Lloyd Banks has been making headlines lately, but not for his music. 50 Cent has gone on record in several interviews to say he hasn’t spoken to Lloyd Banks in over a year, stating that Banks is “on his own” and all but literally calling Banks either lazy or incompetent in handling his own career. Indeed, the (former) members of G-Unit have shown a surprising lack of enterprise in general, with Young Buck being an unfortunate example of why you don’t bite the hands that feed you, and Tony Yayo serving little more than the Memphis Bleek to 50 Cent’s Jay-Z. Still, Banks has kept somewhat busy, with 2010’s The Hunger for More 2 being a return to form, and The Cold Corner 2 dropping in 2011. However, with V6, Banks has an opportunity to show either prove 50 and other detractors wrong, or confirm his former boss’ discouraging statements.

“City of Sin” is truly something lovely, with its sinister organs and gritty drums. Lloyd Banks delivers on all levels, from his grimy verses to his outstanding hook. Young Chris comes off the milk carton for a spell with a energetic verse, to boot. “The Sprint” is a bit generic, with relatively forgettable bars and a synthy, but “Open Arms” is practically luminous, with phenomenal production courtesy of Doe Pesci. V6 gives a survey of the different styles Banks can pull off. He waxes about the finer points of the playboy life on “Bring It Back,” talks street shit on “We Run the Town,” and adds a touch of introspection on “Chosen Few,” where he rhymes, “I lost my pops in October, it made me colder / No longer able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder / You know when it’s over, no rewind, no controller / No degree, no diploma, just a heart of a soldier.” On the latter track, Jadakiss arrives with a typically reliable verse, cementing the cut as the project’s best.

One baffling aspect of this project is Banks’ vocal delivery. It’s appropriate that Banks has often been compared to Shyne, as both emcees have undergone stark changes in that department. Somehow, between The Hunger For More and V6, Banks’ pitch has become noticeably higher. Maybe Aftermath studio engineers do magic in the lab; maybe it’s a conscious decision. Either way, unless you’ve never heard Banks rhyme before, it’s eminently distracting. Still, this can’t detract from the fact that this is one of the better-produced mixtapes of the years. Banks understands how to bring a cohesive sound to a project, even if he insists on a grating delivery.

Ultimately, if Lloyd Banks wants to return to Hip Hop’s shortlist of in-demand emcees, V6 won’t be the project that launches him there. However, it’s a solid release that suggests maybe he has more left to say. Perhaps 50 Cent, who struggles with relevance in 2012, shouldn’t be so hasty to cast Lloyd Banks aside, as the latter has found a way to continue making hard-hitting street music in 2012.

DX Consenus: “EP-worthy”

Listen to V6: The Gift by Lloyd Banks