

Music is my first love. I’ll be mad and I’ll be like, oh my God, I don’t want to do this no more, but, in reality, I wouldn’t want to be anything else. I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. When I cry, I could cry in the booth and cry on the song. When I’m in love, I can be so in love and make a love song so beautiful that every time I listen to the song, I feel the embodiment of that emotion, just from my lyrics. I think that’s powerful. My relationship with music is intricate and it’s messy, but it’s my first love. Music is always going to be that. 

What’s the messiest thing about your relationship with music? 

I think that it’s not perfect, but nothing is perfect. And I’m not perfect. Sometimes, I might get writer’s block, or I might be so hurt and so mad that I make a song and it feels so good because I’m letting my emotions out… but then I can’t never listen to the song again because it might hurt me too much to listen [it]. At this point, throughout the five years of me making music, I have over 10,000 songs, and all of them are unique and mean something to me. I don’t know what I’m going to wake up and want to talk about. I don’t know [how] I’m going to wake up and feel tomorrow or how I’m going to go in the booth. It’s messy because it’s all over the place. 

Was there a particular song or moment that confirmed that music is what you wanted to do with your life? 

I think I just keep having moments [and] that’s the difference between the elevator and the steps. The elevator, you get on and it takes you to the next floor. It’s no journey. You’re just going straight up. And when you go straight up, you will come straight back down. I feel like I’m taking the stairs and every time I step on a new stair, and I get to the next floor, I’m getting to another milestone and entering another era of my career and life. You don’t know that your life is changing until it is changing. 

“Na Na Na” was the moment. Before “Na Na Na,” I had “Left Cheek,” and before “Left Cheek” I had “Boyfriend N. 2,” and before that I had “Cmonnn” and even before that I had songs that were lit in the city. I’m having moment after moment, because I’m taking the stairs. The stairs don’t mean nothing but longevity to me.

When it comes to making music, shooting music videos and crafting your live show, who are your biggest influences? 

I have to say Beyoncé, 1000%. I love Beyoncé, just from growing up and seeing her artist development from Destiny’s Child to now. I went to the Renaissance Tour, and it was amazing. I literally could not believe it. I was so astonished. I just love Beyoncé! Everything about how she performs and how she gets on the stage is so captivating when you see her. You can’t look at anything else and she makes you believe what she’s saying. You believe how she’s performing and how she’s dancing. That’s really what inspired me to be the performer I am. I’m still growing and I’m still learning, but if I’m going to be like anybody, it’s gon’ be like her.

As an MC, I gotta ask you this, who you got in this Drake and Kendrick Lamar battle? 

Ohh man. Both of them are really OGs in the game. I really don’t have a pick. I think both of them are really amazing rappers and I love both of their music. I listen to Drake faithfully, and Kendrick got some hits that I really f—k with. I’m not going to say, Oh, such and such is killing such, because I feel like they both throwing some crazy s—t out there. I f—k with both of them. 

True. Which track have you liked the most out of all the ones that we’ve gotten? 

[Sings, “Drop and give me fiftyyyy” from Drake’s “Push Ups.”] S—t was crazy! [Laughs.] “Euphoria” was crazy too, so it’s kinda hard to pick. But off rip, Imma say that jawn, [“Push Ups.”] 

So what’s next for Lay Bankz? When can we expect your next project? 

My project will actually be coming out in a few weeks at the end of May. It’s raw and it’s me and it’s uncut. Versus my first project, Now You See Me, I feel like this project is way more innovative. I really sat down and thought about how I wanted my project to sound and how I wanted it to feel. I got the most raw, uncut version of After Seven – that’s the title of my project. This is going to be the project where people really have open ears, and I’m standing on that. People going to really listen to this jawn, and I’m believing in that. 

What’s one thing you want to have five years from now? 

I want to be able to put the people that I love in a better situation. I think I got a lot of people that rely on and expect a lot from and out of me. Without my people, I’m nothing. I just want to make sure that in the next five years, whether I’m giving them a job or I’m buying a car or a house, it’s all for the people who helped get me where I’m at today. 

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