David Banner

Mississippi: The Album (SRC/Universal)

Mississippi: The Album contains some of the funniest swearing ever committed to tape on a hip-hop record. When David Banner of the duo Crooked Lettaz cusses on his solo debut, it's purposeful and ugly. When he says "bitch-ass nigga," a frequent insult, the delivery is so over the top that it's exasperating. Banner likes his Dirty South disgustingly dirty, and his attitude is so bad he can barely keep the venom intelligible. Initially, the guy sounds awfully ignorant, as if he's too caught up in his own bullshit to make a decent album. It doesn't help that the record begins as an all-too-standard Dirty South throwdown. With tag-team raps filled with references to pimpin', ballin', clubbin' and runnin' trains over a booty-bumping beat that's been recycled for ages, yet another hip-hop song called "Like a Pimp" feels limp.

But then sophistication trickles into the mix. Starting with the title track, Banner shows himself to be unexpectedly thoughtful and musically inclined. As a producer, he incorporates in his beats acoustic guitars, blues-inspired melodies and harmonies and an overall sense of his home state's rich vernacular music history. For a ghetto-life-is-hard anthem, "Cadillac on 22's" is remarkably restrained, so that while Banner holds onto his gruff crudeness, he uses it to cultivate sadness rather than contempt; his voice also sounds surprisingly great next to acoustic strumming. On that track and others, Banner uses the mere fact that he hails from the most backward state in the union as justification for his maniac spewing. On the organ-driven "Bring It On," this approach works especially well, giving his delivery a chilling edge.

Banner's dirty mouth, in the context of his fine production skills, doesn't necessarily detract from the quality of the album. It does, however, obscure the fact that Banner is a genuine talent who should be taken seriously. He's not Afroman or Luke Campbell, and he deserves respect.

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