Tank and the Bangas, Green Balloon (Verve Forecast)

We’re used to hearing detailed discussions of cheddar from hip-hop groups—making money, keeping money, spending money—but Tank and the Bangas take it to a whole new level on their sophomore effort. At first the Bangas go through the spectrum and watch every color inevitably turn to green, but before that sinks in, there comes a whole chorus of children (or what sounds like one) happily chanting about getting rich. The last time avarice sounded this wholesome was way back when Kanye’s Graduation trilogy was a thing. But while Yeezy went on about dropping out of the system entirely, T&TB approach their love of money by way of the great American work ethic, a monument to the hustle, side and otherwise. The Bangas have always been good at injecting jazz into contemporary R&B; here, that mix of reflectiveness and street cred works on more than one level. It’s a treatise on not just how to make money, but why.

tank and the bangasBear in mind, it’s a personal journey, as you might expect from a group that’s been walking the fine line between slam poetry and rap flow since their debut. Recorded at ten different studios with five different producers, this could have been a real mess, but it’s not, thanks both to Tarriona “Tank” Ball’s sense of identity and the group’s well-established formula: Fender Rhodes, slap bass, and a jazz shuffle recalibrated just enough to reclaim the street. There’s a lot of navel-gazing going on, as Tank frets constantly over the balance between enjoying life and working her muse, which may be why her whole definition of “green” pivots twice—first in the middle of the album, when she wonders if all those stoned insights are worth the inevitable inertia, and then near the end when things turn personal. She calms the male ego on “Mr. Lion,” seduces with “Smoke, Netflix, Chill,” and she confronts an ex on the gorgeous closing track, a metaphor for winter turning to spring: “You say my leaves ain’t green enough /You say you can’t take that I’ve changed /Weren’t you supposed to do the same?” she purrs. Like any period of growth, learning to survive on your own apparently changes you before you realize it. Or at least your color.