The pairing of MC David Banner and producer 9th Wonder may not seem like the obvious recipe for a successful album, but it’s one that makes a lot of sense on further inspection. David Banner is a Mississippi –born rapper/producer best known as member of Crooked Lettaz and for a prolific solo career during the early to mid-’00s, known for producing southern crunk laced with sharp political commentary. 9th Wonder is a North Carolina producer best known as a member of Little Brother, the Justus League collective, and producer of tracks for artists as diverse as Jay-Z to Destiny’s Child. Both Banner and 9th represent the diversity of the inherent diversity of the “mainstream” and “underground” scenes that is so often ignored. Both came together due to mutual respect for each other’s music.
Originally conceived as a mixtape, Death of a Pop Star was turned into a full-length album after the studio sessions with the two proved even more fruitful than anticipated. The result is an album, like many good hip-hop albums in the early 21st century, which examines the breadth and depth of hip-hop music, even as soulful hip-hop fades from the “pop” music scene.
On the surface, Death of a Pop Star is much like many of 9th Wonder’s recent projects. Since 2004, he’s done one producer/one MC collaborations with artists such as Buckshot, Jean Grae, and most notably MURS (the pair has collaborated on three separate albums). Plus he produced the entirety of Little Brother’s first album, The Listening. Through all these albums, 9th is incredibly skilled at creating a musical background best suited to the MCs’ styles. Death is a Pop Star is no exception: the beats are 100% 9th Wonder’s style, but they suit David Banner’s flow perfectly. At the same time, the beats do not sound like anything that he would give MURS, Jean Grae, or Buckshot.
The album starts with the brutally honest and bleak “Diamonds on My Pinky,” a track as short and sharp as a shard jagged glass. David Banner describes that while “my shell’s strong, my soul is Green Lantern wearing yellow: hella weak” and then laments, “Bang! It’s the same old thang/ Boy Club’s closing while they building PF Chang’s,” all over an operatic haunting voices sampled by 9th Wonder.
The four-song stretch of “The Light,” “Slow Down,” “Be With You,” and “Stutter” is the more “accessible” section of the album. “The Light” serves as the closest thing to a southern bounce-track that appears on the album (and honestly, it’s the weakest song on Pop Star), while “Stutter” uses the style of the some name to describe approaching the lovely ladies. The best of the four is “Be With You,” the album’s bubbly, smoothed-out single, where Banner and Ludacris trade six-bar verses about their own prowess in scooping females. Luda does his usual “strong showing as a guest appearance” thing, but his “Fave Five” reference makes the track sound dated.
Death of a Pop Star even has moments as close to straight-up MC shit as you’ll find on a David Banner album. The first is on the all too short “Mas 4” (only 1:20 long), which Banner spits razors over a chopped piano loops and 9th’s trademark drums, “World star, all hip. Cut your tongue from your lip/ Put it in some cheese and eat the tip with some Lays chips.” “Silly,” as the title suggests, as a less serious affair, coming off with the feel of studio freestyle session, with even 9th Wonder contributing a verse, and Erykah Badu goofing through the chorus.
Pop Star ends coming full circle with final two tracks of the album, which both examine the ills outlined in the album’s first track, but “Something is Wrong” looks to examine the cause of these ills (despite having an out-dated view of homo-sexuality) and “Strange” looks to inspire hope in those who consider themselves hopeless.
Death of a Pop Star is short and to the point, clocking in at barely over half and hour in length. Despite its brevity, the album’s subject remains rather diverse, and says more in 30 minutes and 34 seconds than most albums says in twice the amount of time. It’s a good introduction to showing the chemistry these two artists create when working together. Let’s hope it leads to a long and successful partnership.
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/03-Mas-4.mp3|titles=03 - Mas 4]
Diamond On My Pinky:
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/01-Diamonds-on-My-Pinky.mp3|titles=01 - Diamonds on My Pinky]