Why The Course of the Inevitable is the Perfect Album for Lloyd Banks to Release in 2021
Like many I first encountered Lloyd Banks on 50 Cent’s epochal Get Rich or Die Tryin' debut for Interscope/ Aftermath. Late in the album he puts in one of two guest verses on the dramatic 'Don’t Push Me’, making a huge impression even despite the fact that the other guest was the ruler of early 2000s hip hop charts himself, Eminem.
On the strength of Get Rich, I bought G-Unit’s Beg for Mercy and found 50’s gravelly lieutenant to be the standout of the album, turning in verse after verse of quotable bars as his already established benefactor seemed to have relaxed somewhat, possibly to give his friends and now labelmates room to do their thing. I got Banks' debut The Hunger for More in its first week, and it was a potent mix of big radio-ready tracks like 'On Fire’ and the Timbaland-produced 'I’m So Fly’, and more raw tracks some of which had already featured on Tim Westwood’s Friday night hip hop show, of which I was an avid listener. 'Playboy’, 'Die One Day' and 'Til the End' were still ultimately expensively made songs for a major label debut, but they had a gritty energy to them and with the latter a melancholy not found on the G-Unit material.
Banks' voice is perfect for both. I love a raspy flow anyway — Jadakiss is top five DOA — and Banks seems to have this talent of delivering his lines at quite a moderate volume, as if he’s leaning in close, while still cutting through whatever production he’s over with crystal clarity — even the raucous likes of 'Work Magic' or the later 'Rider Pt. 2’. Tales of harrowing street life and the harsh realities of the criminal underground and what drove people into it and through it had a gravitas coming from him, even though he would just as often punctuate these stories with threats and braggadocio like 50. Not to mention punchlines, leading to him becoming known as the Punchline King.
The Banks/ 50/ Eminem trio would also reappear as a unit over the next couple of years, on Eminem’s remix of the track 'Warrior' from The Hunger for More, as a ferocious salvo of guest verses on Obie Trice’s 'We All Die One Day’, and on a standout track from the mostly middling Shady label project The Re-Up called 'You Don’t Know.' Banks never sounded less than confident and capable rapping alongside these commercial giants, and in my opinion he’s always been able to hold his own alongside basically anyone. Back in 2004 or so when there were rumours of an Em/ 50 collaboration album, I seem to recall thinking Banks joining to make it a trio would be great.
So the man has always stood alongside the best in the business with his whisky-soaked voice and well earned reputation as the Punchline King, doling out one scornful bar after another. What’s more he has a talent for lyricism that has always deserved more exposure and celebration.
Rotten Apple is now considered in some corners to be underrated, and it has more than its share of bangers. I’ve definitely listened to it more than Young Buck’s follow-up and at least as much as 50’s The Massacre.
Banks left the scene for long periods though, having a family, then exploding back into the public consciousness in 2010 with a Kanye co-sign, a killer guest verse for Ye’s GOOD Fridays and The Hunger for More 2. Since then he’s been largely quiet other than the odd guest appearance, such as when he turned up on Havoc’s 2013 album and basically burnt the joint to the ground as if he’d never set down his pen. Maybe he hadn’t.
In recent years some of my most played music has come from the New York revivalist boom bap scene that includes artists like Roc Marciano, Meyhem Lauren, the sage Ka and the heavy hitters of Griselda. These are mature or even middle aged men finding acclaim and enraptured fanbases who identify with their old school sound and production as well as the usually excellent quality of their lyrics. I began thinking that this was the perfect vibe for Banks, his voice and tone, the gritty delivery on songs like 'When The Chips are Down' and 'Get Clapped’. He should be making music like this, I thought. Sure enough he began appearing, with a barnstorming guest verse on Conway the Machine’s 'Juvenile Hell' capping off a series of excellent appearances on songs by Dave East and DJ Kay Slay in recent years.
The amazing 'Element of Surprise’, a Banks contribution to a Griselda soundtrack album, made me more certain than ever that this was the sort of music the G-Unit vet truly belonged on, and sure enough he has followed it up with the best album he’s ever done.
COTI is an album of rugged, murky beats by fantastic underground producers with a keen understanding of classic hip hop production, allowing Banks ample space and suitable musical backing to deliver the densest and hardest hitting verses of his career. He oozes confidence and isn’t interested in being radio friendly or competing with artists who heard his voice on their parents' stereo when they got home with their schoolbag. He’s a man who debuted with a plat as he’s quick to remind us, but rather than cover old ground Banks spends much of this album digging deep into some pretty personal matters in very frank terms.
He mulls his relationship with the still larger than life 50 Cent without any resentment or disses, talks about his family and examines the perils of fame. On the chilling standout 'Dishonorable Discharge’, he raps “morals changing by the day; easy to fall into the hype, attention’s the strongest drug known to man - are you the type?” These are insightful observations coming from someone who’s been at the top and tasted what it is to be a superstar, “Brooklyn king but known in Beijing" as he himself once said. It’s really valuable getting this sort of uncensored reflection from an artist like Lloyd Banks when he no longer has to embody the G-Unit brand but still has all the ability as a wordsmith he always did.
Both his bars and flows are the best they’ve ever been, with many points in the album where I just have to pause what I’m doing and appreciate the content of the lyrics or where Banks just really gets in the pocket. He also hasn’t forgotten his love for withering punchlines and gritty street tales. As an astute Redditor observed, Banks makes sure to come back in after each of his guests (heavy hitters like Freddie Gibbs, Roc Marciano, Benny the Butcher and Styles P appear) and each and every time absolutely kills it. You’re left in no doubt as to whose songs these are. Ransom is impressive on 'Falsified’, but Banks comes back in with nothing short of ferocity to incinerate what’s left of the track.
I don’t know whether this is a magnum opus distilling ten years in the lab and Banks will now fade from view again, or if he’s back for good and we continue getting this sort of material. I hope it’s the latter. For one, this is one of the only albums of this length in many years with no skips on it, which speaks to the consistency. And secondly if you’d asked me what kind of music I wanted from this man in 2021 this is the perfect album I’d have wanted Lloyd Banks to make. Since it came true once I’m going to make my wishes even bolder and hope he follows this up with a whole-album collaboration with a producer like Alchemist or Harry Fraud.