David Banner

Mississippi: The Album (SRC/Universal)

 Mississippi: The Album contains some of the funniest swearing ever committed to tape on a hip-hop record. When David Banner of the duo Crooked Lettaz cusses on his solo debut, it's purposeful and ugly. When he says "bitch ass nigga," a frequent insult, the delivery is so over the top, it's exasperating. Banner likes his Dirty South disgustingly dirty, and his attitude is so bad he can barely keep the venom intelligible.

Initially, the guy sounds awfully ignorant, like he's too caught up in his own bullshit to make a decent album. It doesn't help that the record begins as an all-too standard Dirty South throwdown. With tag team raps filled with references to pimpin', ballin', clubbin' and runnin' trains over a booty-bumping beat that's been recycled for ages, yet another hip-hop song called "Like a Pimp" feels limp.

But then sophistication trickles into the mix. Banner, starting with the title track, shows himself to be unexpectedly thoughtful and musically inclined. As a producer, his beats incorporate acoustic guitars, blues-inspired melodies and harmonies and an overall sense of his home state's rich vernacular music history. For a ghetto-life-is-hard anthem, "Cadillac 22s" is remarkably restrained, so that while Banner holds onto his gruff crudeness, he uses it to cultivate sadness rather than contempt; his voice also sounds surprisingly great next to acoustic strumming. On that track and others, Banner uses the mere fact he hails from the most backwards state in the union as justification for his maniac spewing. On the organ-driven "Bring It On," that works especially well, giving his delivery a chilling edge.

Banner's dirty mouth, in the context of his fine production skills, doesn't necessarily detract from the quality of the album. It does, however, obscure the fact that Banner is a genuine talent that should be taken seriously. He's not Afroman or Luke Campbell, and he deserves respect.

 
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