Yeah both Snoop Dogg and Biggie (with Faith Evans) have albums dropping today, but if you take a sample of each, you can tell there’s a lot of fluff there. They’re largely intended to be money grabs for Doggystyle Records and Warner Music. That leaves The God Box by rapper/producer David Banner and Renaissance by The Underachievers as the main foci for now. Not bad but also not fab, both have their assets yet not without issues too.
Member of late ‘90s duo Crooked Lettaz (with Kamikaze) and solo artist David Banner has been quite active since 2000 though after his 2010 Death of a Pop Star collab with 9th Wonder, Banner took time off until starting what has been long coming but is finally here – The God Box, the Mississippian’s sixth LP as an individual act. To unpackage this God Box is to reveal angry rage at racism and racist policy, but with some quieter discussion points as well. Banner has crafted a collection that fluxes and ebbs on various levels musically and vocally.
Banner targets societal racism yet he can sound a bit so himself using the word “cracker” to refer to whites twice or so in “Magnolia” and somewhat irrationally complaining that whites are stealing or taking rap and hip-hop from blacks in “Elvis.” Pretty ridiculous. If you’re dope, you’re dope, doesn’t matter what color your skin is. Likewise skin color just isn’t a factor in how good or bad an artist is. Moving on, we come to Banner’s women studies. He looks at what in women we are drawn to mentally and physically via “Cleopatra Jones,” how good black men should step up to claim their good black women in “Marry Me” and also the case of the fickle girl who ostensibly gets her way with everything in “Judy Blare.”
Next are some tough gangster-ish notes (“Traffic on Mars”), “Black Fist”-raising, more race talk of course (“AK” and “Evil Knievil”) and some wisdom and calls to get on the clean path of life (“Wizdom Selah” and “Burning Thumbs”). Sonically and structurally speaking, God Box is a handsome statue, or silhouette, to behold so to say. By a small margin, this is the most rebellious and conscious Banner has ever attempted to be and he’s pulled it off, even if his material is mostly race focused and much more sociopolitical than socioeconomic in nature. The main problem is that David Banner has framed his issues as white versus black when really they should be framed as racism versus truth issues at the core. Still, The God Box is in depth and dynamic and explores some new hotly charged topics for the seasoned Banner and guests. (3 out of 5 stars)
Renaissance by The Underachievers (RPM MSC Distribution)
For their third studio album, Brooklyn Underachievers AK and Issa Gold really have underachieved in regards to not always keeping honor in their sentiments and not building onto their past work. The new project, titled Renaissance, is worth a listen or two because the guys bring good wordplay and some useful talking points, but there’s a lack of variety in the boom-bap music production and sections in the second half really contradict what the emcees have usually been all about.
Especially at the top and into the midpoint, AK and Issa continue to be about knowledge and using the mind in new expansive ways but in “Any Day,” track ten of fifteen, they begin to truly give us reason to believe they’re still boys instead of young men with lines like “baby, no I ain’t tryna bride-and-groom ya, when I say recruit ya, I’m just tryna screw ya” and “don’t try to test us, we resort to violence.” Later they’re cold, distant thugs and womanizers in song fourteen “Final Destination” as they “load the clip with sixty rounds” and “kick b*tches out like Pam.”
Renaissance is a pretty large departure, in decency and growth, from these Underachievers’ last two LPs. It’s not a complete disaster, but the boys bring nothing new to the table with it. Their open mindedness toward experimenting with drugs has been replaced by pretty much just booze and weed only, there is as we’ve mentioned a substantial gangster component disturbingly enough and the vast majority of the songs sound basically the same. Yes the Underachievers have a message or two in store but their careless formula-following and damaging shenanigans do hold them back a great deal. (2 out of 5 stars)