Of G-Unit's core four (50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, Young Buck, Tony Yayo), only Banks and Buck seem concerned with carving out careers as rappers. 50's busy trying to figure out this media-mogul role he's apparently inherited; Yayo couldn't ride a beat if it came with handlebars and a fucking bike seat. Stack Banks and Buck against each other, and Buck is actually the much better and more interesting emcee -- fluid Southern drawl, reserved on the mike, great guest spots. Banks is no slouch, though; I can't remember the last Young Buck song I heard, yet I seem to find Blue Heffner putting out a new track every other week. 50's declaration that G-Unit is going through a changing of the guard on "The Work Out Pt. 4," from Banks's Mo' Money in the Bank Part 4 mixtape, is easily the most accurate thing he's said since 2003.
Mo' Money doesn't offer enough proof that Banks is ready to carry the weight (and with recent abortions from Yayo and Mobb Deep, not to mention 50's failed venture into films, that's a helluva load). But the mixtape makes for a good reintroduction and leaves behind a choice selection of cuts that will, I hope, make it onto his upcoming album, Rotten Apple.
Lyrically, Banks hasn't evolved one bit; it's still money, cash, cars and duck huntin' season, spun through a deadpan flow of punch lines that are sometimes more chilling than funny. But he feels more in his element this time around, and he's taken a renewed interest (or simply gotten lucky) with his beats. It takes five tracks before we hear him spit (what is this, Doggystyle?), but once Banks gets rolling, it's highlight after highlight, with a few annoying exceptions. The ridiculous first single, "My House," featuring funky-headhunter screeches from Timbaland, is promising, one of those stilted ill-bombs that sound like they required hours of coaxing on the part of the producer. "Take a Picture" is movie-screen big, bells and strings jousting and Lloyd along for the ride; ditto on "1 Shot Deal," this time with Kraftwerk-synths and fat snares. "I'm Back" and "The Rush" borrow unexpectedly (and welcomingly) from '90s smiles (OutKast's "Y'all Scared" and Lil' Kim's "Drugs," respectively); even mike-time from Yayo can't ruin the eerie, Hell on Earth-inspired "Killas Theme."
Predictably, Banks still holds back -- the reliance on familiar lyrical staples mentioned earlier; pointless gangsta-movie dialogue (GoodFellas, Pulp Fiction -- come on); drops from Donald Trump, Jamie Foxx, and, um, Dan Ackroyd that serve as transparent reaffirmation of Lloyd's perceived relevance and dominance. But "My House" is good enough to be hated by the end of the summer, and I read that Rotten Apple has tracks with Rakim, Scarface and Eightball. So I'm excited again. Looks like the best -- or the best things to talk about, at least -- are clearly yet to come.
Lloyd Banks Web site: http://www.lloydbanks.com/
Shadyville Entertainment Web site: http://www.shadyville.biz/Streaming audio: http://www.myspace.com/lloydbanks
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