Originally conceived as a mixtape, David Banner saw Death of a Pop Star as a way to establish himself as a legitimate lyricist at the top of mainstream hip-hop. In order to fully shift the focus on his rapping ability, he enlisted the help of decorated veteran 9th Wonder to the handle the production. Admittedly, when I saw that the duo were putting out an album together, I was skeptical. David Banner stands as a staple of southern hip-hop, not exactly a typical collaboration for 9th Wonder.
Banner envisioned the album as a statement on the current state of affairs in black music, as an effort to reestablish the soul in mainstream music. From the album’s start, the goal is clearly stated in the lyrical “Diamonds on My Pinky”, which finds Banner touching on topics from Obama, suicide, and the struggles of being a musician all within the same verse. “The Light” centers Banner’s spirituality, as he states “I pray every night that I can touch my people then lead them to the light”. Although much deeper lyrically than we normally see from Banner, the track is brought down by an uninspired hook that seems to never end. The album then takes a turn when it moves from introspective lyrics to a focus on bravado and stories about love and women with songs like “Be With You” and “Stutter”.
9th Wonder does his part in contributing a cohesive sound throughout the whole album, however without doing anything that really pushes the envelope in terms of production. He goes as far as contributing a verse to the promising “Silly” with a guest appearance from Erykah Badu, but the track suffers from a weak opening verse and a painfully brief runtime.
If Banner wanted this to be his breakthrough album that garnered immediate respect from the hip-hop community, he didn’t hit the mark. Death of a Pop Star takes few risks and does little to break the mold in mainstream hip-hop as intended. However, it stands as a step in the right from Banner’s previous effort The Greatest Story Ever Told. The album’s brevity makes it evident that perhaps this collection should have been a mixtape or an EP, serving a sample of what David Banner has to bring in the future.