Though the specifics surrounding the distinction tend to vary depending on the artist, there’s an unspoken difference between the mixtape and the album. For the most part, a mixtape is unfettered by a commitment to theme and structure, often used as a low-stakes showcase of an emcee’s lyrical prowess. There are certainly exceptions, but many emcees came of age during a time when a mixtape meant jackin’ for beats and attempting to steal the spotlight from the original artist.

For Lloyd Banks, who essentially made a name for himself through early G-Unit tapes, the tradition became a staple of his career. Over the course of the past twenty years, Banks has assembled an extensive collection of mixtapes, many of which played a role in honing his reputation as The Punchline King. It wasn’t uncommon to hear Banks absolutely obliterating beats both classic and original, paying little mind to anything other than clever lyricism and hard-hitting bars. Series like The Cold Corner and Halloween Havoc are widely praised among Banks’ best work, with a case to be made that his mixtape catalog surpasses his studio discography.

Consisting of three studio albums -- The Hunger For More, Rotten Apple, and The Hunger For More 2 -- his discography is certainly worthy of praise. For one, the production value is notably higher, with a wide range of beatmakers and a generally pristine sonic aesthetic. As the budget was bigger on such releases, Banks tended to dabble in the commercially viable sounds of the time, which results varying. While it sometimes forced the PLK to deviate from his comfort zone, it also opened the door for some of his most contemplative penmanship; who’d have thought one of the realest songs he ever wrote would take place over a haunting Eminem ballad? Yet with that increase in character development, during which the many facets of Banks’ personality are revealed, comes the risk that punchlines and relentless lyricism might fall to the wayside.

Lloyd Banks

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With COTI on the way, many have wondered whether the project would be a proper studio album or another mixtape. Given how long it’s been since Banks dropped anything, either option is certainly welcome. And since it’s been such a long time, an album might give Banks a little more space to unpack some of his experiences of the past few years, perhaps even touching on the rap game and society at large. Not to mention that it would certainly be nice to see the project land on streaming services, and mixtapes seldom make the transition gracefully.

On the other hand, hip-hop has undergone such a drastic transformation since Banks was active, his straightforward and lyrically focused mixtape approach would be a welcome jolt of electricity. It’s not entirely uncommon to see a narrative lamenting the death of real hip-hop, with the implication centering around a shift away from the golden era sound. Given that Banks has always embraced that raw and gritty aesthetic, there’s no reason to believe he would deviate at this stage of his career. There is nothing even remotely suggesting that Banks has any desire to chase commercial trends, though he may have experimented in doing so in the past. That’s not to say he’s a cult artist, but the days of seeing Lloyd Banks on the charts are likely over.

And that’s okay. It’s evident, based on his social media activity, that Banks’ competitive spirit remains sharp. Though this is purely an assumption, it seems fair to suggest that he values the praise of his peers -- specifically those with a stellar pen game -- over any sort of commercial accomplishments. Shades of Griselda, who have been responsible for some of the more recent Banks releases, including Conway’s “Juvenile Hell'' and Conflicted OST highlight “Element Of Surprise.” Unsurprising, given their shared connection to Beat Butcha, who has seen quite the substantial rise since the Griselda trio infiltrated the mainstream. In fact, many fans are hopeful to see Banks embrace his affiliation to the Buffalo crew, with Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, and Benny The Butcher among his most desired collaborators. We can only hope to see one or more of them make an appearance on COTI, perhaps even over production from Daringer, Beat Butcha, or both. In fact, Banks has already teased a potential collaboration with Benny, teasing fans that their next duet was coming “very soon.”

Insofar as other potential collaborators, a few names come to mind. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and unlikely though it may be, seeing Lloyd Banks reuniting with 50 Cent, Tony Yayo, or Young Buck would be an exciting development. Buck is probably the likeliest, given that he opened the door for Banks to reach out on his recent single “Ash Tray.” It would also be interesting to see him connect with The Alchemist, whose raw and stripped-down production style would be the perfect backdrop for Banks’ lyricism. Havoc, who previously enjoyed a stint alongside Lloyd Banks on G-Unit, actually teased a few Banks collaborations. “ Lloyd Banks hit me up [after “Juvenile Hell],” explained the legendary producer. “He was like, “Yo, Hav I need the track.” I said, “Don't worry. I got you.” And I sent him some tracks. So we have yet to see what is to come of that. But I'm sure it's going to be dope.”

At this time, Banks has kept details about COTI, including what the acronym stands for, relatively close to his chest. He has shared a few snippets, including a proper teaser trailer centered around an atmospheric piano-driven instrumental, striking a similar tone as his classic “Til The End.” Another, also shared on his Instagram page, found Banks spitting bars with deadly precision over a grimy instrumental from Jay Fab Vs The World. It’s likely that the full version will arrive on COTI, which certainly bodes well for fans praying for the Punchline King's triumphant return. As does the seeming variance in sound, with the teaser featuring a more cinematic instrumental and the snippet sounding delightfully grimy and gritty.

At this time, we're still waiting on a concrete update on a release date -- but rest assured that COTI is coming, and it won't be long before the Punchline King reclaims his rightful place on the throne. After all this time, what kind of project are you hoping to see from Lloyd Banks?