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Yung Bans - Vol. 5 Music Album Reviews

On his latest project, the Atlanta rapper struggles to break the mold while searching for vulnerability with middling results.

As the rap vanguard bleeds into its rock and new-wave era, the rockstar persona has become the go-to mode. One glance at Yung Bans’ David Bowie-inspired artwork for Vol. 5 and there’s no doubt Atlanta rapper is digging for gold in the same vein. The experimentation is encouraging, but it’s hard to tell which artists use these reference points as conduits for genre-bending as opposed to some ornamental aesthetic. Bans seems to be stuck in the middle.

Like many of his contemporaries, the work of the 19-year-old is consequently more radio-ready than the early output of his de facto mentor Future, or Young Thug, or Chief Keef. He operates at a lower vocal register than Thug, without Future’s trademark warbling or songcraft, and doesn’t experiment with flows as much as either. Now that audiences are used to their vocal templates, Bans’ less eccentric style makes the music more easily accessible, especially with unsung producers like MexikoDro and Danny Wolf in his corner.

Over the course of nine tracks and 23 minutes, Bans searches for some semblance of vulnerability to middling results. The high points on the album—much like those of his predecessors—come when he tinkers with vocal malleability and sonic landscape, or turns the studio booth into a confession booth. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between. To his credit, Bans is considerably younger than Future was when he reached the national conscious, with an open murder case hanging over his head that could limit non-confidential subject matter.

His circumstances are unfortunate—the autobiographical points on Vol. 5 are more aligned with the emotive nature of the rockstars Bans strives to emulate. By the second verse of “Wish I Had,” he’s confessing growing pains with himself, his mother and incarcerated father, and the subsequent men in her life: “He ain’t even show up to court, but I’m a bigger sport/Still love that lil bitty whore/I’m still your second little boy/I mean no disrespect but mama, this just how I feel/Why you out here lookin’ for love? I heard that love kills.”

“Ridin” is a clear party standout, as Bans’ melodies mesh well with the infectious ukulele and steelpan, lulling the listener into a scene-stealing verse from YBN Nahmir. The most sobering moment, however, comes on the closing track, the XXXTentacion tribute “So Long My Friend.” In the wake of the murders of young rappers like X, Da Real Gee Money, Lil Snupe and others, it’s distressing to ponder the legacy of America’s youngest musical genre as it moves into its fourth decade. Even with knowledge of X’s abusive past, “Pushin’ up, we want revenge, we don’t do no grieving” is a jarring but familiar response to cyclical violence, one that doesn’t inspire hope for reconciliation.

On Die Lit, Playboi Carti broke out of a creative slump by tweaking his vocal inflections to a comical degree (see “Flatbed Freestyle”) and it would serve Bans well to do the same. If not, opting for more unorthodox trap production could elevate his the otherwise flat tone across Vol 5. Rap narratives have reached critical mass and autobiographical or conceptual content are the most effective ways to bring something new to the table. It’s obvious Yung Bans has a working knowledge of Atlanta’s sonic tendencies. But he hasn’t tapped into the city’s upper echelon or their willingness to break the molds placed before them.

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