It’s not easy to admit that the world has moved on. Years go by, and with the passage come newfound trends and innovations. For an OG, the shifting landscape hasn’t always proved welcoming. Largely touted as a young man’s game, rap has seen many legendary figures fade into obscurity, sustained by the loyalty of their cult-like followers. At least, that’s what it can feel like at times. In reality, the landscape has become more fertile than ever before, especially with digital distributors and at-home mastering services in the mix.
Today, however, Lloyd Banks put forth a harsh reality. “Let’s be real..ain’t nobody checking for banks anymore,” he wrote, on Twitter. Naturally, his followers were quick to decry the statement, pledging eternal loyalty to the G-Unit legend. And let it be known, the loyalty is certainly well earned. This man was literally dubbed “The Punchline King,” a royal title that should never be taken lightly. Unlike the real monarchy, one does not simply become a king by lineage alone; such positions must be earned through time in the trenches. With countless impeccable freestyles beneath his belt, including everyone’s favorite (or maybe only my own) “Victory,” a hefty catalog of G-Unit radio contributions, a classic solo album and crew project to his name, and “Beamer Benz Or Bentley,” Lloyd Banks has certainly earned the right to do whatever he so pleases.
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Yet to suggest that nobody is checking for him? Egregious. There are many who still hold onto the qualities Banks’ unique style has espoused for years. In an era in which lyricism has been, not so much on the decline, but perhaps slightly undervalued in the mainstream, artists like Banks serve as a reminder of a different era. There’s a reason people are still checking for various radio freestyles whenever they drop – Funk Flex isn’t the only one who still appreciates bars. As a testament to Banks’ endurance, articles that center around him tend to perform rather well, considering he hasn’t dropped new music in a minute. Hunger For More is largely considered a hip-hop classic, and given how difficult such a feat is to achieve, Banks’ name will forever ring bells in certain circles. No matter how much the current musical trends seem to deviate from his plotted path.
Consider some of his still-active contemporaries, many of whom came up during the same timeframe as Banks. Since his debut in 2002, Styles P has dropped off eleven studio albums, with his most recent arriving this year. Royce Da 5’9” has been consistently delivering mixtapes and full-bodied projects, with rumors of new music on the way. Joell Ortiz, himself a lyrically-focused OG, just finished up with Monday. Ghostface Killah, a damned visionary in the purest form, is about to drop some new music. Snoop Dogg’s I Wanna Thank Me, an album that’s mere weeks old, found him sounding completely revitalized. His own fellow groupmate Young Buck has been extremely active on the mixtape circuit, delivering project after project for his loyal fans. Fabolous and Jadakiss, themselves no stranger to the Punchline Monarchy, recently dropped off a collaborative, bar-fuelled tape. The list goes on.
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To suggest his buzz has run dry feels uncharacteristically insecure. Especially for who a man who once said he’d put “a dot on your head like it’s part of your religion.” Perhaps, in his own mind, his words ring true. After all, it’s unlikely that Banks would end up on the charts, were he to release a new single from the depths of the bluest blue. Still, is that to say that nobody is checking for him? Hardly not. One does not need to be a driver of the mainstream charts to be relevant, especially when one’s pedigree has already been well-established. Lest we forget that nostalgia remains one of the most powerful marketing tools available. Rap listeners who came up during the Platinum Era (1999-2004) would likely be ready and willing to revisit their prime years, many of which are associated with songs by Banks and his similarly-aged peers.
Perhaps he was merely testing the waters, using a subtle dose of reverse psychology to drum up expectations for an imminent release. Were that to be the case, I believe that many would happily take the time to check out some new Banks music, especially if he were to double down with another dose of his signature formula. A third Hunger For More perhaps, or maybe a straight-up mixtape. In truth, the ball is in his court and he can do as he pleases. But if you’re anything like me, seeing Banks openly hang up the spurs was a disheartening sight to behold. Hopefully, the next time he walks past his wall of fame, the Punchline King can catch a glimpse of his crown and feel the hunger once again. He might find himself surprised at the response.