Recording information: BrightLady Studios, Raleigh, NC; Premier Studios, New York, NY.
Photographer: Annette Navarro.
A surprise pairing, for sure, but there's a great chemistry between rapper David Banner and producer 9th Wonder on Death of a Pop Star. The former Little Brother member adjusts his production style a tad, but it's Banner that totally shocks, successfully flowing in an introspective style if he needs to deliver a message and then switching into brute mode when he needs to drive words through thick skulls. He's got plenty to say too, as the opening "Diamonds on My Pinky" ponders "Boys club closing while they building P.F. Chang's" while the slow-rolling highlight "The Light" warns of both the death of hip-hop and society itself with "Rappers is turnin' into singers/Preachers touchin' the kids." Wonder's beats are the kind of top-notch, scratchy soul he excels at, but the real attraction here is Banner's coming off as a more layered and complicated artist than previously, with every rhyme he spits being a step in the right direction. Even when things get easy and romantic, he is the reason the Ludacris feature "Be with You" is an above-average bedroom number, and when it comes to getting soulful with Erykah Badu, "Silly" is the symbiotic proof he's more than able. All that said, Death of a Pop Star has morphed from a mixtape, to a full album, and then into this final, rather short release, and while it's sold as a conceptual piece inspired by the end of music industry, it does go off topic without warning. In the end, Death of a Pop Star seems like a sampler for something much bigger, but fans of innovative hip-hop will still be thrilled to hear that Banner has joined their ranks and taken a position on the front lines. ~ David Jeffries
Diamonds on My Pinky
No Denying (Channel 3)
Be with You - (featuring Marsha Ambrosius/Ludacris)