It's the battle of the crews as G-Unit faces off with D12.
During the early two-thousands, there came a time when every A-list rapper had to have a crew. In fact, it was almost mandatory. DMX had Ruff Ryders. Ludacris has Disturbing Tha Peace. Nelly had The St. Lunatics. Eminem had D12, and 50 Cent had G-Unit. The latter two are the centerpiece of this weekâs feature, and both share a common musical thread, as foundational pieces of the Shady/Aftermath empire. D12âs Devilâs Night and G-Unitâs Beg For Mercy both emerged as their respective ringleaders were enjoying their commercial and critical peak.
For some context, Devilâs Night was Emâs followup project to The Marshall Mathers LP, and Beg For Mercy came after 50 Cent dropped The Massacre. Weâre talking two of the biggest artists in the world, linking up with some of the homies for high-profile studio albums. In the case of the Dirty Dozen, a simplified variation of the origin story tells a tale of six young emcees from Detroit, who made a pact - the first one to blow up would return for the others, and go on to make history. And like any true origin story, there is at once tragedy and triumph.
On May 21st, 1999, one of the founding members, Bugz, was sadly murdered in a violent altercation. Despite that, Eminem went on to explode into a near-overnight celebrity, and ultimately kept his word. And thus, D12 was born, the brainchild of Eminem, Proof, Kon Artis, Kuniva, Bizarre, and Swift Mcvay. On the Marshall Mathers LP 2 bonus cut âGroundhog Day,â Em breaks down the process - âstarted a group of misfits, Proof had a proposition, If we all band together, there ain't no stoppin' this shit, come up with aliases.â And thus, six emcees became twelve, as each member developed an alter-ego, each one more twisted than the next.
And while D12âs music was notoriously seeped in violence, there was a stark contrast in the violent world inhabited by 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, Young Buck, and Tony Yayo. Where D12 opted for an exaggerated, near-cartoonish level of gleeful horror, G-Unitâs depiction of violence was that of an urban reality. In fact, violence quickly became part of the Unitâs mythos, as the public familiarized themselves with the legendary lore surrounding 50 Cent. Shot nine times and still breathing; a real life Luke Cage. Itâs no wonder that G-Unitâs music remained gangsta to the core, with the lifestyle permeating their debut from the title, to the album cover, to the lyrical content.
So once again, the parallels between both groups are there. Both groups were made up of the hometown homies, and both featured a wildly successful âleading man.â Both featured involvement from both Eminem and Dr. Dre, and both went on to be commercial successes. Both pissed off a hell of a lot of parents, and both celebrated a world of violence, gunfire, weed, liquor, sex, and death. So, at the end of the day, are you riding with The Dirty Dozen and Devilâs Night, or G-Unitâs Beg For Mercy?
On paper, G-Unitâs project boasts a more diverse lineup of producers, enlisting the skills of Hi-Tek, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Mr. Porter (D12âs Kon Artis), Red Spyda, Jake One, No I.D., Nottz, Sha Monely XL, and more. Over the course of eighteen tracks, Beg For Mercyâs production manages to feel unified in spite of the varied contributors. There are forays into Dr. Dre and Eminemâs gothic underworld, with âGâd Upâ and âMy Buddyâ respectively. There are moments of restrained menace, like Hi-Tekâs âEye For An Eye,â and moments of emotional sincerity on Red Spydaâs âWanna Get To Know You.â Itâs through the production that one of the albumâs most notable differences can be felt; by comparison, Devilâs Night never quite leaves the âdarkerâ side of the spectrum, and thatâs largely a conscious production choice.
When it comes to Beg For Mercyâs most standout beats, itâs hard to argue against Dr. Dreâs dual contributions. âPoppinâ Them Thangs,â and âGâd Upâ found Dre reunited with his 2001 collaborator Scott Storch, and together, they helped pioneer a unique brand of minor-key piano street banger. In fact, it can be argued that Scott Storch helped bring out some of Dreâs best work, and their music on Beg For Mercy is a testament to that fact. Hi-Tekâs âG-Unitâ also deserves a shout-out, with a militant drumline, droning piano riff, and creeping bassline.
Where Beg For Mercy excels in enlisting an eclectic array of producers, Devilâs Night operates on a more in-house scale. Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Mr. Porter handle the bulk of the instrumental work, with the former contributing some of his most rock-inspired production to the cause. While Emâs production can be hit or miss, his work on Devilâs Night is solid, perfectly in keeping with the albumâs lyrical themes. Beats like the haunting âAmerican Psychoâ find Em mastering the subtlety of atmosphere, and âPimp Like Me,â has an eerie bounce youâd never expect from Marshall Mathers.
It would be remiss to neglect Dreâs contributions, which include âNasty Mind,â âAinât Nuthinâ But Music,â âFight Music,â and the Pink Floyd inspired âRevelation.â The latter two provide some of the albumâs most anthemic music, encapsulating the pent up aggression and angst that the majority of D12âs core fanbase might have been feeling at the time. âRevelationâ finds Dr. Dre in uncharacteristic territory, bringing out the electric guitars in full force, but keeping things grounded with his signature production. However, Devil`s Nightâs production highlights tend to come from Eminem, who excels on âAmerican Psycho,â âPurple Pills,â and âPimp Like Me.â
The main issue with D12 and their work on Devilâs Night, was that it lacked any thematic diversity. While rappers like Proof, Swift, Kuniva, and Kon Artis were capable rhymers on a technical level, they often operated in a similar lyrical space on every song - sex without intimacy, drugs with reckless abandon, and murder without mercy. Swift tended to excel at spinning creative new ways to murder you, but he also never strayed too far from his comfort zone. Bizarre seemed more focused on horrifying listeners, with gems like âmy girlfriend had a miscarriage, I had to eat it,â and âyou know why my hands are so numb? Cause my grandmother sucked my dick and I didnât come.â
Incest, rape, and even beastiality were never taboo subjects for Bizarre, who no doubt had young listeners feeling at once edgy, disgusted, and empowered. Yet lyrically, he too tended to operate within the confines of his limited comfort zone, and sometimes his verses felt like they existed for the sole purpose of shock value. Kuniva, Kon Artis, and especially the late Proof fared a little better when it came down to lyrical content, but ultimately, the Dirty Dozen really seemed to embrace their mission statement of murder, murder, and more murder. When they do branch out, like the conceptually driven âThatâs How,â or the playful âAinât Nothinâ But Music,â the groupâs off kilter sense of humor truly manages to shine through the darkness.
Devilâs Night also marks an interesting point in Eminemâs career, and many of his verses on this project are among his craziest work. He absolutely destroys tracks like âShit Can Happen,â âAmerican Psycho,â âPurple Pills,â and âFight Music,â and his voice, flow, and lyrics are arguably at their deadliest:
âPicture me sitting in a jail cell rotting (Shit!!)
Or barricaded in a motel with twelve shotguns
So when the cops come knocking each hand's got one
Cocked, ready to dump slugs heavy as shotputs
One man army, guns can't harm me
Young and ornery, worse than my Uncle Ronnieâ
As for G-Unit, 50-Cent always managed to stand out as a better-than-average lyricist, who never reached Emâs peak, but remained imaginative, clever, and creative enough to consistently entertain. His fellow crew member Lloyd Banks, on the other hand, was unrelenting in his bars, carving out a spot among the most formidable mixtape rappers of the era. His punchlines in particular were ridiculous, and his reputation for murdering freestyles ultimately raised the bar for his later studio work.
However, the more structured song format on Beg For Mercy meant Banks had less space to spaz out; instead, he was forced to adapt to the songâs message, which in turn led to verses that felt a little âBanks-lite.â When people were so accustomed to hearing the punchline king, did they really want to hear all the ways he might be able to make his lover smile? Regardless, Beg For Mercy should have unleashed Lloyd Banks the same way that Devilâs Night unleashed Slim Shady. Thatâs not to say that Banksâ efforts are weak, but one can only wonder if Banks was limited by the collaborative nature of the project.
In fact, itâs hard not to look at Young Buck as the projectâs MVP. While many wondered how he would acquaint himself in the wake of Tony Yayoâs prison stint, Buck made himself at home on G-Unitâs debut, adding a welcome Southern perspective to the affair. His drawl-heavy delivery shined on the aforementioned âG-Unit,â where he kicks off the album with the projectâs opening verse:
âVacate ya home, I come to break ya bones
America's nightmare, we at it again
A Desert Eagle and a black Mac-10
They'll never know what happened
When we come through, them cowards don't want none
They screaming that they murderers, but walkin' with no gunsâ
G-Unit harbors no illusions about what sort of music they provide - gangster rap. Luckily, each emcee is skilled enough to carry a track, and 50, Banks, and Buck all enjoy their respective moments in the spotlight. Unlike D12, who tends to operate under a bit of a skill hierarchy, itâs always interesting to see which of the Unit comes through with the illest verse. And while 50 hardly delivers the same level of tour-de-force performance as Devilâs Night quarterback Eminem, his charisma and leadership are still felt throughout the entirety of Beg For Mercy.
Despite the lofty heights of their debuts, both D12 and G-Unit never really managed to meet their expectations on subsequent efforts. D12âs sophomore project D12 World did find the crew branching into new creative territory, but Em was on the beginning of his drug-fuelled downward spiral, and was no longer guaranteed to come through with a highlight verse. After D12 World dropped, the group was once again struck with tragedy - in 2006, Proof was murdered in a Detroit nightclub, and D12 as we knew it ceased to exist.
G-Unit, in some ways, was destroyed from the inside. After the addition and subsequent nuclear fallout with The Game, Young Buck and 50 found their partnership on edge, which led to yet another inter-squad beef. Their sophomore project, Terminate On Sight, came out five years after Beg For Mercy, and was nowhere near as good. After a hell of a run, the G-Unit era seemed to be at an end. The group has recently gone through a few revivals, but their heydey is behind them. In the end, however, their legacy will be immortalized by the strength of their timeless debut.
So, which album are you rolling with this week? Is it D12âs Devilâs Night, or G-Unitâs Beg For Mercy?