[Money By Any Means; 2021]

How many rappers can say they’ve properly arrived four times? Since his earliest G-Unit days, Lloyd Banks has been eating up anyone who dares to get on a track with him. His debut album, The Hunger for More, was his first proper arrival – it’s all too easy to forget this is a guy who went platinum in 2004. His sophomore effort, Rotten Apple, might have stumbled a bit, thanks to (seriously) a threesome-turned-theft resulting in the leak of the songs originally meant for it, but return to it now. The tracks with Prodigy? The fact that he lined up Young Buck, 8Ball, and Scarface for a track? It’s aged well.

Then came his second arrival. “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley” blew up the streets in 2010, it even had Eminem remixing it for his build up to Recovery. He had Kanye saying he was Top 5 DOA, and including him on GOOD Friday highlight “Christian Dior Denim Flow”. Yet, partially due to his label undershipping, The Hunger for More 2 wasn’t quite the return one might have expected based on what preceded it. 

What did Banks do? He pivoted yet again, returning with what felt like his third proper arrival with The Cold Corner 2 in 2011. For a man known for his mixtapes (check out the Halloween Havoc series if you haven’t), the impact of this particular entry was incalculable amongst fiending hip hop heads. From another ruthless Prodigy link-up to a stellar A$AP Rocky collab right on down to the Radiohead recreation of “Cold Corner 2 (Eyes Wide)”, it was a statement for the ages.

Then? Following another run of solid to excellent mixtapes, and a faltered attempt at a G-Unit reunion, Banks seemed to grow quiet. He even mocked himself on social media, tweeting jokingly that no one was looking for a Lloyd Banks verse in 2019.

Well, that certainly didn’t turn out to be true. One of the very clearest influences on Griselda, the members of NYC’s current favorite clique would invite Banks to appear on multiple releases, arguably setting the stage for, yes, yes indeed: his fourth proper arrival.

The wildest thing? His fourth studio album, The Course of the Inevitable, in many ways feels like the realization fans have been praying for across more than a decade. Surely, it was an odd descent, going from one of the hottest rappers on Earth during his association with 50 Cent during the behemoth’s peak, but it’s been hard not to wonder: this guy, much unlike his Power running benefactor, has been an underground favorite for years. Why not embrace it?

This album, then, is Banks finally fully embracing that very destiny. He isn’t concerned about numbers, about charting, he’s releasing independently and just seeking to get out bar after bar after bar. The Course of the Inevitable is just about the most lyrically dense statement in hip hop in recent memory, layered from top to bottom with fatigue and meaning to the extent that you’d think he was writing sentences over one another. It, genuinely and truly, simply requires multiple listens to even begin to unpack every grim nuance and turn of phrase as Banks combs through his ire for an industry that forsook him alongside balancing his depression with the love he feels as a father.

In fact, the one time PLK – Punchline King – shows bracingly little interest in getting in the more immediate “ooh gotcha” moments here (not that he doesn’t find time for them: “The audacity it takes to rate me with a style I invented”), instead opting for lyricism, we’ll say it again, so dense that it’s simply meant to be picked apart line by line on Genius. Anything short of a full dissertation in this review would fail to do them justice, you’ll simply have to give it a very (very) focused listen yourself.

Along for the ride are purely spitters Banks deemed capable of keeping up. Some hold their own (Freddie Gibbs and Roc Marciano), others are consumed entirely, even considering their own prodigious pedigrees (Benny the Butcher and Styles P). He simply didn’t come to play around. After being toyed with for years for being the man who questioned his own destiny – many think Banks could have been a much bigger star, had he simply leaned into it – he’s here to assert, once and for all, that he eternally prefers to maintain his own pensive nature, rather than play any by the numbers game placed before him.

The production behind The Course of the Inevitable, generally speaking, is not flashy (though it does find some brights spots, see the cuckoo clock-like back and forth of “Drop 5”). Rather, much like its benefactor, it’s determined, even single-minded. It needn’t be anything else. Interestingly, “Early Exit”‘s eerie, propulsive backdrop recalls 50 Cent’s own “Irregular Heartbeat”, perhaps an intentional nod to his one-time benefactor. As displayed by the likes of “Falsified”, Banks needs little more than a piano loop and a pounding drumbeat to nail his points home. It’s as if he wanted to make perfectly clear: this is his show, and he needs little behind that necessary behind him to drive home whatever he has to say.

As for the man himself, he’s still deeply in pain and full of moroseness. There are moments of brightness scarcely found in the past, namely, his love for his children, but still roosting supreme are his fears and pain. “Everyone in my face seems foul,” he mourns on, “Break Me Down”, just before launching into the vivid horror of, “Murder’s the realest shit I ever saw / It stuck with me forevermore / The sight let all my emptiness fall down on the floor.” He also finds time for a thought that feels particularly prescient to his past several years: “Only a loser gonna laugh when a n**ga failin’ / If you a lose a little them so-called friends will be bailin’.” Or take this wounded barb on “Pain Pressure Paranoia”: “Give til your empty, nobody is empathetic.”

If there’s one minor criticism one can slide towards The Course of the Inevitable it’s that it’s, at nearly 70 minutes, a lengthy listen, perhaps a tad overlong. Yet, Banks makes every moment count, and it’s only fair that he had plenty to say after his absence, not to mention the torturous length between proper studio LPs. This is his show, his long deserved moment, and he’s in control across every second of it. His attitude here can be summed up in one deceptively simple moment: “Call me quiet, call me lazy, talent never faded / It’s frustrating when your grindin’ ain’t appreciated / Should have been dead in my twenties, shit, at least I made it.”

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