Ten years ago was one of the all time great days in rap album release history. On November 14, 2003 Jay Z dropped his classic "retirement" album, The Black Album, 2Pac dropped the soundtrack to Tupac: Resurrection, and G-Unit dropped their debut album, Beg For Mercy.
Nowadays, The Black Album is generally regarded as one of Jay's best albums and a certified classic. But what about G-Unit's Beg For Mercy? It was certainly a big deal at the time, though it debuted behind both Jay and Pac's albums, it still sold 377,000 copies its first week out and eventually sold over two million copies. But the question remains: Is G-Unit's "Beg For Mercy" A Classic? It's been 10 years, so it's definitely enough time to decide if its a classic or not.
On the 10 year anniversary of the album, Complex staffers Joe La Puma, Jack Erwin, Rob Kenner, Nick Schonberger, Dave Bry, David Drake, Insanul Ahmed, Brandon Jenkins, and Justin Davis gathered around a campfire an email thread to debate. And then we all screamed, G-G-GGG-G-UNIT! Here's what happened:
Joe: I know today is the 10 year anniversary of Jay Z’s The Black Album, but what about G-Unit’s Beg For Mercy? That album is a classic.
Insanul: I was a diehard G-Unit stan in high school when it came out but even I wouldn’t call that album a classic.
Brandon: Just scrolled through the track listing, there's a lot of hits. Fif dropped a year after Get Rich or Die Tryin’. It was a complete takeover following Hov's "retirement." I vote classic.
Donnie: There are some dope records on there but the knock against "classic" status is that you don't really hear any of them anymore. So that would make it more of a "cult classic." Had Bank and Buck gotten bigger, it would be remembered more fondly. Those guys never became stars. Which makes it feel more like a D12 type of project—not in quality, maybe, but in relevance.
Brandon: I feel that way for a lot of 50's catalog—amazing records, but you don't hear too many spins. I attributed that to it’s aggressive gangster thematic—a lane that's relevance is up in the air and has been populated with many more recent artists with a modern sound like Jeezy, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne for a while, etc. It’s always the "Wanna Get To Know You" type joints that get prolonged life.
Listening to the album this morning, 10 years later, feels more like a nostalgia trip than listening to an actual great (much less classic) rap album. I'm not putting this album on and listening to it cover to cover, which is my test for "classic" status. Too much filler. - Jack Erwin
Insanul: The thing to me about the album is that that 50 Cent kinda mumbled his way through most of it (he actually says "Shit, I ain’t got nothing to prove" on “Lay You Down”). He was coming off Get Rich and was unquestionably the man at the time. So he sorta just falls back and says “Get’em Buck/Banks!” and both of them spit their hearts out.
Despite some of the hits, most of it pales in comparison to Get Rich and dropping same day as Black Album didn't help matters either (though, lets be real, most rap albums can’t compare to those albums). What really hurts the album are all the lackluster love songs like "Baby U Got," “Smile,” and “Groupie Love” (if you could call that a love song) which Banks and Buck don’t have the charm to carry like the way a motivated 50 carried “21 Questions.” Overall, it’s still a really good album. It’s just not quite a revelation. It’s basically the same mix of G-Unit stuff they'd been doing on mixtapes around that time period, albeit with more polish. Not a classic.
Jack: "Poppin' Them Thangs" and "Stunt 101"—I like those songs more than any other songs in the entire G-Unit catalog not named "Wanksta." "Wanna Get to Know You" is great, too—so smooth. Banks' and Young Buck's energy was the perfect foil to 50's mumble raps. There was something about G-Unit in that moment in time. They really felt like a dangerous group, like some mash-up of punk rock and the worst kind of evil people on Wall Street. These dudes seemed like spectacular assholes (I'd interviewed 50 a few months before Get Rich came out, and I knew he wasn't), but you loved them anyway.
That's the thing though: Listening to the album this morning, 10 years later, feels more like a nostalgia trip than listening to an actual great (much less classic) rap album. I'm not putting this album on and listening to it cover to cover, which is my test for "classic" status. Too much filler. For the love of Christmas, it's got a song called "My Buddy," which uses the chorus from an '80s jingle for a stuffed toy as a metaphor for gun ownership. I mean, my fucking buddy. Really? That disqualifies the whole thing from classic status on GP.
Verdict: Not Classic (for real, "My Buddy"?)
With the exception of “Better Ask Somebody” and “Baby You Got” I can knock the album. Five killer singles, and many fan favorites. G.O.O.D. Music could learn a thing or two from Beg For Mercy. - Brandon Jenkins
David: The album definitely has classic singles. I'd argue Buck's Straight Outta Cashville was actually a stronger record, more consistent in sound throughout. And it helped that he was repping the South while the South was on the ascent. The thing about the “cult classic” designation is that most cult classics don't start off selling more than 300,000 records in their first week.
Brandon: You guys are making this difficult. Jack’s mention of it being a trip down memory lane as opposed to a completely playable album makes it seem more “cult-classic.” I don’t like openly comparing it to The Black Album, but that’s definitely a template for classic status.
I’m still gonna stick with “classic.” Yes, G-Unit had already perfected their collective’s offering with their bevy of mixtape projects, but this seemed to be a more polished presentation of what fans were already falling in love with and the impact was felt.
It did in fact drop alongside the The Black Album, which will eclipsed it in every way possible, but this album served as a confident next step in 50’s trajectory as he aimed to fill the void that Jay Z was supposedly leaving. As far as group projects go, it’s cohesive. The synonymous subject matter is broken apart with the occasional "love" song, made easier to digest with 50’s presence.
With the exception of “Better Ask Somebody” and “Baby You Got” I can knock the album. Five killer singles, and many fan favorites. G.O.O.D. Music could learn a thing or two from Beg For Mercy.
50 was on fire, and Lloyd Banks and Young Buck did more than hold their own, they established themselves as forces in their own right. Want to talk about staying power? Play "Poppin' Them Thangs," and ""Stunt 101," right now. - Joe La Puma
Joe: The "classic album" title makes a lot of hip-hop fans catch feelings, but to me Beg For Mercy is worthy. When you think of "classic" rap albums, a canonical list comes to mind: Illmatic, The Blueprint, and even Jay's Black Album, which dropped the same day as their album. But that's the thing: Crew albums? What crew album can you think of that would even be in the conversation. Diplomatic Immunity, maybe? For my money, Beg For Mercy ranks at the top.
50 was on fire, and Lloyd Banks and Young Buck did more than hold their own, they established themselves as forces in their own right. Want to talk about staying power? Play "Poppin' Them Thangs," and ""Stunt 101," right now. Watch the videos, too. Admittedly, I have a bit of a bias—50 Cent took over rap right at the time I was coming into my own. But to me this album is the crowning moment of his era, and maybe of the era of dominant crews in general. Think about the G.O.O.D Music, MMG, and Young Money efforts that recently dropped, will anyone be talking about them 10 years later? Not like this.
Nick: I'll side with Joe. While G-Unit ultimately isn't championed by the same crowd that heralds Cam as a genius, when any of those joints come on in a club or before a show—during the American Gangster tour, an NYC crowd sat quietly for Jay following pandemonium when the pre-show DJ played a 50 set—the proof of their impact is undeniable.
Rob: A classic is a record by which all other records should be measured, the gold standard of hip-hop culture. Get Rich Or Die Tryin' is a classic, just as Straight Outta Compton is a classic. Beg For Mercy is a hot follow-up with some great cuts, maybe even a couple of classic songs.
We can love a record without overstating its merits. We don't need to call Beg For Mercy a classic to remember it fondly. And we shouldn't. - Rob Kenner
Judged against the motley assortment of rap crew albums, it's one of the best. Banks and Buck are in top form and Yayo's greatest contribution to the album may have been getting locked up midway through the recording process, thus giving everybody a cause to rally around—"Free Yayo!"—but come on, let's not get carried away. We can love a record without overstating its merits. We don't need to call Beg For Mercy a classic to remember it fondly. And we shouldn't.
David: There is less filler on here than we've (Insanul's!) saying. "Smile" is awesome. One of the great things about G-Unit at this time was the beat selection. All that work Sha Money XL was doing getting work for underground beat makers to get them paychecks, rather than going the typical route and buying a bunch of expensive Timbaland and Neptunes beats. They created their own lane rather than trend-hopping. And back to "Smile," No ID killed that beat.
Insanul: Notice how your all about No ID killing that beat and not, you know, Lloyd Banks killing that beat.
Dave: This is an interesting question. Generally, up until today, I would not have thought of calling Beg For Mercy a classic. But thinking about it now, and listening to it, I think there's an argument to be made.
Beg For Mercy qualifies as a classic once you pull back and look at it from a slightly longer-range viewpoint: The role it played solidifying 50's claim to absolute domination of rap at the time. I remember listening to it when it came out and marveling at its solidity. There are no misfires on the album, no clunkers. Plenty of moments that had me thinking, “Wow—this guy has pulled off the near-impossible: a crew album that holds up with its superstar leader's solo material.” (I guess the awesomeness of the G-Unit mixtapes like God's Plan and 50 Cent is the Future and No Mercy, No Fearshould have given me more faith.) A really great CREW ALBUM??!! No one EVER does that!
There are no misfires on the album, no clunkers. And plenty of moments that had me thinking, “Wow—this guy has pulled off the near-impossible: a crew album that holds up with its superstar leader's solo material.” - Dave Bry
50 was imposing his will on the rap game. He's was changing rap into something more like his own image. For me, "Footsteps" is the joint on this album. That song so perfectly captures 50's ability to make a really catchy pop chorus out of something unexpected. A Christian parable?! ("First there was two sets of footsteps in the sand/Then there were two sets of footsteps in the sand/When times get hard and the shit hits the fan/God don't walk with me, he carry me, man.") 50 takes this little poem, one that you see hanging in old people's kitchen, like carved into a piece of lacquered wood, and delivers it in a voice that still sounds like what he's really saying, is, "Yeah, so don't fuck with me. Because I got the power of God with me. And I'll kill you."
"Oh, and I'm taking this rap game with me, too."
Donnie: Good points, everyone. But if you need to force-feed a narrative to justify an album's merit as a classic, it's not a classic. That makes it a "personal classic"—we all have those.
David: I'm voting classic. I'd rather pull this out and listen to it today than the (certified classic) Black Album. Partly because The Black Album never went away, while this record somehow now feels relatively slept-on versus its actual quality.
Justin: But wait, did anyone ever win the contest for the G-Unit Spinner Chain included in the album though?