When Springfield-born rapper Ano Bank$ first connected with Chicago-based producer Martin $ky in 2018, it was the first time Bank$  — aka Anthony Travis Jr. —  had clarity about his artistic direction. 

“I always knew I was a good rapper, but my songs wasn’t hitting for shit,” Bank$ said. “It wasn’t until working with Martin $ky that I felt like I found my own sound. It was the first time I felt like I was making something that people would hear and say ‘I hope he has other music that sounds similar to this.’”

The product of their first studio sessions together were the 2018 singles “Give-n-Go” and “Trading Places,” which are still two of Bank$ most popular songs on streaming services. These singles set the stage for Bank$ to lean into the energetic delivery —combined with melodic crooning— that he’s become known for. Stories of his musical upbringing add precedence to what you hear when you throw his discography on shuffle. On “Trading Places,” for example, he raps the lyrics, “Places I traded, took my life and gave it a facelift/ foot on the gas bi— I’m racing, money took time and some patience,” as his church choir roots shine through on the harmonizing that accompany his bars about the changes he has experienced throughout his life. 

Up until collaborating with $ky, the last time Ano Bank$ had experienced such clarity in his direction as an artist was when his primary job was cutting hair. When he got his barber license in 2011, he used it to save his life. 

Since that moment of clarity, 30-year-old Bank$ has spent his days balancing a barbering career on top of building a music career and most importantly, raising a family. When we talked on April 15 at his home barbershop, Dave’s Cut Above in Riverdale, Ill., where he’s been cutting hair for seven years, he was a couple of weeks removed from dropping his latest project, Low End Theory LP, in March.

He explained the upbringing that imbued him with the spirit to keep up the balancing act, and how that life led him to a music career. He began his story in his childhood home of Springfield, Ill., where life was anything but simple. 

“Nipsey [Hussle] said it, bro; ‘If your life ain’t rapper worthy, you can’t be a rapper.’ I have a lot of shit to rap about,” he said. “I was a real street kid. I really had to get everything on my own. When I say, I didn’t have anybody in my corner, I mean, as a kid, there was nobody on a day-to-day helping me out, helping me get through the day. There was this neighborhood church that gave out plates that I would go to to eat.” 

From age 10 up until his early teens, Ano Bank$’ mother suffered from drug and alcohol addiction, which led to his two older brothers being removed from their home and placed into the foster care system. But he ended up staying at home for reasons he still doesn’t understand. 

“My grandma was the minister of music at my church, and she had me singing soprano in the choir,” Ano Bank$ said. “I was a music head when I was a kid. I grew up listening to a lot of Green Day, System of a Down, and Aerosmith because of my mom. She didn’t listen to a lot of rap, but her favorite rapper was DMX. Looking back, it makes a lot of sense, considering the similarities, both of them being recovering drug addicts.”

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the streets of Springfield where Ano Bank$ lived were drug-addled, high-crime areas — no place for a fourth grader to wander around unsupervised. For a long time, his only place of refuge was the barbershop on 14th and South Grand where his older cousin Yakeema worked. 

“My big cousin, who was old enough to be my uncle, was a barber. He knew my mom was smoking crack at the time, so he used to just let me sit in there all day long,” Ano Bank$ recalled. “The barbershop was the first place I really got knowledge that I wanted. It’s the first place I learned about Black excellence, the history of Egyptians, all types of shit.”

As a shorty, Ano Bank$ never considered barbering as a career choice despite kicking it at the shop pretty much daily. If you’d have asked him then, he would have said he wanted to be a photographer or an orthodontist (because they make a lot of money and he likes to make people smile).

For a long time, Ano Bank$' only place of refuge was the barbershop on 14th and South Grand where his older cousin Yakeema worked. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

But finally, Ano Bank$ settled on becoming an NFL player, and played running back and safety for Lanphier High School in Springfield. In 2008, he left Springfield to attend the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill., on a football scholarship. 

While there, he met a rapper named Lee Major, along with a musician named Kay Flo, who had a studio in her room. While at college, he became acquainted with making music and tapping into the musical wisdom he’d gained in passing throughout his life.

Those sessions in Joliet with Flo and Major were Ano Bank$’ introduction to rapping and songwriting, and they unearthed a desire for music making. However, in 2009, he learned some devastating news that would compel him to sideline both his football and musical aspirations. 

“I was playing football and making lil songs with my homies. Then my mom told me she got diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer; it had spread to her brain and lungs primarily,” Ano Bank$ said. This was the second time his mother had been diagnosed with cancer. The first time was while he was in high school just after she had reached sobriety. 

“When she told me about it, she made it seem like it wasn’t that bad,” he said. “When I came home, I could tell that it was bad.” His mother passed away on July 2, 2009, four weeks after he had returned from school.

While grieving, Bank$ missed the deadline to renew his scholarship, and was unable to return to St. Francis to play football. Distraught over his mother’s passing and family conflict, along with having just had a daughter, an overwhelmed Bank$ dipped off to stay with a college friend at his family’s place in Chicago. He said the entire year of 2010 is like a blur in his memory from all the compounded trauma. 

“I was supposed to be going to community college, but I didn’t do it. In 2011, my auntie called me crying one day, like, ‘You gotta do something with your life,’’’ he said. “Since I was a kid I’ve always felt this generational weight, like, it’s on me to do something better for my family.”

Ano Bank$ has been cutting hair for seven years at Dave’s Cut Above in Riverdale, Ill. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

A barbering school had just opened up in Springfield, so Bank$ returned to get his barber license and use a microphone that his auntie bought him to record music at the crib. 

At the time, Bank$’ college sweetheart was carrying his son, his second child. “I think one of the main things that grounded me was this feeling of wanting to do better for my son,” he said. So he started barber school at the end of 2011— but it came with a catch. 

“My son’s mother was worried that if my music career took off that it would interfere with our family,” he said. “So I made the decision to not make music for a while.”

From about 2012 to 2016, Bank$ didn’t write or record music at all, and was only able to find escape from the woes of his tumultuous domestic life when he was cutting hair. 

“I could come to the barbershop and not think about it. Every time I get done with a cut it makes me feel a little better. Even if I was feeling like a terrible boyfriend, or a terrible dad, those haircuts were small wins,” he said. Bank$ split up with his son’s mother in 2016 when they were living in Riverdale. He moved into the apartment above the barber shop where he worked, the one he still works at to this day. 

“I was at a point where I had to rediscover what I like to do, what I want to do. I love rapping,” he said. “I would get off work at the shop and have nothing to do, so I was just making music in the crib. I got cool with some younger guys around the shop who were recording at their spot down the street.”

He created his first mixtape, The Shop, in 2017 while living above the barber shop. Then, Bank$’ friend Evan Brown, from back home in Springfield, was making waves as a photographer and videographer. 

Brown, aka Dirt, is perhaps most identifiable by his work with Saba Pivot, whom he worked with as a tour photographer. “Evan put me on to his homie Martin $ky, who was a former rapper turned producer,” Bank$ said. “Martin $ky had the studio setup in the back of East Room. He brought me back there, and we took off from there.”

On his 11-track project, Low End Theory LP, released in March, he joins forces with producer Chirashe to create songs that aren’t just optimized for live performance, but replicate the intensity of Bank$’ live sets. Typically songs like “Cottage Grove” would’ve been a live-show standout with the accompaniment of a band backing Bank$’ smooth, slightly slurred vocals, which he uses to sing the praises of a shorty from Cottage. 

While Bank$’ music career is still in its early stages, his daily routine still starts with cutting at the shop, then coaching his son’s football team. He said there is a sense of urgency to reach success in music. It is the same hustle that came from having to fend for himself as a kid in Springfield— compounded with a need to provide a better way for his family— that keeps him pushing towards the future he envisions; one where he just gets to rap and coach his son in football.

“I have to treat my legacy like it’s important. There are too many things stacked against us to make sure we don’t succeed for me not to care,” he said, as he takes a moment to admire the pictures he has of his mother, father and his kids. “I want to raise my kids so that they couldn’t imagine experiencing the same shit I did as a shorty.”

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.