In 2005, at an otherwise unremarkable artist showcase, Mississippi rapper David Banner refused to be ignored by the gathered open bar-grazing industry types. He instead loudly berated the unresponsive herd, jumped on a table, leapt on the bar, ripped down a Universal banner, and proceeded to wear it as a cape. He told them about his father's brain and lung cancer, he threw up devil horns while rapping along to "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and he darkly threatened to kill industry people that "fucked up" the promotion of his album. Sorry, rappers—there's not a Rap City freestyle or on-the-corner YouTube video that even comes close to that kind of commitment. Goddammit, I love David Banner, and you should too.
"Imma come up to the crib/Imma flood my block/Imma ride downtown, yelling fuck Trent Lott."
The man whose momma named him Lavell Crump is mostly known for his snarling bottle-meet-skull lyrics, his (shall we say) explicit sexual content, and gives-not-a-fuck attitude; but while he'll tell you that he'd enthusiastically punch you in the face—or stomp your ass out at the club—he'll also testify before congress that "Hiphop is sick because America is sick." He'll take your girl and tell her he's trying to get her pussy wet; but the next day he's just as likely to receive an award from the National Black Caucus for raising millions for Hurricane Katrina victims through his Heal the Hood foundation. Mississippi's favorite son may have first hit national notoriety for his riotous, Lil' Flip-featuring bow-dropper "Like a Pimp," and the acid ghetto-gothic visuals of the video, but it was the soulful, prayerful porch blues of follow-up single "Cadillac on 22's" that's closer to his heart. Banner embodies the same contradictions that we loved in 2Pac, and his fiery tongue-held-for-no-one political gangsta says more than a thousand so-called conscious rappers, on and off wax.
"In a Chevy, I'm wondering if the Feds broke the levy/Are they in with the devil to control the weather/Hurricanes and typhoons every other week/While po' folks are drowning in the middle of the street."
Just check "Seein' Thangs," off of DJ Shadow's 2006 LP The Outsider, where Banner describes a nightmarish vision of genocide that doesn't sound farfetched—where crack is cotton "that grows up from the concrete." It harkens back to the days when "gangsta rap" was called "reality rap," when Scarface and Ice Cube were in their way every bit as political as Chuck D. Just read his interviews, his loud condemnation of the federal government's molasses-slow response to Katrina, and his denouncement of so-called black leaders ("Al Sharpton looks like a fat pimp," he says)—its more compelling than a million spoken word poems or self-righteous "put your fist up" stage posturings.
I'm sure his rowdy, crowd-surfing scream-alongs will outshine the tamer, coffee shop posi-rap of his tourmate, Brooklyn's Talib Kweli. Live-band hiphop can often drift toward frat-tastic tragedy, but David Banner's proudly Southern crunk-rock aerobics—backed by the heavy chops of the Rhythm Roots All-Stars—is bound to hit chests like the well-stocked home arsenal he reportedly keeps. His blunt approach might be as subtle as the "cottontail gas mimosas" he tosses in his rhymes, but Banner's country-ass voice has never been more needed. Believe that.