50 Cent is the king of New York and Snoop rules L.A., but in the Dirty South, the clubs are booming Tennessee's Three 6 Mafia and Mississippi's David Banner. Like most regional rap favorites, Banner made his name selling indie CDs out of car trunks -- earning as big a local rep as national hitmakers. With ''Like a Pimp,'' his current chart-climbing collaboration with Houston's Lil' Flip, Banner is threatening to make a broader impact, but he remains a Southerner through and through.
On Mississippi: The Album, the MC and producer, formerly of Crooked Lettaz, employs the same syncopated vocal style as Three 6 Mafia and New Orleans' Mystikal: staccato syllables punctuated by drawled line closers. Banner uses the technique to greater effect than most of his colleagues by balancing gritty gangsta cuts with nuanced lyrical reflections on mortality and the South's legacy. In ''Mississippi,'' he describes a place ''Where the rebel flag still ain't burnin'/Where there's new schools but black kids still ain't learnin'.''
Banner further separates himself from his competitors by mingling run-of-the-mill synth beats with guitar-strummed melody. On the elegiac ''Cadillac on 22s,'' he offers an affecting prayer over an acoustic melody worthy of Lynyrd Skynyrd. With guests like Atlanta's Lil' Jon, Lil' Flip, and New Orleans' Fiend, Mississippi just might help the South rise again.