Back in Eminem’s Marshal Mathers LP days, I was introduced to D12 on the song Under the Influence. Having already been decently familiar with famous Eminem but knowing nothing of his past, I was kind of amazed. It turned out that the transgressive White lyricist was backed by a crew of Black hardcore rappers, who shared some of his shock tendencies but were mostly just really solid emcees. So I was excited to hear more of the Dirty Dozen, but singles like Purple Pills and My Band annoyed me much too much to allow that to happen. Now, here I am, in 2015, finally listening to a full D12 project, The Devil’s Night Mixtape. And just like with Guilty Simpson, I’m kicking myself for waiting so long with another Detroit artist!
First, a bit of background. D12 includes Eminem and 6 other rappers, two of whom are now deceased (R.I.P. Bugz and Proof). But Eminem’s involvement has been somewhat spotty since his career took off, and he kind of took Kon Artis (who now usually goes by “Mr. Porter”) along with him. So on this tape, Em only appears on the intro (a freestyle where he tries hard but fails to prove that he hasn’t fallen off) and Mr. Porter is only on a few songs, leaving Swifty McVay, Kuniva, and Bizarre to hold down most of the rhyming. The good news is that they are more than up to the job.
Suffice to say, this mixtape is exactly what I loved about D12 way back when I first heard them. The rhymes are always good, the multiple members means that no one voice can become over-exposed, and they know exactly what kind of music they make and they do that style well. These are the kind of raw emcees who spend time creating witty punchlines and who switch rhyme schemes at least three times per verse. The songs don’t have hooks when they don’t need them, and none of the hooks that do exist are sung by flavor of the month R&B women. This is the back-to-basics hip-hop that I’ve been missing lately. The beats are hard for me to describe as more than simple hip-hop. This isn’t soul or jazz samples or the trap sound. And there’s some elements of horror and menace, but the best tracks also have an energy that demands attention but not dancing. Still, the stars here are the rhymers. This if Swifty McVay on Dirty Dozen (read it while playing the song if you can):
Had em laughin off of Pills, as soon as we signed the deal/
These haters thought that we couldn’t pull it off, now we did/
We back on our bullshit, we spazzin on em again/
With gold paper, insulated booth, and platinum pen/
When I’m writing I bet lightning will strike this mic/
I recommend, you to pay homage, knockin us is a sin/
I only have two complaints about The Devil’s Night Mixtape, and for me they’re both small. There is one Purple Pills-ish song, Stay High. It’s already been documented that songs celebrating partying with drugs usually do nothing for me. Not that I’m especially against drugs versus other self-destructive behaviors, but just because I don’t find songs about weed or molly that interesting. You have to do more than name-drop pills to compel me. So that’s one super-skippable song. And occasionally, on songs like 100 featuring Young Buck (yawn) and Kidd Kidd (yaaawwwwwwn), the Dozen get bored and sound too much like average mainstream thug rappers.
The other issue is the shock lyrics, which mostly come from Bizarre. Whereas everyone else’s verses are macho boasts, shocking is what Bizarre exists to do. This is the same weirdo who used to appear everywhere half-naked and wearing a shower cap. At one point in this mixtape he’s “killing all gays”, at another he’s secretly attracted to men, and at another he claims to be transsexual, shouting out Bruce Jenner. Obviously, none of what he says is meant to be taken seriously, but lately I’ve come to appreciate Bizarre’s flow and provision of negative space. In that way, he’s the Flava Flav of this group. Everyone else is so serious that some comedic downtime is a nice thing to have, even if I don’t laugh at the jokes. But your internal morals may not allow tolerance of or even ignoring the stupid shit he says, and that’s perfectly understandable. There’s some other seriously questionable lines too: random one-off mentions of sexual assault and a stupid Caitlyn Jenner punch line are what come to mind, but at least the f-word that Eminem used to love wasn’t used as far as I can remember.
This is macho rap with no purpose beyond entertainment. None of these songs are really about anything special. Sure, Build With You is D12’s take on the Slum Village style, and it’s kind of hilarious how that idea sounded horrible until I realized that Slum Village is so preoccupied with sex that D12’s version of their style is only a couple shades more vulgar than the inspiration. The hook starts off seducing a woman before crassly telling her exactly what the guys want, which was such a sharp turn that I found it funny as hell, and the T3 feature verse, which he smashed, makes that song nearly perfect. But Build With You is the exception, as damn near everything else is just beats and rhymes. Now, that’s fine with me, but your mileage may vary.
I like The Devil’s Night Mixtape a lot but my recommendation has to come with some big buts. The scattered shock tactics and lack of meaningful music will definitely turn some people off. But, this being hip-hop, I bet most listeners have favorite rappers who must be ignored at times, and some who simply entertain and don’t stand up to critical thinking. Anyway, I like 11 out of the 15 tracks, and can’t stop playing my favorite songs everyday. So, if you can and want to, turn your brain down and enjoy the fact that D12 is back!
- The Set Off ft King Gordy (another shock rapper but he goes the fuck off in his verse!)
- Raw As It Gets ft Lazarus
- Lit ft Crooked I
- Build With You ft T3