David Banner journeys to the opposite end of the Rap-o-sphere on his fifth studio album. Where every album prior showcased the Mississippi emcee’s skills behind the mic and the boards, he hands production duties over to 9th Wonder this time out, allowing the North Carolina beat-miner to craft the score to the spaceship ride that is Death Of A Pop Star.
It only takes 30 minutes for Banner to completely redefine his lyrical reputation. He’s always been a skillfully aggressive rapper, but hearing him relentlessly attack track after track with varying styles and levels of introspection -- dropping dime after dime like Hugh Hefner -- over 9th’s snare heavy, east coast sound is the truest testament to his range as a rapper yet seen.
His suicidal thoughts speak for the millions still suffering through the current Great Recession on “Diamonds On My Pinky”. “Dreams of screaming demons hearing death whisper 'Hello' / My shell’s strong / My soul is Green Lantern wearing yellow / Hella weak," he raps over the album opener’s haunting choir and charging bass line, then closing the song with six of the year’s realest bars:
“Bang / It’s the same damn thang / The Boys Clubs are closing while they building PF Chang’s / Look it at your pinky ring / It got souls on it man...But I’m from Mississippi where you let your nuts hang / And where the white folks let my ancestors do the same”
It’s an awesome verse, really. One of many that shapes Death of A Pop Star’s beautiful struggle motif. The rich, soulful production feels celebratory throughout, while the weighty, visceral content fosters introspection, demanding repeated listens. “The richer that you get the more you turn away from God / And the poorer that you are the more you steal because it’s hard / We hope for the precious like smeagol living regal,” Banner kicks Redman style on “No Denying (Channel 3)” . 9th’s emphatic organs and electronic blips on “The Light” are raucous enough to incite a riot while lines like “Yeah they twisted religion / Made Satan a Christian / Gave us Barack Obama, then we fell off the mission” are enough to incite a riot for a cause.
“Something Is Wrong” (featuring Lisa Ivey) is sonically generic, but Banner’s vivid depiction of a conversation with a homosexual is simultaneously gut wrenching and enlightening -- the type of verse that opens minds through it’s visceral honesty.
“Women playing men but why do men play women? / I saw one in Ugg boots and real tight denims / Man, he had Apple Bottoms on / So I walked over to him and asked ‘what’s wrong?’...He said ‘David Banner I remember when he raped me / Taped me to the bed / Binded both legs / I blanked out and woke up in a pool of red / Changed my whole world / I guess my stepdad thought that I should’ve been a girl’”
Even the chick track’s rock right any day of the week. Banner impresses on “Be With You” by nearly matching wits with guest Ludacris -- never an easy feat, especially over a backdrop that sounds custom made for the Atlanta lyricist. Anthony Hamilton croons lovely on “Stutter” as DB stutter-steps his affections for a breezy across the room. “Silly” sounds perfect with it’s quintessential 9th Wonder beat and Erykah Badu on the hook. 9th’s lone verse here is surprisingly fresh, feeling like a victory lap of sorts considering he largely laced Death of A Pop Star with an expansive array of audio dopeness.
“Slow Down,” with Banner’s strategically placed breaks in his breakneck double time delivery and ho-hum production sounds hoky, corny even. And the “Mas 4” beat steals the spotlight, relegating Banner to the background. Those are the album’s only immediate speed bumps, unfortunate albatrosses on an overall tour de force that impressively offers something for everyone while remaining uncompromising.
Death Of A Pop Star is arguably David Banner’s best work to date, and certainly the most digestible to those jarred by the Crooked Lettaz' front-man's production. Additionally, this is 9th Wonder's most complete pet project since Murray's Revenge. It’s brevity is balanced by a high quality collection of songs screaming replay value throughout. The album is both diverse and earnest, commanding and club ready. Above all, it places the Mississippi emcee’s mic skills front and center, highlighting his ability to captivate lyrically and stylistically over beats he’s never approached previously. The pop star may be dead, but David Banner and 9th Wonder are still shining; shining brighter than ever.