Admittedly, I've never been a big G-Unit fan. Let's see. 50 Cent has never at all interested me, Young Buck has had his entertaining moments but I've ceased to check for him in a LONG time, Tony Yayo is, well…Yayo, and Mobb Deep (although not truly G-Unit) dropped a truly awful LP on the label. I have my doubts as to whether another MOP album will ever be released in my lifetime, and who really gives a shit about Olivia. Honestly. I did however; thoroughly enjoy 2003's Hunger For More, the debut album from 50's right-hand man in Lloyd Banks. This kinda surprised me, but all in all, it was a good album, so when Rotten Apple found its way into my hands, I was genuinely eager to check it out.
Heralded as the “most lyrical” member of G-Unit (no disrespect, but not a hard task), Lloyd Banks isn't a lightweight when it comes to the rhymes. His smoky, often hoarse delivery almost always matches his slick talk, narrative-based records that he continually pushes, and on Hunger For More he came up trumps on a number of different levels. The street joints were murky, depressing paintings backed by ferocious and sinister backdrops, whereas the ladies joints were done with a hint of class that prevented them from being totally unbearable. Even the obligatory club singles were catchy and didn't totally give into the commercial purposes that they were ultimately designed for. Where, I ask, is all this on Rotten Apple?
It seems the norm these days for big-name releases to open with ominous strings which are in some way, supposed to signal the re-emergence of the dude you've all been waiting to here from again. In Bank's case, the ominous strings are backed up by a fittingly ominous beat that got me instantly excited to hear the rest. You can immediately tell the 50 influence on the hook, and although 'Rotten Apple' is a nice opener, the beats takes over and Bank's' voice blends into the background a bit too much for him to be outstanding. 'Survival' however remedies this problem, with a really nice beat. The track positively glides along, and Banks is clearly amped as he ducks in and out of the production like a boxer for the win in Fight Night. Even though I've never been a sucker for 'commercial hip-hop' hooks, there is something inexplicably appealing about the way in which Banks delivers the right ones. 'Survival' is also the first true showing of the 'Blue Hefner's' lyrical flexing of muscle:
I ain't even got a license yet, and got 7 cars yep/
TV the same size as Kevin Garnett/
A brand new buzz, mac 10 and a chopper/
White fan base cos Eminem is my partner/
I'ma Ferrari and Jag copper/
You a glass shopper/
I blow marijuana the colour of grasshopper/
I ain't a regular nigga whore promoters pay a hundred or more to bring ya boy to Singapore/
So thanks, 'Survival', for getting my hopes up for an entertaining record. You certainly fooled me. 'Playboy 2' is a shadow of its former song, the irritating staccato-like snares compelled me to push the 'next song' button, only to find that 'The Cake' featuring 50 Cent, squandered its nice, albeit short, vocal sample that is used throughout. Both emcees sound awkward for the majority of the track, and the lame hook further supports my views that 50 (if he did indeed craft the hook) is completely overrated for his hit-making ability. He did The Game a favour by kicking him off the team. 'Hands Up', the single, utilises a typical 'G-Unit' sounding beat if there is such a thing, its saving grace is that Banks brings some clever wordplay to the masses. Totally cookie-cutter however. While listening to the record, at this point I was wondering if we were going to go beyond guns, bitches and how Banks is clearly the best at what he does. He hasn't even tried to switch it up or tell a story, but decides to get down and dirty with the ladies over the dusty drums of 'Help'. To be honest it's nothing new. I might sound cynical and jaded, but really, what do you expect? I haven't elaborated on the song content because I covered it on 'Survival', only it was fresh on track 2.
'Addicted' gave me a small surprise in the fact that Banks chose Musiq for the hook. He's a nice talent, and it's surprising that other emcees don't employ his services over their work. Remember that Ghostface & Musiq joint off the Pretty Toney album? Dope. Here, Banks attempts to tackle the trials and tribulations of society's ills and lost homies on the first verse then…goes back to his old ways for the remainder. Don't' worry, it's a good track. I won't expand too much on the rest of the album, except will make special note of the fact that 'You Know the Deal' which 'features' Rakim, is icing on the top of a really bad tasting cake. Note to rappers: DO NOT say that a track 'features' someone when it is their voice scratched over the record. People will be pissed, especially when it concerns a potentially new verse from the God MC.
Oh, and pay attention to Yayo's opening line on 'NY NY', "I'm from New York, New York, where niggas die for the cheese/ I air out ya house like a can of fabreeze". I'm yawning right now.
The end of the album is much like the start. Gun-toting galore, bitches in abundance and the need to cram the rest of the G-Unit camp onto meaningless collabos (see 'Get Clapped' with Mobb Deep, and 'Iceman' with Scarface, Young Buck and 8Ball – it sounds ok but it really, really isn't). Many may feel like I've gone overboard with criticism on this review, or even worse displayed a strong bias against the camp. However to me, it's just being real. It may be unprofessional or unfair to compare Rotten Apple to Hunger For More, but in truth, listeners have the right to a fair expectation for Banks to grow between releases, and Rotten Apple doesn't make this connection. The potential is still there for great music. It might just take an album or two to get there now.