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Lloyd Banks has a strong-ass chin. In physical terms, the Queens MC’s lower face is prominent as hell, but in a more figurative sense, 50’s lil’ buddy knows how to take a hit, suck it up, and keep it moving. Over the past couple of years, Banks has endured everything from sniping about his Leno-esque features and false allegations that he appeared in a gay porno to searing jabs from former G-Unit member the Game about his talent. Banks’ first album, 2004’s The Hunger for More, went platinum, which was more a function of established producers, 50 Cent hooks, and over-the-top videos than any exceptional display of talent on the rapper’s part. For his sophomore album, Rotten Apple, Banks wanted to use superproducers as little as possible in the hope that critics and discerning listeners will realize that ol’ Big Face can sell records like LaFace without the help of well-known beat-makers. Eminem contributes two tracks (“Hands Up” and “NY NY”), while Havoc from Mobb Deep and 9th Wonder give up one apiece (the title track and “One Night Stand,” respectively), but the rest of the production is contributed by lesser-known craftsmen. Still, the lead single from Rotten Apple is “Hands Up,” which is one of those Em songs that manages to be both bombastic and depressive, featuring a 50 Cent hook, an opulent accompanying video, and some dreary 16s from the other Christopher Lloyd—so much for breaking new ground. “I’m a rap star/Who wants to be ridin’ around in that car/ Two in the front, in the back—got the plas-ma/This ain’t a free ride, you gotta have the gas, ma/I wouldn’t buy a chick a pump that got asth-ma,” Banks rhymes. When Banks does what he’s been promising—that is, deviate from his successful, if bland, formula, he sounds amateurish and undisciplined. Without a recognizable name behind the boards or as a guest star—such as Musiq Soulchild, Scarface, and Rakim, who all put in work here—he’s less than stunning. On “Make a Move,” Dirty Swift and Bruce Waynne of the not-quite-household-name production team Midi Mafia present Banks with a track that boasts a vaguely Western guitar and some synthesized keys. Banks complements their fine work with lines such as, “My life’s beautiful, my pockets full of bread/get out of pocket, I’ll play soccer with your head.” On “Stranger,” producer Nick Speed serves up one of those early-’90s New York beats that relies on gothic pianos and beefy bass lines, but again, Banks can’t layer on the sort of lyrics that lift a gifted unknown from obscurity. He does switch from his usual “rich, tough guy who has a lot of sex” act by a half-turn, however: “Stranger” finds Banks paranoid and proclaiming his distrust of people he doesn’t know who might be trying to take his money, test his toughness, and provide competition for all that ass. Banks doesn’t exactly make good on his promise to “make” some of the fine producers he’s unearthed. In fact, placed in the position of having to help out other artists, Banks—accustomed to being the one pulled along—cracks under the pressure and shatters like a glass jaw.—Sarah Godfrey