Album Review: Lloyd Banks – Halloween Havoc IV: The 72nd Hr

[Money By Any Means; 2023]

“All y’all rest in peace when I release”: the fact that there’s enough to say about “Convoy”, the second track on Lloyd Banks’ new mixtape, Halloween Havoc IV: The 72nd Hr, to fill an entire review says a lot, with the veteran rapper stuffing each verse so full of thought, weary pride, and double-edged remarks, that they all but buckle from the weight. The man isn’t delusional. Mocked by his longtime benefactor, 50 Cent (and, to be fair, beneficiary, having provided 50 with the iconic hook for “In da Club” and representing G-Unit as their premier lyricist for years) for having chosen to back away from the spotlight for years following two well-loved 2016 efforts, Banks’ gradual return with 2021’s The Course of the Inevitable was anything but accidental.

Labeled as emotional and perhaps bipolar by his former friend and label boss, it’s more accurate to say he was simply 50’s foil: introverted and deeply reflective, laid bare by Curtis Jackson’s flair and need for persistent public validation. He became a distant figure while Jackson essentially abandoned his rap career in favor of a lucrative TV empire. Banks bided his time, determined to only emerge when it was worthwhile.

2021’s Inevitable was defiantly a relic; rooted in a hip hop long since abandoned, yet also somewhat new to Banks himself. Long known as the “Punchline King”, Banks had laboriously built up an absurd level of respect in the industry itself, regardless of his actual mainstream success: to put it plainly, this is a man who managed to be acclaimed and beloved by both Kanye West and Eminem around their mutual, polar opposite ultra-successes of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Recovery, appearing with a dominant verse on the best track of Ye’s G.O.O.D. Friday series as well as getting both icons to appear on his T.F.M. 2 album (with Marshall showing up for not one, but two tracks, should you include the “Celebrity” remix). To put it plainly: during a time in which 50 struggled to retain a rap audience, Banks enticed that very man’s mentor into sparring with him, sheerly out of respect.

Back to Halloween Havoc IV: The 72nd Hr. Why this? Why now? It’s far from coincidental. With The Course of the Inevitable representing Banks’ first proper studio album in nearly 11 years, his return was clearly deliberate, and the ever-internal Banks took every aspect of his belated resurgence into consideration. Expanded to a trilogy released in as many years, it found the lyricist refocusing his vision into a more emotive, direct cadence, finally realizing the full potential of his powerful, nearly cancerous rasp. Emphasis was put on the meaning behind each word, more in the zone of a Kool G Rap or Scarface, rather than the lyrically complex, quotable webs of his Punchline King era. It was an interesting, mature development from an aging, underrated icon.

Nonetheless, quips remained. Longtime fans relished his return, and adored his solemn reflections on fatherhood and aging, yet a certain question remained: could he still spit like that? Hence, I’d argue, this Havoc entry arrives to answer. Across a relatively surprising release, Banks feels both defensive and dominant, shooting down complaints with ease and restraint. 

Opener “Above the Law” harkens back to 2010, with a beat that one could imagine him having effortlessly drifted across during his brief G.O.O.D. Music alliance, yet just as cluttered with bars as it’d surely have been then. He refuses to lose step. 

Next up, the already reflected upon “Convoy” drifts between classic G-Unit territory and a grumpier take on the Mannie Fresh Cash Money sound, had he been a New York producer, purring along with a menacing, prickly energy, matching Banks’ wolf-like performance. He drifts effortlessly between differing energies, somehow balancing his encroaching age with venomous rejections of current rap politics. When he raps, “There’s a difference between arguable and actual classics,” his snarl feels both pointed and self-directed, given the underrated status of many of his projects (not to mention the mess that was made of Rotten Apple).

Whatever his intent, things are far more clear when, on “Convoy”, he sneers, “I’d hate to have to reiterate / Clearly, there’s different levels to rhyming / Let me demonstrate”. He’s both keenly aware of the seachange in hip hop, and how he defies time by remaining a ravenous dinosaur, yet equally aware of just how quickly he’d devour an overconfident challenger. “Brilliant minds on pills and wine makin’ my uniform / Never seen someone with skills like mine / Banks is a unicorn / I’m gon’ be killin’ shit on any song you introduce me on,” he snipes out, as disinterested in competition as he is sure he’d wipe them across the floor.

Halloween Havoc IV: The 72nd Hr is full of these sort of lyrical attitudes and abrupt maneuvers. While The Course of the Inevitable felt a fresh gasp of air from a once distant legend, both it, and more prominently its sequels, felt a bit marred by a safe collection of beats, with Banks steering away from loyal peers from The Alchemist to Eminem in favor of a close collection of minor players. 

His return to Halloween feels endlessly aware of every step from the last, distant flagship of the series, with Banks always on his toes. He manages to retain every bit of flair from his younger years, stuffing damn near every moment of his latest project with a barbed barrier of lyrical wonder, all while retaining a more interesting, diverse collection of instrumentals, versus his recent trilogy. “Convoy” bristles with an angry, prickly piano loop, while “Speeding Season” flips keys into a twinkling, nervous presentation. “Dangerous Methods”, meanwhile, feels trapped between current Griselda sounds (it’s telling that Banks didn’t opt for an easy Conway feature, clearly available, in favor of his own strengths) and a more hollowing, distant backdrop, a haunting slide. “Broken Arrows”, meanwhile, is nearly alien, with an eerie, disembodied vocal sample offsetting a nimble, unsettled Banks. As the beat nearly seems to decay in its latter half, Banks only accelerates, allowing the soundscape to rot around him.

Therein lies one of Banks’ strengths. Across a truly bizarre career of severe highs and lows, he’s never lost sight of just who he is: and just how he is. He endlessly juggles this bizarre Herculean feat between one-time super stardom and relative disappearance. “You Shouldn’t Be Here” feels as directed at detractors and lovers turned traitors as it does the larger career he chose to object to. “Roaming Weather”, meanwhile, feels even more self-directed, with Banks sounding fatigued as he questions, “You only as good as the reputation you ridin’ with / What good is potential you ain’t applying it? / Your higher days got you considering retirement”. Yet, he concludes, “It never really mattered about the odds in it”. He’s determined to stick it around to the bitter end. All that remains to be seen is how far we’ll continue to follow. 

Banks certainly isn’t stopping now, revealing around the time of this release that he intends to finally deliver the long awaited The Cold Corner 3 via an exclusively physical release at $100 a pop. He’s making the gradual ego death worthwhile. He says it himself: “What good is ya product, if it never leaves the shelf?”