Lloyd Banks Proves His Worth on ‘All or Nothing: Live It Up’
It’s unfortunate that the memory most firmly etched into people’s minds when thinking of Lloyd Banks is his 2010 track “Beamer, Benz or Bentley” or even more likely 2004’s “On Fire.” Both are solid songs but in terms of representing Banks’ ability on the mic, the tracks don’t come close to giving the Queens MC the props he deserves. Even back in the good ol' G-Unit days, Banks was arguably the best technical spitter on the team -- timing perfect punchlines with that iconic guttural voice. His latest mixtape, All or Nothing: Live It Up, brings those bars right back courtesy of DJ Drama, who hosted the first All or Nothing mixtape back in 2013. Banks straps on the Timbs and tosses on the Yankee fitted to deliver his most New York-centric project thus far.
Banks’ name often gets left out of the “Is New York rap still alive?” conversation but he’s actually been lowkey holding down the Big Apple in a major way. His string of mixtapes can be best described as the kind of gutter boom bap that causes a screwface and this tape is no different. The music is so deeply New York that it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Banks was recording every song while tucked away in a small home studio in the deepest and darkest corner of South Jamaica, Queens.
In fact, the first line of the entire tape is “South Jamaica, baby, they made me to be the greatest,” which is ultimately the general thesis of the tape itself. “Pledge of Allegiance” highlights Banks’ hip-hop authenticity with lines like, “Niggas went all the way to pop to get hot/Replacing most of them.” As the tape progresses, the more Banks' disdain for the limelight is felt. Once at the pinnacle of rap royalty, Banks sounds much more comfortable operating in a tightly concentrated pocket of hip-hop. He swings within his own boom bap strike zone.
Banks isn’t the only one getting busy for the Big Apple as he employs the talents of fellow New York area MCs Prodigy, Vado, Styles P, Tony Yayo and Joe Budden for a few tracks. Everyone fares pretty well but it’s Budden that raps the tightest. His verse on “Transitions” is arguably the best on the whole project. “Gettin' money is easy, the struggle is keepin' it/To all the hustlers in the world, whatever your muse is hustler music, a hustler's excuses, live/Some think too small, they can't vision it/Don't even bother hittin' my line, I'm transitioning,” raps Budden. The lines sound therapeutic to any hustler especially those who have seen both feast and famine.
Doe Pesci, Mr. Authentic, Tha Jerm and Ty James handle most of the beats on the tape, which all sound very similar. There's a consistency to the dark, gloomy branding Banks has created but on the other hand, the production doesn't allow for too much versatility to shine through. TyNitty serves up something a little more electronically charged with "Blood, Sweat & Tears" but still, Banks hits it with the same flow he delivers on the other 14 tracks. If the sonics of this tape are any indication of what Banks’ next project will sound like, then the odds of him touching a beat with a BPM over 90 are slim to none. This rapper likes to stay in one pocket.
Listeners might find that the title of this mixtape is intrinsically misleading. Live It Up is hardly an appropriate title for a tape with tracks titled “Bad Weather,” “Miserable” and “Insomniac," but this is Lloyd Banks' world after all. The MC doesn't falter when dropping his lauded punchlines and certainly raps like it's his last time on the mic, essential to his All or Nothing movement. "Failure's not an option in my path," he serves on "Pledge of Allegiance," an assertion that the PLK is here to stay.
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