David Banner is hardly the first college kid to wallow in ugliness as a tribute to his humble upbringing. But few have crafted so fond and foul a grotesquerie as the University of Maryland grad student’s 2003 debut, Mississippi: The Album. His truly country hip-hop-cymbals caked with Delta mud, guitar strings flaking rust, bass a windowpane-shuddering rumble from a passing hooptie, and a snare stutter its backfiring engine-made other supposedly dirty Southerners sound like urbane ATLiens.
With Mississippi, named after the rapper’s home state, Banner was determined to take his time-and to waste yours. He was like the dude who slows down in the crosswalk to nod as you fume behind the wheel, late for work. He got clubs crunk by barking “Like a Pimp” but derailed his own groove with sublimely self-pitying ballads like “Cadillacs on 22’s.” The Screwed and Chopped mix-an ultra-slowed-down reworking of the entire album, includingskits-takes this approach to its torpid extreme, until defiance becomes confrontation. Our pedestrian stops dead and turns to put his hands on your hood. The effect passes from menacing to weird to tedious.
As its title suggests, Banner’s proper follow-up, MTA2:Baptized in Dirty Water, showcases the MC’s moralistic side. He’s haunted by powerful sentiments, like “I’m the son of a dead slave / Hoping my daddy didn’t hang in vain.” Yet even as Banner rightly laments how American culture has deadened the soul of his people, he wholeheartedly glamorizes misogyny and violence with strip-club shout-alongs and casual gunplay. On tracks like “The Game,” Banner accepts responsibility for his actions without forswearing them. Although there’s insight to be mined in that contradiction, his potty-mouth clichés lack the sense of humanity-not to mention humor-needed to reveal the true values of the Southern culture he left behind. Then again, if Banner had a sense of humor, he would have called these records2 Mississippi and 3 Mississippi.