One of my favorite things that Malcolm X ever did was admit that he was wrong. His hajj to Mecca expanded his worldview and in an epiphanic letter home, he advocated his new-found belief in racial unity, explaining, "on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions."
And so, it is in the spirit of growth and open revision that David Banner invokes the name of a great leader both within and for the title of his "Malcolm X (A Song to Me)." Banner is best known for the "Whisper Song"-esque come-on "Play," and otherwise some party-/strip-club rap ("Step into club looking just like a pimp / We got cash so we screaming out, 'Shake something, bitch,'" begins his verse in "Like a Pimp"). His latest mixtape, Sex, Drugs & Video Games, finds him on a pronounced socially conscious beat, and the single, "Malcolm X" sums the pervading theme:
A man ain't shit on this earth without history
The only thing they gonna say about black folks
We like to fuck hoes and sell dope
Shoot jump shots and run balls
Take white money and give it right back at the mall.
Note the further suggestion of influence in his echoing the Malcolm quote, "History is a people's memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals."
In "Malcolm X," Banner laments hip-hop's potential as a bad influence and indicts himself: "I don't want these kids to grow up and be me." It seems responsible, but its surroundings on Sex, Drugs & Video Games make for a cloudier picture of exactly what Banner is trying to accomplish. He says, "Don't wanna teach these little girls to put their pussy on the pole," but he has Chris Brown elsewhere on the release enthusing, "And she the best dancer going hammer / And this new girl way better." He includes an interlude in which a woman asks him, "David Banner, would you let someone call your mother or daughter a bitch? If not, then why would you call someone else's mother or daughter a bitch?" but then says a few songs later, "But in reality all bitches ain't nothing but hoes." It doesn't make too much sense. It's as though he has a willingness to change but still fears of abandoning his old ways. Mainstream rap seems to be taking a bigger turn for the political, but it's not like "Malcolm X" is going to be igniting airwaves and flying up iTunes charts.
What "Malcolm X" presents is a man in flux, on his own spiritual journey. He isn't there yet. Who knows if he'll actually make it, but it's worth rooting for.