REVIEW: Ryan Banks – Bank On It Mixtape Volume 4

Bank On It - Mixtape Volume 4

Artist: Ryan Banks

Album: Bank on It – Mixtape Volume 4

Label: RoofTop Entertainment

Rating: 5 / 10

Reviewer: mattmatical

The mixtape circuit. Maybe mixtape circus would be the more appropriate term, as today’s promotional format causes/forces many MC’s to put on a very specific show that includes performing stunts that, while considerably entertaining on their own, consumed back to back evoke a strong sensation of déjà-vu with so many circuses in town at any given date. In its apparently already fourth installment, ‘Bank on It’ is hosted by P-Cutta and like its predecessors intended to hip you to Philly rapper Ryan Banks.

‘In God I Trust’ sets the CD off, with Banks rapping matter-of-factly over the ‘Juicy’ beat. Within seconds you realize that structurally, this is a rapper that makes sense. He argues with the intent of coming up with clear statements that reveal something about his persona:

“I push(ed) powder, that ain’t somethin’ that I’m proud of
but I gotta get substantial financial power
[…]
Turn this up louder
Put it on repeat, let it run for an hour
Let it sink in
This is Ryan Banks to let you know what I’m thinkin’
I’m hip-hop and rock ‘n roll, neo-soul
A model and actor rolled up in a rapper
I ain’t a gangsta, I’m a thug activist
I’m half-white but I love my blackness
And my wifey love me
regardless of my past or how my life been ugly
But my future is beautiful
My life is a movie, it’s truly a musical
[…]
My front door was on the news
on the front page of the papers, the shit was major
My life’s been filled with danger and anger
which inspires me as an entertainer
[…]
There ain’t no peace on these streets
My niggas gotta eat, man, fuck the police
that’s why I fuck with these beats
to reach niggas in the street with nothin’ to eat”

After this well-rounded and simply-put address, he doesn’t hesitate to engage in some verbal gymnastics, starting off ‘You Ready’ with Pun-like assonance and alliteration and then getting straight to the dilemma:

“The evil in me got me walkin’ the fence
talkin’ no sense
Lost in the dark in this bitch
But I’ma start to get rich
My heart’ll get lit, I promise you this
Prominent, dominant, conscious spit
On every continent, I’m conquerin’ it
but for now I kinda spit with no consequence”

That’s something Nas could have said, at some point. Unfortunately, Ryan Banks’ attempt to ride that fence, to show the good, the bad and the ugly, is bogged down by highly standardized cliché raps of the thug variety. Banks struggles to make a mark alongside Jeezy, Juelz and Jim Jones on ‘Get Money,’ and ‘Go Crazy’ can’t be saved even by the occasional to-the-point punchline (“I’m a lotta drama / period, muthafuck a comma”).

Another problem is that several songs simply call for another than the mixtape environment. The sound quality tends to be terrible, as if this wasn’t the age of digitally produced and reproduced CD’s and people would still dub tapes. When your mixtape hosts comes across considerably clearer than anything else, you got a problem. Hence, 50 Cent and Lloyd Banks contributions (‘Smile for Me’) guest vocals by Raheem Devaughn (‘Love Making 101’) and R. Kelly (‘So Many’) are wasted on something with limited replay value. When Kells urges DJ’s to “bang this in the club,” he can’t possibly refer to the flat version that ended up on “Bank on It.” It is equally unlikely that DJ’s would spin a potential hit like ‘Make Those Titties Bounce’ in its present form.

Although some of them are in better shape than others, the original beats leave a lot to be desired, instantly crippling attempts such as ‘RoofTop Anthem (Forever),’ ‘We Can Do It’ or ‘Take Over the Game.’ Banks, who remembers growing up “a porch away from Scott Storch, way before ‘Lean Back’,” and having “spit on his first track, on his first beat machine, before Black Thought,” would be better advised to invest his money into solid production, rather than “custom jewels.”

Overall, Ryan Banks is a talented rapper (although cursed with a rather mellow, somewhat harmless vocal tone). He tries to reach the other, the good side, but is distracted by the current demands of the game and rap’s age-old aspiration to be the illest, dropping lines so foul they put him on a direct collision course with his god-fearing inner self. And that dilemma isn’t lessed by the fact that he realizes it, seeing himself “in a circle somewhere between the church and the serpent / spittin’ a sermon, mixed with perversion.”

We all know that without shadow there’d be no light, but why every rapper has to let good and evil duke it out right inside his soul is beyond me. The rock-tinged ‘Like I Thought it Be’ looks back on the drug dealing days with regret and has Banks describing himself as a “spiritual man” and “artist” whose “heart is a good one.” That doesn’t prevent him from pledging his allegiance to the dark side on ‘You Know Me’:

“They want me to do love songs, want me to do club songs
not the I-sold-drugs-and-shed-blood songs
Them thug songs they say is wrong for my image
But I gotta spit about it, nigga, if I really lived it
I rap about coke, nigga, cause I really flipped it
I rap about hoes, nigga, cause I really pimped it
I rap about dough, nigga, cause I really get it
and I pack a .44 for them niggas that be trippin'”

To his credit, Banks never makes hustling seem like just a cool thing to do but lets you know why someone would choose this route. But not enough distance is kept, which is all the more unfortunate as Banks shows himself to be able to keep that distance, last but not least in the unexpectedly political-themed ‘Art of War,’ where over a decidedly different, jazzy beat he checks the “white-haired white men up in the White House” and decries “Neo-Nazi shit, modern day slavery and geopolitics…” concluding, “…but we the people that God is with / and y’all the people that I can be honest with.”

But maybe that’s being too harsh with ‘just’ a mixtape. And on the mixtape tip, ‘Bank on It’ got some goodies, whether he holds his own freestyling alongside SunNY or shares not just his ‘Dreams’, but ‘Schemes’ of fucking an industry bitch. Here, in the tradition of Biggie, he rates today’s hottest singers and actresses, promising to Eva Longoria that her Desperate Housewife days are over, and to “pay Lil’ Kim a conjugal visit in prison, and just give her the jism.” In short: “I’d run through ’em all like I’m in a fast lane / and Tyra wouldn’t have to change her last name.” True enough.

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