LLOYD BANKS with BLESS , DL INCOGNITO and the SOUL CONTROLLERS at the Docks (11 Polson), tonight (Thursday, October 21). $29.50. www.ramosent.com. Rating: NNNNN
Hard to believe it's been just a year and a half since Eminem and Dr. Dre opened wide the gates of pop-rap for an almost murdered New York mix tape star to blast his way into the game.
Beyond dropping more singles than a selective dating service, 50 has done what's par for the course - brought his crew, in this case G-Unit, to the fore.
Now, as a rule, spinoff cliques are uncomfortably wack (D12, Flipmode Squad and every one of Jay-Z's proteges come to mind as bad memories). But G-Unit, which included members Tony Yayo, Young Buck and Lloyd Banks, was different - they were actually capable. They proved this last year on the murderous Beg For Mercy album, which went multi-platinum and paved the way for solo albums from Banks and Buck released this summer.
Banks, who came up in the same Jamaica, Queens, 'hood as 50, had already established himself as an underground phenomenon. With simple quips like "Banks is cooler than the other side of the pillow" amid the expected references to ice, guns, ice, guns and ice, it's no surprise that he won best artist earlier this year at NYC's Mixtape Awards. But part of his success, like 50's, stems from his rare ability to make alot of quality music.
"I go to the studio all the time," says Banks from a stop in San Diego in his steady monotone. "Me going to the studio is like a kid going to Disneyland. This is the way I get my rocks off."
Banks's debut album, The Hunger For More, is a thug/R&B rap epic, slices of reality cut into in stories of the good life over hard synthesized funk. With its 50-styled singsong hooks, the album is geared for TRL home audiences across middle America. But Banks says The Hunger has made it to its 1.8-millon-sold status due to the empathy fans feel with the street stories the 22-year-old rapper wrote mainly for himself. Strong connections with his listeners were not expected.
"You realize how influential you are," he explains. "Like, man, I done met about five or six fans that were on their deathbed, and they just wanted to meet me. It's not something that my stomach takes easy, to go there and take a picture with somebody, knowing that that person got a week left to live. So when you're in the position of a celebrity, you start seein' a lot more."
Most recently, Banks had a chance to see Iraq and connect with U.S. troops stationed there.
"That was crazy," he says. "For one thing, the day before we got there seven marines were killed, and the plane we were getting on was the plane their bodies were on, so they had to take the bodies off with a ceremony.
"I tried out as many weapons as I could when I was there - you know, just in case. You never know out there, man. It's like anything can happen at any time. And they let you know that.
"They say, 'Thank you for basically coming out here and putting on a good show, and risking your life at the same time.' It's real out there. Where we come from in the 'hood, it's crazy, too. But out there it's even worse. Something could definitely go down."