"I was making a lot of money, but something didn't feel right spiritually for me," said Banner when introducing his recent change towards increased consciousness on the mic. The new songs backed up that sentiment. Fans already know 'Slow Down' -- a "get the stripper off the pole" anthem. The track 'Hip-Hop' kept it going as a mindful ode to the genre, name-checking the greats over a hyper-soul concoction that would fit nicely on an early Aughties Roc-A-Fella album. On both tracks, Banner surprises with his lyrical dexterity.
"I know people think I can't rap," Banner explained. "I'm gonna smash they a--."
The record's next single is 'Be With Me' -- a track that features Ludacris and Banner trading rapidfire lines over another slice of vintage soul from the North Carolina-based producer. One of the album's central tenets is clearly the concept of friendship. Even beyond the merging of different styles between the two collaborators, these songs are about finding a common space where both are comfortable, focused and pushing each other to do something new, interesting and most importantly mature.
To that end, ''Death of a Pop Star' signals another evolution in the emerging breed of mature hip-hop. Jay-Z did it in his own way on 'Blueprint 3' and recent efforts by The Roots and Reflection Eternal take another step forward to combine adult concerns, consciousness and an obligation to educating younger generations without sounding too preachy. For Banner, it's a life or death sort of album.
"If this album fails, it's my fault," he remarked with utter seriousness. After hearing the progress, we don't think that's a possibility.