PREVIEW There has never been a more fitting musical stage name than the one chosen by Lavell Crump. Crump's pseudonym of choice, David Banner, perfectly sums up his style and his struggle: he, like the protagonist of The Incredible Hulk, is a man of stark contrasts.
The MC and musician is unafraid to voice his progressive social beliefs, and is a dedicated humanitarian who raised more than $500,000 for Hurricane Katrina relief in Louisiana and his home state of Mississippi. He weaves engrossing tales about the struggle and strife that surrounded him growing up in a destitute section of a racially divided Jackson. All his albums contain touching tales of Americans fighting to survive in one of the most maligned and ignored areas in the country. On his latest, The Greatest Story Ever Told (Universal), Banner respectfully acknowledges his state's blessings and problems on the swirling salute to the past, "Cadillac on 22's Part II": "Mississippi is the place where your boy came from / But so many people are still afraid to come / But, I'm gon' tell the truth / It's just real good food / And real strong people / Who still refuse to move."
Of course, like the fictional scientist Dr. David Banner, the performer has an alter ego. Though all Banner's recordings include sobering, powerful tracks, they all also contain formulaic "booty jams" like his biggest hit and possibly worst song 2005's "Play." They tend to come off as scurrilous and awkward instead of titilutf8g. Myopic critics often focus on these missteps, and Banner gets the unfair reputation of being another derivative, chauvinistic rapper. Story is a perfect example of the duality that both gives Banner life and holds him back. The disc's versatility keeps it interesting, as he coolly shifts from pensive, engrossing numbers ("Hold On") to real heaters that showcase the rapper's signature flow ("So Long"). But he falls into the same pitfalls of his earlier albums with the sleazy "A Girl." Expect all sides of Banner to be in full force when he performs live, backed by the Rhythm Roots All-Stars.
DAVID BANNER With Talib Kweli and Little Brother. Thurs/2, 7 p.m., $32. The Grand Ballroom at the Regency Center, 1300 Van Ness, SF. (415) 673-5716, www.goldenvoice.com
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