David Banner and 9th Wonder certainly seems like a strange combination. You have the rapper that gave life to "Play," one of the most graphically disturbing sex raps ever made, and the producer who has created some of the most soulful and spine-tingling beats in hip-hop history. Nevertheless, the two are apparently very close friends, and, as a result, they collaborated to make the short, 10-track album, Death Of a Pop Star.
What's interesting about this hook-up is that David Banner and 9th Wonder had never recorded any material together before, and to most hip-hop fans, the fact that they had never collaborated prior to Death Of a Pop Star wouldn't have come as much of a surprise, as their two styles contrast one another gravely. 9th's instrumentals are, generally, smooth and expressive, and David Banner's gruff, hoarse voice would seemingly clash with such beats.
Anyway, I am not going to make any more judgments before I actually, you know, listen to the album, but I will say right off the bat that I am not expecting much, even if the album's second single, "Be With You," actually sounded pretty good. So, with that said, let's get to one of the stranger alliances I have seen over the past several years.
1. Diamonds On My Pinky
I'll give David Banner and 9th Wonder credit for not giving us an album intro (and they would have to be crazy to do so on an album that is only 10 songs long), but this track isn't any good. 9th's beat sounds lazy, and Banner's lyrics don't sound any different than they have on past projects. This is not a good sign.
2. No Denying (Channel 3)
Okay; David Banner sounds a lot better here. He actually sounds inspired on the mic. 9th's instrumental is very solid, containing a piano loop and a vocal sample backed by some nice drums. In stark contrast to the album's opening cut, this song is very listenable.
3. Mas 4
So, Death Of a Pop Star is only 10 tracks long, and the first three cuts are only a combined five minutes and fifty-two seconds in length? After the first two records that were just over two minutes in length, "Mas 4" clocks in at just one minute and twenty seconds and is merely Banner freestyling over a decent 9th beat. This could have been a bit better if it were longer, but I doubt it would have been anything to write home about even if it were.
4. The Light
Well, we finally get a song that is normal in length, as "The Light" is over four minutes long, but as I was listening to this, I found myself wishing that it was two minutes shorter. I appreciate the fact that David Banner was actually trying to rap about a serious topic and deliver a message, and where this track fails is actually not his fault; it's 9th Wonder's, because he didn't produce this. 9th allowed E. Jones to drop the instrumental here, and his beat does not sound like something he spent a lot of time crafting. Instead, it sounds like the garbage that is regurgitated on the radio ad nauseam.
5. Slow Down
This was Death Of a Pop Star's first single, and it was released nearly a year before the album came out. Anyway, 9th's beat, a fairly typical 9th number consisting of some pronounced kick and snare drums and a vocal sample, is decent, but Banner's rapping is awful and does not match the production at all. We're now halfway through this album, and so far, my initial feelings about what the quality of this collaboration would be like are on point.
6. Be With You
Alright; now this sounds pretty good. Really good, actually. 9th's beat has his fingerprints all over it (and even though I know it should because, well, he did produce it, I only say that because the good majority of this album does not have that trademark 9th Wonder sound), and David Banner and Ludacris, who is featured on this, both sound very good over the production, especially Luda. Unlike on "Slow Down," Banner allows his flow to match the instrumental stride-for-stride, making "Be With You" easily the best song on the album.
It seems like David Banner was trying his hardest to be Ol' Dirty Bastard on this, and you know what? He sounds good, even if his subject matter is very archetypal. 9th's beat is solid, too. Also, Anthony Hamilton adds a great touch to this as he croons the hook. This album is certainly taking a turn for the better. Let's hope it stays that way.
Okay; does anyone else think 9th Wonder, who raps as "9thMatic" on this, sounds exactly like Ludacris here? I had to go back and check the tracklist to see if Luda was featured, but it turns out that that is 9th. Anyway, as for the song itself? Yeah; it isn't any good, as 9th's instrumental is stale. Erykah Badu is on the track, but she adds nothing.
9. Something Is Wrong
This isn't bad, but it isn't great, either. 9th's beat is powered by the booming kicks and bass, but it's pretty ordinary. Again, Banner tries to deliver a good message, but I just couldn't get into this.
Much like "Something Is Wrong," I was pretty indifferent to this one, although I do feel it is better than the preceding track. Big Remo, who dropped his debut album in 2010, makes a guest appearance and comes through with a solid performance, but after a while, 9th Wonder's instrumental becomes too repetitive, failing to give "Strange" any kind of replay value, even if it isn't terrible.
Well, Death Of a Pop Star turned out almost exactly like I thought it would: not very good. However, the onus does not just fall on David Banner, but 9th Wonder, also, as this is not his best production work. The good majority of his beats on this album sound lazy and forced, and the fact that Banner is not the best rapper in the world doesn't help matters much.
There are some bright spots on this project, such as "Be With You," which is probably the only song off of Death Of a Pop Star that I will ever listen to again (although "No Denying [Channel 3]" and "Stutter" were both decent cuts), but overall, the record fails to be engaging, as David Banner was unable to shed his "Play" image, and 9th doesn't really do anything to aid him in trying to do so.
Once again, though, Banner is certainly not solely to blame for Death Of a Pop Star's incompetence as a whole. If you take a look at some of 9th Wonder's other collaborations (like the ones I reviewed on this blog with Murs and Kaze, for example, and Cloud 9: The 3 Day High with Skyzoo [coming soon]), his production is on point, giving the artists some breathing room and a rather large margin for error, as the listener can at least fall back on 9th's production if the rapping isn't too impressive. That wasn't the case here, as Banner did not have the luxury of using 9th's beats as a crutch.
Anyway, regardless of the fact that 9th Wonder, my third favorite beatmaker behind Hi-Tek and Khrysis, was on the boards for this album, I wasn't expecting too much of Death Of a Pop Star, so it really wasn't a disappointment to me at all. Here's to hoping 9th gets back in the studio with someone like Skyzoo or Kaze and records another gem, because this one was just forgettable.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. Be With You
3. No Denying (Channel 3)
5. Something Is Wrong
Everything not listed in the top five, and you might even want to skip "Something Is Wrong."