The film that inspired David Banner’s latest album became memorable as much for the movie itself as for the story behind it. Given the various awards nominations it received, you can’t really question the quality of the biblical epic. Despite critical acclaim, the movie was a financial failure and signaled the death of the Christian sub-genre. While David Banner may have only been hinting at the appeal of his life story when he chose to call this album “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” the movie eerily mirrors Banner’s musical career. Banner has long been the recipient of critical acclaim stemming from his days as a “firewater boy” with Crooked Lettaz, yet the man is on the verge of killing off a sub-genre twice in the span of ten years. When Crooked Lettaz came out in 1999 they were riding the tail end of a conscious southern rap infatuation that started with Outkast. The lack of sales produced by groups such as Crooked Lettaz, Goodie Mob, and Jim Crow virtually eliminated the infatuation with anything Southern and positive. Fast forward to 2003 and David Banner was once again a factor in fate of positive southern rap, this time opening doors with his then record-breaking deal with SRC. The rumored multi-million dollar deal led to “Mississippi: The Album,” which sold surprisingly well for a hardcore southern record with little promotion. Unfortunately, the success of “MTA” seems to have been the peak, rather than beginning, of the soulful rap resurgence. “MTA2” didn’t spawn as many hits or sell as many units as its predecessor. By the time “Certified” rolled around, David Banner was well aware of the changes around him. Rather than stick to his guns and risk falling into obscurity once again, Banner adapted his style and remained relevant. This is where Banner’s story either diverges with or mimics the story behind the aforementioned movie. Banner has found a way to stay relevant, sell records, and assure he maintains a major label contract. The question is whether Banner’s adaptation has actually saved the subgenre or killed it off just the same. In other words, Banner is still here, but that doesn’t mean conscious southern rap hasn’t become irrelevant yet again.
I won’t pretend I wasn’t a fan of the evolving David Banner when “Certified” dropped two years ago. I believed then, as I do now, that selling out can be justified when the result is spreading a positive message to a larger audience. On “The Greatest Story Ever Told” my concern is that Banner may have sold out too much. Most of the longs leaked over the last two years have leaned heavily on the commercial side and most of those tracks found their way onto this album. “9MM” was at one point meant to be the lead single, but failed to catch on despite Banner’s attempt to infuse the track with a deeper meaning:
“If I got nine slugs, nine bullets gon’ fly
If I got a red beam, nine people gone die
Nine mamas gone cry, nine spirits in the sky
Nine preachers preaching nine sermons, telling nine lies
Cause each and every one of ya’ll nine niggaz wasn’t shit
I would have rather kept the nine rugers in the ruger clip
The index finger slipped, the nine let nine spit
I lick em all like eighteen tits on nine chicks
I’ma suicide risk, nine slits on each wrist
If I die nine times the next go-arounds a bitch
And if I come back, I’ll throw 99 shows
And shove nine inches of dick in 99 hoes”
I have to admit that the generic Akon beat and hook didn’t do much for me and both Snoop and Lil’ Wayne dropped weak verses. Things don’t improve on the replacement lead single “Get Like Me” where Banner doesn’t even attempt to do anything but brag about his money. Even the UGK assisted “Suicide Doors” is disappointing given the potential of such a collaboration. When you add wack sex tracks like “A Girl” and “Shawty Say” you realize that out of the first 9 tracks, the only decent one is the politically charged “So Long.”
The album picks up starting at track ten when Marcus stops by for “Hold On.” Marcus has been featured on every Banner album and his solo album is long overdue. Banner drops a string of soulful tracks, including “Cadillac on 22s Part 2,” “I Get By,” and “Freedom (Interlude).” Unfortunately, the soulful Banner is short lived as he reverts to the uninspired street tales that started the album. “B.A.N. (The Love Song)” is an interesting take on the subject of snitches, but the annoying hook kills any replay value. “Fuck You Hoes” should be my favorite song of all time considering Banner is joined by Jim Jones, but given the album is already oversaturated with similar songs I’m not feeling it as much as I should. “Ball With Me” was yet another failed attempt at a single and once again the all star collaboration with Chamillionaire should equal many plays, but a wack club track is a wack club track regardless of the quality of the rapper. By the time “K.O.,” “Fly,” and “Faith” drop, I’m almost too fed up to appreciate vintage Banner. “K.O.” is a rowdy club track in the spirit of “Might Getcha” and “What It Do” from Banner’s first album. “Fly” confirms the fact that Jazze Pha and David Banner are gold regardless of the topic matter. “Faith” is the type of street oriented, yet soulful and religious track that defines why I’m a David Banner fan.
“The Greatest Story Ever Told” is far from the epic, career defining album that it should be. Rather than staying true to political and social roots that got him signed in the first place, David Banner has chosen to mimic what’s popular. He’s managed to avoid the undesirable fate suffered by the movie of the same name, if only momentarily. For the time being, the man named David Banner will remain signed to a major label and will drop another radio-friendly album. Yet, as different as his fate seems, ultimately David Banner has only changed the means to the end. His change in style proves that positive southern rap is no longer popular or viable. His career will also likely be remembered more for the footnotes it created rather than his music.