Mississippi's favorite son returns to walk the line.
Let's get a few points straight about David Banner. The "so-called gangsta rapper" holds a degree from Southern University. He has rhymed about a "child getting AIDS from getting fucked from the back", as well as a girl's sensual movements making "a n***a wanna fuck [her] ass on the couch". Finally, he has turned to both the Talmud and strippers for inspiration. Ah, complexity, how do I interpret thee? Conventional music journalism computes the above as such: duality equals complexity, but complexity can be either head-splitting or head-bangin'. Throw in subjective opinions and PR chatter, and the ultimate path appears rigged like a Choose Your Own Adventure tale. So, what's an analytical PopMatters student to do when listening to the new David Banner album?
Simple: just enjoy it!
The listener can let their guard down because Certified wears its pop art credentials clearly. Taking a page from the Jigga Book of Hustling, Banner uses his album to cultivate an identity that is part malleable public realm, but essentially a unique artist's space: the latest addition to the Mr. Collipark whisper rap series "Play" is the hook to make the booty go clap; appropriately, the self-produced fury of "Ain't Got Nothing" is both the follow-up and the Trojan Horse seed; dig deeper and the "token 'hey i'm conscious too'" "Ridin'" makes the backpackers go craaazy. Understandably, the album is musically uneven. However, what sells Certified is its confidence. The record is 100% hubris -- in the liners, Banner goes green under the spotlight and calls this his "best album -- ever" -- which is a sentiment both necessary and, more importantly, so sinsuur. That Banner knowingly controls his craft in this manner may not make Certified his best work, but certainly his most keen.
To keep from lacerating the listener with Banner's vigor, Certified eases into the cut. "Lost Souls" creeps through dark streets to the crunch of guitars and 808 pops while Lil' Jon's dark 'n' drum-heavy "Treat Me Like" tosses up crunk cups outside of the club. Like an aperitif to a party, the first third of the record begs to be screwed before entering the male peep show fantasy "Play". Like an eagerly awaited first course, the single packs a curious flavor and a welcome filling; or, a codeine dripping, future shock synth line and frighteningly hollow oil barrel hits. Dra-ma? No: Drama. The song is admittedly a snail's step forward from the "beat the pussy up" sentiment of "Wait" by singing praises, albeit misguided ("let me put some dick in your world"), of the fairer orgasm. However, the subtle shift in perspective and absurdly explicit imagery is the first hint of Banner's personality (that the video re-sexualizes the workout plan seems a deliberate affront to the FCC's neutering). Book-ended by Jazze Phizzle's laughably passable Kels karaoke "Fucking" and Banner's continued penance for his cousin's death on "Thinking of You", Certified's opening is a slow-mo tracking shot, a set up for the big payback.
The core of Banner -- mean muggin' in the name of Mississippi -- finally gets the Technicolor treatment mid-album. The star hits the field on "On Everything" with Eagles vs. Bulldogs, fourth quarter, four seconds left, third and goal, down by six intensity while Twista does tongue splits on the sidelines. Nothing but general go-for-delf themes, Banner pays no mind to repetition and simply expresses what's on his home's mind: "I will be reppin' the South 'til the day that I die." His production also shines noticeably henceforth, as on the gri-uh-gri-uh-gri-uh-gri-uh-grindin' "Ain't Got Nothing" and the for-whom-the-bells-toll banger "Bloody Walls". Admittedly, the album begins to lose cohesion when Banner drifts from topic to topic, at one point giving big ups to the left coast ("Westside"), then offering to relieve men of their ladyfriends ("Take Your", featuring Too $hort, Bun B and Jazze Pha), all while keeping his date with dead prez. and Talib Kweli on the visceral "Ridin'". Fortunately, most of the guests provide needed flavor on otherwise passable tracks, like Three 6 Mafia, Marcus and 8ball & MJG's posse power on the earlier "Gangster Walk". For Banner, filler fulfills familiar reference points, placating his audience before he engages them with further acts of passion, like the over-the-top-rope Kamikaze reunion "X-ed", all for the love of his home.
Certified's appeal lies in this tightrope act. Fully aware of his captive audience, Banner goes for broke to bring in as wide a swath as possible. The fact that tepid concessions are made becomes less a surprise and more an accepted consequence. The unusual aspect is that Banner's banner tracks carry the album. Perhaps it is experience (his career has followed a similar course where he established local and critical credentials early on as one half of the superb Crooked Lettaz duo, but has since sought a broader base with the hip-pop Southern cartel), perhaps it is just pure gumption, perhaps it is both, but Banner calls just attention to his work. And, as if to validate his constant message of pride, Banner's relief efforts for the recent hurricanes has only brought him another set of supporters. With a national fan base now intact, Banner will hopefully have leeway with his next move.
For more information on the role David Banner has played in the hurricane tragedies, please visit Heal the Hood.