David Banner

The Greatest Story Ever Told

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The pre-release hype for The Greatest Story Ever Told claimed the album would find David Banner "connecting on a larger scale," with "social commentary at its finest" being the heart of the album. On the opening "So Long," the underappreciated rapper connects and offers compelling commentary at a furious rate, whipping through topics such as 9/11, the shooting of Sean Bell, and the war on Iraq before landing on the apathy he sees everywhere: "This is Banner's middle finger!" is aimed not just at the oppressors but the generation that won't fight back, all done over a Get Cool 3000 production that's as busy, layered, and fascinating as the track's lyrics. This promising opener gives way to an album that never dips below good, and often borders on excellent, but it's almost as if two very different full-lengths were mixed together. Greatest Story never figures out how to mix Banner's brave new world with the comfortable tracks it falls back on, allowing listeners to bail whenever they feel like it and undermining his apathy argument in the process. When the brilliant rebirth of "G.S.E.T. Intro" gives way to the predictable club track "Suicide Doors," it diminishes the power of both. Even more unbelievable is how "A Girl" offers the unsettling "Do you like it when I grab your neck?/And squeeze it til your face turn blue?/Could you please come and sign this waiver/If pass out girl you can't sue" (a female voice answers all these questions with a "Yeah Daddy"), and then "Syrup Sipping" gets deep and ponders how "we then subliminally became what they think we are anyway." Banner is a complex man who skillfully testifies in front of Congress on the most dangerous of issues -- the impact of gangsta rap lyrics -- and his ability to balance his intelligence with his brutish side is what has made his previous albums so memorable. Here his Hulk half brings the topical "wake up America" message to a halt, creating an experience that's beyond frustrating. Dismantle, reconstruct, then split, and The Greatest Story Ever Told earns decent marks -- it's just hard not to focus on the handful of cuts that point to what could have been.

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