David Banner

MTA2: Baptized in Dirty Water

My most vivid childhood memories are of gathering in the small town of Waterproof, La., for the sort of social meal that involved the entirefamily. My great-grandmother would hunch over a giant kettle of gumbo whose ingredients were "flexible" -- an uncle threw down fresh crawfish, an aunt tossed in the okra -- while the rest of us played dominos or listened to the adults drunkenly argue politics. David Banner's new album, MTA2: Baptized in Dirty Water, is the hip hop equivalent of this sort of celebratory, chaotic gathering, with Banner adopting contradictory personas to complement 18 guests who have varying agendas and who alternately sing, holler, and rap their way through the album.

Squarely at the center of this carnival is Banner, a larger-than-life ringleader with a raspy, Old Testament growl and a long history of pain and oppression seemingly planted on his shoulders. In songs such as "The Game" and "My Lord," Banner laments a racially stratified Mississippi where friends are oftentimes duplicitous. "I'm losing my soul and my mind/ The devil been creeping as I keep falling behind," he declares in "My Lord." But in other songs, he is the devil; as an eerie piano line crawls across "Mama's House," Banner heads to the house of a rival's mother, where he "put that bitch out in the yard, stamp that ho in the face." The schizophrenia is compounded by the constant procession of guests, who include Busta Rhymes, Devin the Dude, and Scarface. While their contributions are usually successful -- particularly Twista's in "Like a Pimp (Remix)" -- their presence adds to the general thematic disorder and reinforces the feeling that MTA2 is more a collection of songs than an album.

Still, it's MTA2's production that keeps the listener coming back. The bluesy, elastic wah-wah guitars of "Pretty Pink," the screeching minimalism of "Talk to You," and the hypnotizing, austere synth stabs of "Like a Pimp (Remix)" are the record's highlights. Yeah, the album may be a mess, but it's an exquisite mess. And with Banner standing over the kettle, you can bet that it'll be some hot gumbo and a wild party.

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