Death of a Pop Star

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Death of a Pop Star
Death of a Pop Star.jpg
Studio album by David Banner and 9th Wonder
Released December 21, 2010 (2010-12-21)
Recorded 2009–10
Bright Lady Studios
(Raleigh, North Carolina)
Premier Studios
(New York City)
Genre Hip hop
Length 30:34
Label Big Face Entertainment, E1
Producer Executive producer
Samantha Selolwane
Corey Smyth

Music producer
David Banner chronology
The Greatest Story Ever Told
Death of a Pop Star
Sex, Drugs & Video Games
9th Wonder chronology
Death of a Pop Star
The Wonder Years
Singles from Death of a Pop Star
  1. "Slow Down"
    Released: November 19, 2010
  2. "Be With You"
    Released: November 23, 2010

Death of a Pop Star is a concept album made in collaboration between Mississippi hip hop artist David Banner and North Carolina record producer 9th Wonder. It was released on December 21, 2010 under Banner's independent record label, Big Face Entertainment; and distributed through eOne Music. Originally conceived as a mixtape, it serves as the two Grammy Award-winning artists' first collaborative work together and 9th Wonder's fifteenth collaborative album.

Death of a Pop Star was recorded during 2009 to 2010 at Bright Lady Studios in Raleigh, North Carolina and Premier Studios in New York City. The production was mainly handled by 9th Wonder with additional assistance from David Banner, THX, Warryn Campbell and E. Jones on various tracks. The record also features guest appearances from rappers Ludacris and Big Remo; and singers Anthony Hamilton, Lisa Ivey, Marsha Ambrosius, Heather Victoria and Erykah Badu. The album's theme is the death of contemporary black music, which has been devalued for style, over substance, and decimated by the increasing popularity of music downloads.

The album was preceded by two official singles – "Slow Down" featuring Heather Victoria, and "Be With You" featuring Ludacris and Marsha Ambrosius. The latter spent thirteen weeks on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, peaking at number 44. The song is David Banner's first single to appear on that chart after more than two years. The album sold 7,300 copies in the United States in its first week of release, debuting and peaking at number 14 at the Top Independent Albums chart. A departure from Banner's past recordings, Death of a Pop Star received generally favorable reviews from contemporary music critics who considered it as the rapper's best work to date and praised 9th Wonder's production.


Initially, I was working on my own album when I was going through a lot spiritually and mentally…just growing up. I've been able to see just about every aspect of the world, from Third World countries to some of the richest places in Europe and in America. I really got another aspect of how the world looks at Black people, especially young Black males. I didn't want to die with everyone remembering David Banner for the most for "Play" and "Get Like Me". Just as a man that bothered me because historically, the only thing people are going to know about you 500 years from now are the things that's left in books, music and articles. I had a really big problem with that.

— David Banner, speaking in October 2010, with Vibe about the inspiration and drive behind the album.[1]

In July 2008, David Banner's released his fourth studio album, The Greatest Story Ever Told. It reached at number 3 on the US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and at number 8 on the US Billboard 200, with first-week sales of 51,800 copies. The album spawned three singles: "Speaker", better known by its explicit title "9mm", "Get Like Me" and "Shawty Say". "Get Like Me" has proven to be Banner's second most successful single to date, peaking at number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100, after "Play" (2005), which hit at number 7. The album was met with mixed reviews from fans and contemporary music critics upon its release, disappointing Banner who had expected it to be his defining album.[2] Reflecting on what went wrong; Banner felt marginalized by the music industry's expectations and wanted to enlist an elite producer to explore more creative and challenging avenues.[2] "I wanted to feel different, I felt trapped in rap music," Banner admitted. "I felt like I was dying musically."[2]

Though the Mississippi native rapper has previously produced his own music, he gave up double-duty as producer and emcee and stuck to microphone duties for his next project.[3] Since he wanted to go in a different direction from songs like "Get Like Me" and "Play", he made a list of producers he wanted to work with, which included Nottz, 9th Wonder, Just Blaze, DJ Khalil and Madlib.[1] He finally decided to work with 9th Wonder as they both have a mutual friend known as DJ Cuzzin B, who runs a DJ business with Wonder.[4]

On October 5, 2009, in the wake of the murder of Derrion Albert, David Banner leaked online a song titled "Something Is Wrong", which addresses the issues like Albert's murder, US president Barack Obama, racism and homosexuality.[5][6] Banner told MTV's Mixtape Daily, that the song wasn't dedicated specifically to Albert, however, it became the part of this project that he is working on with producer 9th Wonder.[7] "Me and 9th Wonder are really good friends, and we really got tired of people complaining about the fact that there's no good music. And we started making this album called Death of a Pop Star."[7]

With him teaming up with 9th, it marks the first time that he's turned over production duties for the duration of an album.[3] This decision originates from his motivation to prove listeners that they could place him amongst any lyricist they like. "I wanted to prove to people that you could put me on the level of anybody that you like lyrically, and I think I proved that with this record," Banner said. "And it's funny, I'm starting to hear people say that for the first time ever, people have started putting me up against some of the biggest lyricists now. I wanted to just focus on the pen on this album."[3]

The pairing was odd to many, as Banner's style is endemic to the Southern crunk culture, while Wonder is known for his signature style of using muffled percussion,[8] chopping creaky soul samples and rearranging them into boom bap hip hop music.[3] Adopting a sound that originated in New York City wasn't a product of circumstance, but rather a conscious decision to help bring focus back to David Banner's lyrical abilities. "As soon as I added 808s to my music, it seemed like people stopped listening, on top of the fact that I had a very heavy Southern drawl," Banner said. "So I really concentrated on articulating my words this time, but not stomping on or suppressing my Southern accent."[3]

The album helped Banner spiritually; he revealed, "Money can't soothe your soul. I was making a lot of money but something didn't feel right spiritually for me. I just said I wanted to do something different."[9]

Recording and production[edit]

9th Wonder produced the entirety of the album, except "The Light", which is produced by E. Jones, a lead producer of Wonder's production team, The Soul Council.

The recording sessions for Death of a Pop Star took place during 2009 to 2010 at Bright Lady Studios in Raleigh, North Carolina and Premier Studios in New York City.[10] The album was produced by 9th Wonder, and was mixed by Neal Pogue and Pat Viala.[10][11] David Banner provided additional production, along with Warryn Campbell for The Machine, Chris "THX" Goodman for BANNER BEATS, and E. Jones—a lead producer of 9th Wonder's production team, The Soul Council—who also produced "The Light", the only track without input from Wonder.[10][12] Live instrumentation is provided by Kevin Williams (flutes), Dontae Winslow (horns), E. Jones (keyboards), THX (keyboards), Warryn Campbell (bass, live drums, keyboards and piano), and David Banner as well (keyboards).[10] The endeavor also features additional vocals from Melodye Perry, Carlos Ricketts, and Joi Starr.[10]

Initially, the two artists were going to release their joint project as a free mixtape. However, the resulting sessions exceeded expectations.[13] 9th Wonder explained, "When we did the first three songs, we were like, 'Man, we ain't giving this jam away.' It was like, 'Man, this is really some good music.' Then about four or five [records] in, we were like, 'Oh boy, we can't give this away'."[13] Subsequently, the pair decided to develop their project into a full-length album.[14]

On few occasions, there were arguments between both men over some of the album's creative decisions.[15][16] For example, 9th told Banner to record "Be With You", which the rapper declined because he disliked the instrumental.[17] After five hours, Wonder finally convinced him to rap over it, and called past collaborator Ludacris and English singer-songwriter Marsha Ambrosius that same night to have them participate on the record as well.[17] During an interview with Okayplayer's OKPTV on June 26, 2010, Banner admitted that he was wrong about the track, stating that "it's probably one of the most amazing songs", and has chosen it as the album's second single.[16]


Title significance[edit]

The title was the result of a studio badinage between both artists about the music industry's state, with 9th coming to the revelation that today's superstar will never be as successful as those of an earlier era.[3] "We were just talking about the death of contemporary music," Banner said.[3] "How have we continued to let music go in the direction that it is? It's almost impossible for there to be another Michael Jackson or Usher or Chris Brown. And 9th said "Damn! That's what we should call it. 'Death of a Pop Star'."[3][4]

The album and its title touch on a sobering reality that could complicate the already troubled music industry.[3] David Banner opined that "[i]f music continues in the way that it is now", it would be impossible for up-and-coming singers to cross into the Madonna or Michael Jackson stratosphere.[3] "The truth is, I don't think anything is impossible when you equate in the spirit of a man. They said that's one thing you can't equate or put a mathematical equation on, and that's the spirit of a human being. So I think if we are conscious of what's going on, we can change anything as human beings."[3]

While many think the album's title refers to the death of being a pop star, the Mississippian insisted that he and 9th chose this title so they could not only talk about the album, but also the death of contemporary music.[18]


For David Banner, the quickly compiled throwaway projects are hurting more than helping hip hop.

Death of a Pop Star explores the theme of the demise of contemporary black music. 9th Wonder explained the inspiration behind the project and how it relates to Michael Jackson's passing. "We thought that in many ways the death of Michael Jackson meant the death of black music… Not to say black music is dead all the way, but on the mainstream side there's not really much of a focus on soul. There's not a lot of people trying to redefine soul music. It's a situation that we wanted to address and put out in the mainstream arena."[19] Thinking that what the North Carolina producer said could be taken out of context, Banner clarified that it wasn't so much about the late King of Pop; it was that Jackson had died around the same time as they started discussing about titles for the album.[1]

According to Banner, music has been decimated by the increasing popularity of downloads.[7] "People just look at music as a download. But what they don't understand is when you get a Lil Wayne on your album, you have to pay for Wayne and you have to get that money back. If you are not able to push units like a Michael or an Usher, how will you be able to possess the power to really move the masses of people? That's where the power comes in to renegotiate your recording contract; that's where you have the power to not only move things musically, but to move things socially."[1]

For Banner, the album represents hip hop beyond the quickly compiled disposable projects, which he claimed are hurting more the art rather than helping it.[20] The rapper elaborately gave his thoughts on his definition of art, "and the risks of an artist such as himself taking the path towards releasing a more conscious project."[9] "Our music is dying. If we don't change something soon, this won't be an art anymore… Why should somebody buy it if there's no complexity in it? An art means it's something that everybody can't do. Rap music shouldn't be easy… I want Death of a Pop Star to make you feel a different way, because then it's an art. It's something you have to be prepared to listen to."[9]

Both artists felt that the state of the industry and music in general has been downgraded for style, over substance.[21] "9th Wonder is probably one of the most soulful cats in our generation," told Banner. "Death of a Pop Star is needed for a balance in the music landscape right now, just like 2 Live Crew and A Tribe Called Quest were once needed at the same time."[21]

Release and promotion[edit]

Death of a Pop Star was originally scheduled to be released on December 29, 2009 as a free album.[22] In October 2009, it was reported that David Banner and 9th Wonder would be setting up a website where donations can be sent for the album. Half of the proceeds from these donations would be given to a non-profit organization.[7][23] However, after both artist decided to release it as a full-length album, the project was pushed back, first for a release in summer 2010, then to November 7, 2010. Finally, 9th Wonder announced via Twitter that he and Banner would release the album on December 21, 2010 after increased anticipation for the collaborative effort, and securing a distribution deal with eOne Music.[9][24]

Promotional singles[edit]

On October 5, 2009, in tribute to Derrion Albert, a Chicago-based 16-year-old who was brutally murdered, 9th Wonder and David Banner leaked onto the Internet a song from the album entitled "Something Is Wrong". On October 18, 2009, it was reported that Banner's Heal the Hood Foundation and have partnered with MTV and enlisted the help of local celebrities and artists including Twista, AK of Do or Die, Malik Yusef, Naledge of Kidz in the Hall, Rhymefest, Tiffany of Bad Girls Club, J-Niice (B-96), Leon Rogers (WGCI), The Cool Kids, Crucial Conflict, along with MTV host Sway Calloway, to raise awareness of violence among urban youth throughout Chicago by organizing an Anti-Violence rally.[25][26][27] The rally, which was scheduled to take place on October 20, 2009, would serve as a creative canvas and backdrop for the video shoot of the remix of "Something Is Wrong" which featured verses from Naledge, Twista, Rhymefest and Skooda Chose.[28][29] However, due to an increase in the anticipated number of attendees and resulting safety concerns, the event was postponed to mid-November.[30][31]


On January 19, 2010, David Banner published on YouTube a teaser for the collaborative album. The teaser features a scrolling text, which provides an explanation of the album's context, with the album opener, "Diamonds on My Pinky", playing in the background.[32] The text is as follows:

There is always life after death… this applies to science, spirituality & literature. Neither the agnostic man, the religious man, nor the philosopher can deny that science, religious dogma and literary works are entrenched in the notion, that there is a rebirth and new life gained from death. The album title "Death Of A Pop Star" is a bold open-ended headline, that can be interpreted however anyone chooses, but you must give the album a thoughtful and introspective listen. We hope the spirit of positive energy, which inspired this collaborative effort will renew and uplift people from all walks of life.[32]

An Evening With…[edit]

The first installation of Death of a Pop Star's webcomic strip.

On June 26, 2010, Hot 97's Peter Rosenberg hosted a special event called An Evening With… to interview the two emcee-producers, take questions from the fans, and preview music from the album.[16] This event was open to the public and approximately fifty fans were granted entry on a first-come, first-served basis.[15] OKPTV was present as well to cover the event as well as to get their own Q&A session in which the two artists addressed their partnership and how it came about, among other topics.[16] The event took place at 92YTribeca in New York City.[15]

Comic strip[edit]

On December 10, 2010, 9th Wonder and David Banner have launched an anime-styled webcomic strip series for promotional purposes.[33] The comic strip, which has the same title as the album it coincides with, centers around both men living in the real world with superhuman powers.[34] Throughout the series, the duo is forced to deal with a number of personal problems; 9th Wonder's character toils with issues of inner conflict, discipline and violence, and David Banner's character, while following a higher calling, must grow up in an impoverished environment.[33]

Both artists had always intended to make Death of a Pop Star a multimedia release.[34] For 9th, "Comics, sneakers, and Hip-Hop have always been close-knit with each other for years and years. This comic strip will show you exactly how CLOSE the relationships between those entities are."[33] Banner revealed that the pair's original vision for the joint endeavor is followed by the unveiling of the comic strip.[33] "The idea with Death of a Pop Star was never for it to be only an album," Banner added.[33] "The aim of this project was to engage the consumer on many different levels. With the music industry being in the state it's in, we as artists need to provide as much intriguing content as possible for our fans. This is the second step in exposing the Death of a Pop Star project on many different platforms."[33]


An Afro-American man.
A Black British woman.
Ludacris (top) and Marsha Ambrosius (bottom) both worked with the duo on "Be With You".

The album's lead single, "Slow Down" featuring Heather Victoria, was leaked onto the internet on January 21, 2010, and its music video premiered on June 21, 2010.[35][36] Illusive Media and David Banner directed the video with a theme that was loosely based on John Carpenter's 1988 cult classic, They Live, which starred Roddy Piper and Keith David.[37][38] On November 19, 2010, the album's version was made available for purchase.[39] The album's rendition is different from the original leaked version, solely produced by 9th Wonder. The latter contains a sample of "On Impact" as performed by The Whispers.[40] Possibly due to sample clearance issues, 9th, Banner and Warryn Campbell reproduced the song, and the vocal samples are sung by Melodye Perry.[10][41]

The album's second single, "Be With You" featuring rapper Ludacris and R&B singer Marsha Ambrosius, was released on November 23, 2010.[42] The song spent thirteen weeks on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, in which it peaked at number 44.[43] The song is David Banner's first single to appear on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart after more than two years.[24] The music video, directed by Mr. Boomtown, premiered on December 16, 2010 on MTV.[44] On January 2, 2014, celebrity news website TMZ reported that David Banner and Ludacris along with Marsha Ambrosius received a copyright infringement lawsuit over allegedly using a sample of late soul singer's Tyrone Davis 1979 ballad, "Be With Me", without permission.[45] Banner has been sued by the song's producer and publishing company, who claim that the rapper-producer illegally sampled Davis' tune on "Be With You".[46] Ludacris and Marsha are mentioned in the lawsuit because they appear on the song. Noticeably, 9th Wonder and co-producer Warryn Campbell have been left off the filing.[47]


Critical response[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 3.5/5 stars[48]
DJBooth 4/5 stars[49]
HipHopDX 4/5 stars[50]
HipHopSite.Com 4/5 stars[41]
Pitchfork Media 5.8/10[51]
Prefix Magazine 6.5/10[8]
RapReviews 7/10[37]
SoulCulture 4/5 stars[20]
The Smoking Section 3.5/5[52]
USA Today 3/4 stars[53]

Upon its release, Death of a Pop Star opened up to generally favorable reviews from contemporary music critics. Justin "The Company Man" Hunte, Editor-in-Chief at HipHopDX, hailed Death of a Pop Star as "David Banner's best work to date" and "the most digestible to those jarred by the Crooked Lettaz' front-man's production." Additionally, he praised it as Wonder's "most complete pet project since Murray's Revenge." He described the album as "both diverse and earnest, commanding and club ready", concluding that "it places the Mississippi emcee's mic skills front and center, highlighting his ability to captivate lyrically and stylistically over beats he's never approached previously."[50] Emanuel Wallace of RapReviews noted that the album's production "works exceptionally well with Banner's oftentimes aggressive flow, which is probably a surprise to most people going into this project."[37] Despite the surprising pairing of the two artists, David Jeffries, reviewing for AllMusic, noted that "there's a great chemistry" between them on the album and that Banner successfully flows "in an introspective style if he needs to deliver a message and then switching into brute mode when he needs to drive words through thick skulls." Yet, he noticed that "while [the album's] sold as a conceptual piece inspired by the end of music industry, it does go off topic without warning."[48]

SoulCulture's Jermaine Dobbins wrote that "[t]hose who remember the rapper's more explicit work such as 'Like a Pimp' or 'Play' would be forgiven for not [recognizing] this as the same man." Similarly, Nathan S., writing for DJBooth, asserted that Death of a Pop Star "won't have the widespread appeal of many of Banner's previous hits, so a substantial portion of the population will continue to think of him as the man responsible for 'Tip Drill', but those who actually sit down and listen to the album will never be able to look at the man the same way again."[49]

In a mixed review for Pitchfork, Jess Harvell panned the lyrics, calling them a "mess", and criticized the album for being "heavy on drippy love raps", having "dumbly repetitive hooks", and "beats suspiciously lacking in thump-value", but admitted that there "are moments throughout Death of a Pop Star that suggest the better album that might have resulted with a little more focus and intensity", and acknowledged that Banner is "too odd and talented, too much his own man, to wind up an also-ran in hip-hop history."[51] Wilson McBee of Prefix Magazine opined that the album's "problems are partially due to sequencing", explaining, "The record starts with blistering battle-rhyming, retreats into tepid alt-rap, and finishes with melancholy social critique." Also, McBee thought both artists "probably could have improved the album by weaving these thematic threads rather than separating them."[8]

Commercial performance[edit]

Death of a Pop Star debuted at number 17 on the Billboard Top Rap Albums chart, selling 7,300 copies in its first week of release.[54][55] It entered at number 41 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, as well as entering the Top Independent Albums chart at number 14.[56][57]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s)[10] Length
1. "Diamonds on My Pinky"
  • 9th Wonder
  • David Banner*
  • THX*
2. "No Denying (Channel 3)"
  • 9th Wonder
  • David Banner*
  • Campbell*
3. "Mas 4"
  • Crump
  • Douthit
9th Wonder 1:20
4. "The Light"
E. Jones 4:18
5. "Slow Down" (featuring Heather Victoria)
  • 9th Wonder
  • David Banner*
  • Campbell*
6. "Be With You" (featuring Ludacris and Marsha Ambrosius)
  • 9th Wonder
  • David Banner*
  • Campbell*
7. "Stutter" (featuring Anthony Hamilton)
  • 9th Wonder
  • David Banner*
  • Campbell*
8. "Silly" (featuring Erykah Badu)
  • 9th Wonder
  • David Banner*
  • THX*
9. "Something Is Wrong" (featuring Lisa Ivey)
  • Crump
  • Douthit
  • Campbell
  • 9th Wonder
  • David Banner*
  • Campbell*
10. "Strange" (featuring Big Remo)
  • Crump
  • Douthit
  • Campbell
  • 9th Wonder
  • David Banner*
  • E. Jones*
  • Campbell*
Total length: 30:34

 • (*) designates additional production

  • "Diamonds on My Pinky" features additional vocals from Carlos Ricketts, and keys by David Banner and THX.
  • "No Denying (Channel 3)" features additional vocals from Melodye Perry, bass and piano by Warryn Campbell.
  • "Slow Down" features additional vocals from Melodye Perry.
  • "Be With You" features keys by Warryn Campbell and E. Jones, horns by Dontae Winslow and flutes by Kevin Williams.
  • "Stutter" features additional vocals from Joi Starr.
  • "Silly" features rap vocals from 9th Wonder as 9thmatic, additional vocals from Joi Starr and horns by Dontae Winslow.
  • "Strange" features flutes by Kevin Williams and live drums by Warryn Campbell.
Sample credits
  • "No Denying (Channel 3)" contains a sample of "Just Like a Lady" performed by Barbara Jean English.
  • "The Light" contains a sample of "Doggone" performed by Love.
  • "Slow Down" contains a sample of "On Impact" performed by The Whispers.
  • "Be With You" contains a sample of "Be With Me" performed by Tyrone Davis.
  • "Strange" contains a sample of "Cry of a Dreamer" performed by The Sylvers.


Credits for Death of a Pop Star adapted from AllMusic[11] and from the album liner notes.[10]

Musical personnel

Technical personnel
  • 1500 Studios – engineer
  • Gazelle Alexander – urban mixshow
  • Bruce Buechner – engineer
  • Shawnte Crespo – marketing
  • Bill Crowley – digital, mobile
  • Lavell Crump – executive producer
  • Anthony Daniels – engineer
  • Hector Delgato – studio
  • Marleny Dominguez – label direction
  • Patrick Douthit – engineer
  • John Franck – marketing
  • Lisa Frank – video
  • Damien Granderson – legal
  • Charley Greenberg – Internet marketing
  • Paul Grosso – additional design
  • Chris Herche – digital marketing
  • Eric Jones – engineer
  • Courtney Lowery – publicity
  • Giovanna Melchiorre – publicity
  • Annette Navarro – art direction, design, photography
  • Scott Parker – trainer
  • Neal Pogue – mixing
  • Crush Republic – artwork collaboration
  • Deborah Rigaud, ESQ. – legal
  • Sean Rock – urban mixshow
  • Kay K. Rosemond – A&R administrator
  • Dee Sonaram – radio promoter, video promoter
  • Samantha Selolwane – associate producer
  • Corey Smyth – associate producer
  • Shadow Stokes – radio promoter
  • Larry Tyler – business management
  • Pat Viala – mixing
  • Caroline Yim – booking

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (2010) Peak
US Top Independent Albums[57] 14
US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums[56] 41
US Top Rap Albums[54] 17


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  12. ^ "Browns Town Music LLC | Eric Jones – E. Jones – (Producer)". Retrieved 16 Nov 2013. [permanent dead link]
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  14. ^ "David Banner and 9th Wonder Present Death of a Pop Star - David Banner News @". 7 May 2010. Retrieved 19 Nov 2010. 
  15. ^ a b c Shamz (2010). "NYC: An Evening with… David Banner & 9th Wonder (6/29)". Retrieved 19 Nov 2013. 
  16. ^ a b c d Shamz (8 Jul 2010). "OKPTV: 9th Wonder & David Banner Part 1". Retrieved 19 Nov 2013. 
  17. ^ a b Cho, Jaeki (20 May 2011). "9th Wonder Tells All: The Stories Behind His Classic Records". Complex Media Inc. Retrieved 26 Jul 2014. 
  18. ^ "David Banner on "Death Of A Pop Star". HipHopOfficial. 12 Jul 2010. Retrieved 17 Nov 2013. 
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