Lost in all the 50 Cent and G-Unit bashing is the fact that the group produces a rare commodity: rap albums that are good from start to finish. Third-stringers like Young Buck don’t often produce albums as solid as 2004’s Straight Outta Cashville, and it’s a testament to 50’s guidance that Fabolous clone Lloyd Banks sounded like a bonafide star on his solo outing The Hunger For More. The Unit’s secret weapon: amazing beats. Since 50 picks out most of his beats without knowing beforehand the producers responsible, he’s able to pick beats from disparate producers that sound like they belong together.
With this in mind, I was excited to hear how rap legends Mobb Deep would sound after the G-Unit treatment. Stuck in record label limbo and releasing redundant gangsta rap on various indie labels and mixtapes, the group was teetering on the edge of obscurity. Even 50 threatened to silence his enemies like “Jay did Mobb Deep” on beef song “Piggy Bank.” The Jay-Z attack in question involved Jay threatening to reveal pictures of Prodigy in dance school and calling out the group as fake gangsters. Instead of responding to Jay’s accusations, the group just ignored them, perhaps because they were aware they didn’t have a third of the industry clout of the then Roc-A-Fella CEO.
With all this drama and a G-Unit makeover, you’d think the group’s new album Blood Money would be an easy classic. Sadly, that’s just not the case. While the group has given themselves new nicknames (“Hollywood Havoc” and “V.I.P”) to signify their newfound status as hip-hop heavyweights, they’re still the same laid-back, nihilistic thugs they’ve always been. There’s little passion or swagger or outrage on Blood Money, just stone cold thug threats and sex boasts. You would think with the man responsible for the one of the fieriest rap albums this millennium as their album’s executive producer, the group could have summoned some spirit in the vocal booth. If anything, it’s the kind of “Holy shit – I’m rich and famous!” attitude all the core members of the G-Unit have that makes their music so successful.
The beats on Blood Money don’t help matters. Mobb Deep’s go-to producer Alchemist only produces one track on the album, “The Infamous,” and it’s a strange mix of bubbly funk, off-key piano and cowbells. Havoc produces the majority of the tracks and we get less of his operatic, string-laden beats and more of his experimental stuff, like “Creep,” which features horror movie sound effects and a xylophone scale. Some of the best tracks are produced by in-house producer Sha Money XL, the man responsible for so many of the hidden gems on Get Rich or Die Trying. Where G-Unit favorites like Needlz and Hi-Tek are I don’t know, but they certainly should have had tracks on the album.
While many Mobb Deep fans are going to whine that there is too much 50 on Blood Money, I’d argue that there’s not enough. With the exception of “It’s Alright,” he makes every song he’s on just that much better. The album’s highlight “Pearly Gates” features 50 on the chorus bragging that he can talk his way into heaven and a beat that features a beautiful church organ melody. Even the other members of the G-Unit elevate the tracks they’re on; Yayo’s verse on “Click Click” may not be lyrically brilliant, but it makes up for it with sheer enthusiasm.
Ultimately, I place the blame for Blood Money‘s failure on Havoc’s shoulders. As a producer he played it eerie when he should have played it cinematic, making it impossible for the group to do what they do best. Blood Money reveals all of the group’s weaknesses and few of their strengths.