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Certified crunk
The dichotomy of David Banner
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David Banner's official Web site

Itís funny, how differently two people can view $50,000. In November 2003, Eminem protégé 50 Cent announced that four lucky fans would have a chance to become "a part of G-Unit" when they bought his crewís debut album, Beg for Mercy (Interscope). Hidden within special copies would be "golden tickets" redeemable for one of four spinning, diamond-encrusted G-Unit medallions, valued at $12,500 apiece. A few months later, Mississippi rapper and former Crooked Lettaz member David Banner unveiled his own golden-ticket contest: randomly inserted into the first 300,000 units of his CD, MTA2: Baptized in Dirty Water (Universal), were five $10,000 certificates. The catch? Whether for themselves, a friend, or a family member, winners could use the money only toward paying for a college education.

Okay, so maybe the way two guys in the same profession can use the same amount of money to such utterly different ends is more sad than funny. But itís also completely indicative of the way that David Banner functions within todayís mainstream-rap game. Since arriving on the scene in 1999 as half of Mississippi duo Crooked Lettaz, Banner ó born Lavell Crump, and himself a college graduate with a masterís degree in education ó has quietly built a reputation as both an energetic, foul-mouthed MC and a near-genius-level beatmaker. And though rapper/producers are in no short supply, Bannerís raw talent has set him apart from and propelled him ahead of his peers. Whatís more, the man comes across as having little-to-no ego, while maintaining a seemingly immeasurable pride in the state that raised him. Banner himself put it succinctly on Mississippi: The Album (Universal): "Iím a man before Iím a motherfuckiní rapper."

On Certified (Universal), the prolific Southernerís third album in as many years, Banner shows both sides of the man that he is. Call the left side the Beast, because when Banner speaks from his heart, he growls, yelps, barks. He has an uncanny ability to shout seemingly tossed-off, blunt phrases that rattle around inside your head for days and leave you to ponder. On opener "Lost Souls" ó the first of many Certified tracks to feature Bannerís new guitar-laden mode of production ó the man sounds conflicted, both jubilant and mournful, as he shouts out: "This is for the ones who ainít never had shit/Thatís why we get crunk in this bitch." Itís a different way to view the crunk lifestyle, all stripclubíd and Grey Gooseíd: not as a byproduct of wealth and decadence, but as a form of escapism necessitated by poverty and oppression. (After all, while Banner carries on with the song, a barely audible chorus emerges from the squall of guitars, chanting, "Save our souls.") This is not to say that the Beast need always be so socially conscious: on two of the albumís finest tracks ó the brutal "Gangster Walk" and synth-flossiní "Ainít Got Nothing" ó Banner and his crew revive í80s gangsta walking, and explain to young ladies that, well, they ainít got nothing.

The other half of the Dichotomy of Banner is less easily explained and, until Certified, even less documented. In the past, when Banner had tender feelings to express, they were reserved for his grandparents or the M-I-Double Crooked Letter. When he needed to speak to women, he did so via the occasional strip-club anthem ("Like a Pimp," "Crank It Up"). But "Play" ó the albumís first single, produced by "Whisper Song" beat wizard Mr. ColliPark ó shows that Banner can get down with the females. Or, more specifically, down on the females. Over a steamy, minimal beat (a genre heís dubbed "intimate club" music), Banner explains in explicit detail just how he intends to orally satisfy the ladies. And heís not talking about rapping. Of course, the following song is the less sensitive "Fucking," with Jazze Pha. But if you want to keep the dream alive, just rock the radio edit: itís called "Touching."

Issue Date: October 7 - 13, 2005
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