MTA2: Baptized in Dirty Water
asically, there are three kinds of David Banner tracks. Just about everything the man commits to tape can be neatly filed under one of the following categories:
1) Viciously indulgent group-chorus club tracks, characterized by a particularly virulent strand of relentless misogynistic content that often stands out for its creative nihilism even in the less-than-chivalrous world of mainstream hip-hop.
2) Ultra-menacing, almost cartoonishly violent thug bangers, fiercely unsparing, ritualistic depictions of murder and robbery. For some reason, these tracks don't bother me nearly as much as the first set, in fact they're usually vicariously thrilling and occasionally even guiltily fun. Is it because I'm PC-deadened, tainted with post-feminist straight male guilt, or is it just that the misogynistic takes seem so much more actively unfair? The faceless thugs that Banner mows down with rapacious glee at least seem to be on a level playing field, competing for the same wealth and prestige, just unfortunate enough to come across Banner and his boys. Meanwhile, no one gives a hot fuck what the ho's and bitches want.
3) Messily penitent stabs at self-exorcism and spiritual soul searching, often heavily gospel-informed, riveting for their doomed, desperate God-baiting and unflinchingly honest in their regretful paroxysms of self-recrimination and surrender.
As you can imagine, the #3s don't work quite so well juxtaposed with the #1s. Banner's mid-2003 breakthrough Mississippi: The Album succeeded because he was smart enough to surround the less-than-palatable girl-hate with the 'roid-rage death threats rather than the tear-laden confessionals. It was a stark and uncompromising self-portrait, the hopeless, pitiless picture of a man at war with himself, his race, and his region, the inescapable spectre of the Dixie-apologist South. Sadly, Banner eschews such contextual concerns on the rush-job followup MTA2: Baptized in Dirty Water, and the result is a mishmash train wreck of incongruous sentiments and misplaced intentions.
Sexism aside, it's all about the trustworthiness of the narrator here, the consistency of narrative voice. It's obvious that the success of a self-abnegating redemption song like "My Lord" depends heavily on your willingness to sympathize with the storyteller, to believe that his humble-thug prostrating maintains at least a shred of sincerity. If Banner seemed to you an unsavory and perhaps even repulsive character earlier in the album, the unveiling of his inner conflicts and warring impulses can be a revelation, can shame you into questioning your own preconceptions and prejudices. However, when the Jesus Christ Pose immediately follows the utterly indiscriminant and unimaginative cruelty of "Pop That," no amount of journo-objective detachment can sufficiently suspend your disbelief to allow Banner a free pass at self-pity, and as a result, "My Lord" inevitably comes off as facile and calculated unless it's needfully taken out of context.
It's a real shame too, because MTA2 shows some real initial promise. The leadoff track, "Eternal," drops us en medias res for an impromptu Banner rant that fronts on thuggish indifference but couldn't sound more emo. Next up is "Talk to Me," a crunked-up banger that sports the hottest beat on the album, sounding like a computer modem on the fritz while Banner and ace cohort Lil' Flip trade life-threatening verses.
Unfortunately, these openers prove to be aberrations of greatness that the remainder of the album fails to match. Habitual spotlight stealer Twista performs his trademark verbal acrobatics on the remix of "Like a Pimp," but there's not a whole lot of late-night juice left to be wrung from this third official version of the track in under a year (it also received the screwed and chopped treatment back in June). "Pretty Pink" at least camoflagues its casual misogyny with a harmless, club-perfect hook, but after the queasy juxtaposition of "Pop That" and "My Lord," MTA2 bottoms out with "Gots to Go," a real barrel-scraper full of colorless sex rhymes that recall the worst end-of-the-bench ensemble tracks from otherwise classics like Doggystyle and Wu-Tang Forever.
Banner shows a few fleeting signs of life towards the end of the album, outfitting the over-the-top "Momma's House" with a suitably grim minor-chord piano refrain and bringing out the equally excitable Bonecrusher for "Lil' Jones," but then tacks on a perfunctory remix of Nelly's "Air Force Ones" that already appeared on the St. Louis rapper's remix joint back in November.
Originally, I had hopes of synthesizing MTA and MTA2 into a tight-ass one-disc mix, an alternate history of 2003 for anyone who was too busy parsing out the keepers from The Love Below and hotwiring them into Speakerboxxx. Unfortunately, it quickly proved to be a baseless exercise, as the only tracks from MTA2 that could ever possibly elbow out anything on MTA are "Eternal," "Talk to Me," "My Lord," and maybe "Momma's House." I suppose you can't fault Banner for only having one album's worth of good material in him for 2003, and with any luck the fanfare-absent MTA2 will quickly be forgotten in the post-holiday hangover season.