Lloyd Banks has channeled his spirit animal to unlock beast mode on All or Nothin’: Live It Up. The DJ Drama-sanctioned mixtape’s subtitle may not be the most appropriate, given the lack of hype tracks and the downbeat production but Banks has succeeded in pumping the heartbeat of New York into a collection of gully music.
The G-Unit Soldier is rejuvenated lyrically, and packs in enough complex wordplay and double entendres to merit several listens to take it all in. Where other rappers would make a straightforward statement, Banks always is looking for a creative way to rhyme. “Money ties without restraint, paper promiscuous/Hollows have you rollin’ on the floor, make you look ticklish,” he spits on tape triumph “Insomniac.” Couplets like these elevate standard fare braggadocio to engaging bars. They also keep fresh a mixtape that is heavy on boasting, whether he’s relishing in his veteran status alongside Prodigy on “Seniorities” or gleefully chasing paper on “Bags of Gold.” It’s clear Banks is tired of being underrated. The line “They say the goals impossible I’ma try/I’ve been grinding too long and it’s time to fly” on “Insomniac” is one of several inspiring declarations. The only major drawback of his ultra-lyricism is that it limits him as a hook writer. The hook on “Land of Opportunity,” for instance, sounds more like a mini-verse than a catchy refrain.
All or Nothin’: Live It Up also finds Banks spending time in the proverbial mirror examining the pockmarks of his past. “Do or Die” examines relationships gone by the wayside, while “Transitions” similarly speaks of friends banished from his circle of trust. A younger Banks may have plastered these songs with disdain, but an older, wiser Christopher Lloyd is more melancholic than angry. It’s not all tattoos and teardrops, though. He is at his most compelling when he’s rhyming about the opposite sex. The man who has released hardcore tracks like “NY, NY” may not be expected to comfortably dwell in the realm of love. Yet, he makes “Miserable” and “Bad Weather” work because he adapts the topic to his style, not the other way around.
Banks taps into the core of the Rotten Apple to back his rhymes. Gloomy basslines and raw, hard-hitting drums from lesser-known yet capable producers such as Tha Jerm, Mr. Authentic and Doe Pesci all provide a minimalistic vibe. A slow tempo and ghostly cries make for a strong opener on “Pledge of Allegiance.” Poignant strings set an elegant tone for “Do or Die.” Yet, the production is almost exclusively subdued. For how re-energized Banks is on the mic, this tape would have done well with some lively cuts to balance out the low-key mood. The songs are mid-tempo at their fastest, creating a cohesive feel which also limits the number of standouts.
Fortunately, Banks includes well-placed features for some much-needed variation. Joe Budden shines with a thoughtful verse on “Transitions,” but “Work Hard” suffers from a bout of Tony Yayo-itis.
It’s quite clear that Banks wants his due — “Parrying my parasites I should have five mics for this one,” he raps on “Holy Water.” While not worthy of the elusive top DX rating, All or Nothin’: Live It Up should leave no doubt of his status as an elite wordsmith. It also proves that the hunger for more still has not been satiated.