“Ya betta hide your favorite rapper ‘cuz it’s on this evenin’ / I’ve been rappin’ since Rakim but I’m still fiendin’.” David Banner is a veteran in the rap game, and he lets listeners know it immediately on “Westside,” a song from his latest, Certified. Banner, a Mississippi native who helped put his state on the hip-hop map with 2003’s Mississippi: The Album, still sounds like a hungry, determined artist on his latest project.

The guitar-laced opener, “Lost Souls,” sets the tone for the entire album. Banner’s gruff, raspy and angry voice fits perfectly over the beat. He produced most of the tracks himself, which enables him to affect his listeners on more than just a lyrical level. His use of guitars also adds to the fullness of the sound on Certified. A highlight of the record is when Banner teams up with Chi-town native Twista on its best track, “On Everything.” Banner and the rapid-fire MC go back and forth smoothly over a quick, relentless drum pattern, which is interspersed with loud trumpets. Banner demands respect for the South, as if its artists have not yet been truly accepted in the hip-hop community.

The second half of the album gains momentum by featuring some of the better songs. “Ain’t Got Nothing,” with Magic and Lil’ Boosie, comes off as an anthem for the broke, which is a refreshing change from the rarefied bling-bling lifestyle.

Banner is joined by Dead Prez and Talib Kweli on “Ridin’,” and although it’s controversial for its borderline racist lyrics, the guest stars’ verses are exceptional. But Banner sounds best, spitting lines like, “I might as well split ya wig cuz that’s just what the massa did / But now I’m the new Nat Turner / Spread somethin’ to the kids like Sojourner, man, the truth.”

These two tracks are far and away the most original on the album. Listeners will be hard-pressed to find this kind of variety and insightful content on one album alone.

Banner also has the rare ability to reconnect with his roots when writing rhymes. He has not forgotten where he’s come from (however raw it might be), yet he sprinkles the album with his newly acquired sophisticated ideals.

Certified is energetic and original enough to push the boundaries of its genre following a successful debut, but you can tell from his skills that David Banner is experienced in the booth.

Rating: 3-1/2 out of 5 stars

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