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1 January, 2001@12:00 am

Let’s face it – crew albums suck. It’s even safe to say that crew albums are usually worse of a product than dead rapper albums. We’ve seen the tired formula before – a rapper blows up, and then to satisfy the fans in between his consecutive solo albums, (and hey, make more money!) he introduces the world to his crew, which is usually made up of several lesser talented individuals who attempt to follow in his footsteps, maybe one or two leaving with solo deals of their own after everything is said and done.
Sure, groups like Wu-Tang Clan and N.W.A. have effectively used their groups as a platform to transform each member into a solo artist (for better or for worse), but in most cases when one emcee is introduced first – and the crew is built off of that – the results are usually forgettable. Snoop Dogg’s got his Eastsidaz, Busta’s got his Flipmode Squad, and let’s not forget Mase and Harlem World; but each of these crews and their respective members have seen minimal success (that is, if any), thanks to less-than-stellar, thrown together, chemistry-lacking, and directionless albums released over the past few years.

Enter D12. Eminem’s answer to the crew album, made up of five of his longtime partners-in-rhyme, each with two personalities (making it a “dirty dozen”, get it?). Given the incredible success of Eminem’s last two albums, it was only a matter of time before something like this would materialize. But like other rap superstars who have seen success thanks to their unique styles of rap (Busta Rhymes, Snoop, etc) this seems like an incredibly bad idea on paper, because these other guys just aren’t Eminem – plain and simple. How can D12 capture the same audience of millions that Eminem has? Just like Busta and Snoop brought their market value down by releasing lazy albums from Flipmode and The Eastsidaz, won’t the same thing happen to Em? And what about skill? Do these guys have the same level of skill as their leader? How can this album be even comparable to the now classic Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers LP’s?

Somehow Eminem has managed to transcend the evils of bad crew albums, creating an incredibly surprising release with Devil’s Night. Eminem is still the ringleader here, and the old stigma does remain – his boys aren’t on the same skill level as he is – but with his help, collectively they have made a good album.

Designed to shock and upset you, don’t expect to get too deep into the individuality of each character, as this album merely introduces you to the crew. While Bizarre stands out due to his slowpoke delivery and disturbing rhymes, each of the other members hold their own, but still do little to carve their own identities. They do follow in the footsteps of Eminem – not necessarily regurgitating his style, but definitely attacking the mic with similar sarcasm and anger, plus an equal amount of pop-star bashing.

Much like The Marshall Mathers LP, Devil’s Night dabbles in tracks that will appeal to both the cool thugs in their lowriders, as well as the same angry high-school nerds that they pick on. The album kicks the door down with Dr. Dre produced “Nasty Mind”, an almost Snoop styled sex anthem, and “Ain’t Nuttin’ But Music”, a typical, yet still fun pop-star roast. Dre’s excellent production naturally keeps your attention as you get used to this new troop of emcees, while a few verses sprinkled in from Em keep it exciting and unpredictable.

Meanwhile, Eminem steps it up another notch on the self-production tip, picking up where “Way I Am” and Xzibit’s “Don’t Approach Me” left off. Shooting way past anything the FBT ever produced for him, Eminem has not only captured the trials of teen angst in not only his delivery and rhymes, but also his production. Almost rock-fueled tracks like “American Psycho”, “Fight Music”, and “Revelation” will undoubtedly speak to anyone who’s ever been 15 years old, with D12 lending their own perspectives on depression and anti-authority.

While the other members of D12 aren’t in the same league as Eminem, it’s evident that every song on this album was overseen by Eminem, and the usual barrage of throwaway tracks saved for these types of albums are not included here. The levels of quality control are definitely high, and it’s obvious that as executive producer, Em didn’t approve any track on this album that he wouldn’t use on his own album. While Eminem doesn’t appear on every track, it still feels like he does, simply because of the way the songs are structured – even if he’s just lending the hook, his presence is felt.

The album is not completely flawless, it’s problems lie in the fact that at times it’s obvious that they are going overboard simply to shock you, and sometimes the line between creativity and grabbing their dicks gets blurred. But even so, when the lyrics make you cringe, you can’t help but listen because the music itself is so catchy and well produced – from the tracks to the hooks to the delivery of the rhymes. Yet other times, it’s obvious when the other members start incorporating tired boy-band disses and other Eminem inspired attitudes into their rhymes, leaving little room for the exploration of each member’s true individuality.

In short, while Eminem’s coterie of ne’er-do-wells may not be the most dazzling group of emcees to ever pass the mic, they have a quality that 90% of rappers today lack – they actually know how to make good songs – and this is music before anything else.

  Mixtape D.L.
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