[6 December 2010]
Of all the New York sequels lined up in the wake of Only Built for Cuban Linx… 2, I’m fairly certain Hunger for More 2 ranks near the bottom of the anticipation list. Lloyd Banks was always the G-Unit member that promised the longest longevity - unable to create a real pop hit and too self-conscious to go full on pop - and he’s done an admirable job over the past decade avoiding a taint on his legacy. But this is still more of an indictment on 50 Cent than Lloyd Banks. No one else in the crew was painted as a savior of hardcore NYC hip-hop, and as G-Unit releases over the years have proved none of the group’s MCs seem up to the challenge. We will always remember fondly the months following Eminem’s Eminem Show during which Lloyd Banks made Ja Rule his personal whipping boy, emphasizing one of the last moments rap beef was powerful enough to mark and end careers. But whether you consider Banks an extremely limited MC trapped in the muck of late-90’s gangster posturing or a guy upholding one of the last “real rap” crews in hip-hop, Hunger for More 2 is probably hard to take as an album that barely meets if not underperforms on expectations.
First of all, there’s “Beamer, Benz or Bentley”. While “Warrior, Pt. 2” and “On Fire” were big-time on street radio, they’re nothing compared to the fire that ignited Banks’ latest hit. It was as if the guy had never had a chance to burst onto the scene yet. While much of the song is propelled by SoundZ’s manic take on club rap, filling the beat with timebomb 808’s and glass-clearing bass, it’s not like Banks and guest Juelz Santana go soft on it. The song has dominated national radio since its debut in early-summer, but mostly acts as a red herring for most of the album that surrounds it.
Where that song takes a humorous, extravagant look at gangster-oriented single rap, the rest of the album tries hard to both match that song’s success and avoid it’s vibe. The two G-Unit tag teams at the beginning of the album, “Take ‘Em to War” and “Payback”, forbode an album that might hearken somewhat towards the group’s heyday. But as the album rolls along, personal promises from Banks and guest artist Kanye West that Hunger for More 2 would be amazing, fall short of the mark. Most troublesome is that, despite fairly decent production that avoids the common modern trap of New Yorkers trying to sound like ATLiens, Banks rarely makes an effort to prove Hunger for More 2 is more than a mixtape with national distribution to him. His voice is perfect for the ride-or-die crowd, but too often Banks takes a direction akin to Fabolous’ pop rap exploits that just feels awkward. The guy has a voice that simply sounds like murder; for him to rap about woman is, whether realistic or not, simply awkward to listen to. Jeremih takes this to the extreme, as he seems to play the Mary J. Blige to Banks’ Method Man, which is all good musically but Jeremih is, in reality, a man.
Most confusing is “Father Time”. Not only is the chorus an interpolation of KiD CuDi’s “Soundtrakk to My Life”, an artist you’d figure Banks has no business imitating, but the lyrics find Banks admitting a place of weakness I don’t think he’s equipped to describe. His vibe fairs better on tracks like the follow up, “Start It Up”, which again follows Fabolous’ blueprint with features from Ryan Leslie and Swizz Beatz while somehow avoiding the things that got him in trouble on “So Forgetful” and later tracks like “Celebrity”, “Any Girl” and “I Don’t Deserve You”. In fact, it’s shocking how much the back half of the LP relies on R&B hooks that soften Lloyd Banks’ image and take away from the blunt nature of his delivery. Where most listeners would probably prefer him over stark, Havoc-like beats, instead we meet Banks again and again on a platform of massively psychedelic synths and club bass. It’s hard to ignore he’s found an interesting sound here - “Celebrity” in particular - it’s just incredibly difficult to assert Banks is the best MC for the mission. All too often listeners are presented with a solo album marred by invisible verses from the title character followed by interchangeable hooks from the guest stars. Hunger for More 2 is a nice comeback for Lloyd Banks, an artist many properly assumed was doomed to the mixtape market. But after more than few spins, I think it becomes fairly clean Banks doesn’t need to exceed the mixtape market. Not only is his voice most comfortable there, but his aesthetic is the least disorienting compared to what he wants to do in the retail landscape and his non sequiturs feel more substantive when they come without an MSRP.