After some delays, Lloyd Banks released his F.N.O (Failure’s No Option) mixtape,the first of three planned mixtapes from his A.O.N (All Or Nothing) series. F.N.O. arrives over three years after the 31-year-old rapper's last studio album, H.F.M. 2 which featured Banks’ biggest hit in his career so far, “Beamer, Benz, Or Bentley.” While Banks has released two mixtapes since then, 2011’s The Cold Corner 2 and 2012’s V. 6: The Gift, F.N.O. is Banks’ chance to show and prove what he is made of. Instead of following a similar formula and theme of his materialistic hit song, Banks takes the introspective route with this project.

Banks starts up the mixtape with the track "The Natural," which opens with a brief spoken word passage: "Certain things you can just count on: the Apple is going to keep rising, music is going to stay grimey, and failure’s no option." Banks’ shows that he understands that music is a war, and that if he is going to be a part of this game, he must be prepared to win and quitting—or worse, losing—are not even choices. The album continues with anthems about perseverance. He repeatedly reminds the listener of his tenacity through lyrics like "Feel like I'm boxed in, only wins will bring the comfort to me" ("Failure’s No Option") and “In this world where everything ain't enough and everything is a must/I remind you all it's easy to get caught in the rush" ("Reminder").

Although F.N.O. has powerful moments of hard-headed determination, where the project fails is its lack of progressiveness and timeliness. At best, a mixtape like this should provide a glimpse into an artist's worldview, discuss current issues within the rap game and society, or display a new stylistic approach. While Banks takes a good shot at these tasks, his lack of vulnerability about his triumphs and failures makes too many tracks on this mixtape forgettable. There are several tracks that have potential to go below the surface, but only skim it. For instance, on "Cover Me" he says "Gucci sweater covers up the holes in my back." But with little explanation on who stabbed in him the back or specific details about experiences of betrayal, the listener takes little away from Banks’ story.

While Banks emphasizes that winning is the only choice, he doesn’t showcase enough proof that he's going to earn the gold. He shows how he has a heart of a lion, but doesn’t push the narrative forward enough. While many of his lines from F.N.O. will show up on Twitter for the next month as people address their “haters,” the mixtape doesn’t leave much of a sonic imprint beyond those platitudes. In a year when it seems as if every heavy weight in the game has put out a revealing body of work, Banks might want to dig a little deeper before the next installment in this series. --Ariana LaBarrie