Mississippi's David Banner is no stranger to collaboration. The emcee, who has released a handful of hard-hitting solo albums over the past decade, has not only lent his vocals to tracks by musicians ranging from Chamillionaire to Maroon 5, but he's also a certified super producer. Banner has manned the boards for tracks on Lil Wayne's seminal 'Tha Carter III,' T.I.'s 'Trap Muzik' and Young Money's 'We Are Young Money,' putting him on a level unreached by many of his contemporaries.
But with his latest outing, Banner is relinquishing double duty as producer and emcee and sticking to mic duties. Teaming up with 9th Wonder, Banner is set to release 'Death of a Pop Star' this summer, marking the first time that he's relinquished control to another producer for the duration of an album.
"I didn't want to produce any of this album. I wanted to prove to people that you could put me on the level of anybody that you like lyrically, and I think I proved that with this record," he told The BoomBox during an interview. "And it's funny, I'm starting to hear people say that for the first time ever, people have started putting me up against some of the biggest lyricists now. I wanted to just focus on the pen on this album."
The pairing came as a surprise to many, as Banner's style is endemic to his Southern leanings and 9th is known for his signature style of chopping creaky soul samples and flipping them into New York-sounding bangers. But the project has already sprung a few leaks –- including the '80s-kissed 'Slow Down' and soul-wop 'Strange' -- that reveal the pairing works in more than just theory.
"I don't see anything different between the music that 9th and I does," Banner explains. "He's from the South, I'm from the South. He has a Grammy, I have a Grammy. I think there's more similarities between me and 9th and the problem is that people are separatists."
Adopting a 'New York' sound wasn't a product of circumstance, but rather a conscious decision to help bring focus back to Banner's lyrical abilities. "As soon as I added 808s to my music, it seemed like people stopped listening, on top of the fact that I had a very heavy Southern drawl," he says. "So I really concentrated on articulating my words this time, but not stomping on or suppressing my Southern accent."
Not only are the lyrics ripe with commentary on the state of society, but the project's title is a bold enough statement in itself. Banner explains that the title was the result of studio banter with 9th about the state of the music industry, with 9th coming to the revelation that today's superstar will never achieve the same success as those of an earlier era.
"We were just talking about the death of contemporary music," he says. "How have we continued to let music go in the direction that it is? It's almost impossible for there to be another Michael Jackson or Usher or Chris Brown. And 9th said, damn! That's what we should call it. Death of a Pop Star."
The album and its title touch on a sobering reality that could very well complicate the already troubled music industry, a situation that Banner hopes to address. "If music continues in the way that it is now, it's going to be impossible," he says of up-and-coming singers being able to cross into the Madonna or Michael Jackson stratosphere. "The truth is, I don't think anything is impossible when you equate in the spirit of a man. They said that's one thing you can't equate or put a mathematical equation on, and that's the spirit of a human being. So I think if we are conscious of what's going on, we can change anything as human beings."
Banner hopes to change the industry's trajectory with the album -- or at least drop some knowledge on the masses by touching them with good music. "I think if we are conscious of what's going on, we can change anything as human beings," he states. "Human beings started going down this road. We created everything around that put it in this situation, so how dare we say that we not have the power to make it go in another direction if that's what we chose to do."