Rise and Fall: The G-Unit Era

Rise and Fall: The G-Unit Era

In hip hop, every crew has their moment in time. From the Juice Crew to the Def Squad to the Wu Tang to whoever, every major rap crew has had their moment in time. From 2002-2005, aside from a few select artists, I'd consider that the G-Unit era. Jay-Z, Nelly, Eminem, and of course the rise of Kanye all thrived in this period, but no crew was moving quite like The Unit during this time. Starting off with the mixtape classic "50 Cent Is The Future", the three man wrecking crew of 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, and Tony Yayo staked their claim as a force to be reckoned with in hip hop. With 50's personality, bully mentality, catchy hooks, and aggressive verses leading the way, G-Unit became an instant success on the streets, with cars in every borough playing that familiar "G-G-G-G-G-G-Unit" catchphrase out the speakers.

While 50 was the leader and most visible, the true MVP of the three man squad was Banks. Banks, with a monotone voice and punchline heavy lyrics, was easily the best with the verses and the wit, and became known as the lyricist of The Unit. While Yayo wasn't necessarily a standout, his energy and hype brought a lot to the table as well. Once 50 struck gold by signing his deal with Shady/Aftermath/Interscope, G-Unit took to applying the pressure, asserting themselves into the XXL vs The Source rivalry(which started essentially over Eminem and Benzino's issue, though the magazines had been throwing shots at each other for some time), and taking Murder Inc back to war(as 50 and Ja Rule's problems were documented). With the follow up mixtapes "No Mercy, No Fear" and "God's Plan", The Unit fed the streets as they geared up for the release of 50's album "Get Rich or Die Tryin".

As the release date for "Get Rich or Die Tryin" approached, we learned that 50 had added a new piece to the puzzle in Young Buck. Buck, from Nashville, TN, had previously been working with Cash Money Records and was involved with Juvenile's UTP Records squad around the time 50 brought him into the fold. Buck, with his brash lyricism, aggressive style, and southern twang added a welcome element to The Unit, and it seemed that everything was set for a takeover. However, before the now 4 man crew could celebrate in the glory, Yayo got arrested and sentenced to jail, which started the whole "Free Yayo" campaign, which made Yayo's name even bigger by design. The Unit held down Yayo during his time behind bars, making sure he was shouted out on every mixtape and that "Free Yayo" shirts were visible(Eminem even wore one on the Grammys).

With Yayo behind bars, The Unit was back to a 3 man collective in 50, Banks, and Buck, which seemed to almost work better than the original 3 together. As "Get Rich or Die Tryin" hit, doing 1.7 million over its first 11 days of release, 50 took his place in hip hop history and the question would be, what's next? The answer? Total domination. 50 remembered that even with his commercial success, he should still feed the streets that pushed for him, and thus the G-Unit Radio mixtape series was born. With vocal drops from Lebron James, Dave Chappelle, Snoop Dogg, etc, the G-Unit Radio series thrived. Banks started his own mixtape series with his "Money In The Bank" editions, only making the streets want a Banks solo album much more. Buck kept his profile growing through his verses on the G-Unit Radio tapes, but his moment to shine came on the G-Unit debut album "Beg For Mercy", which some consider a classic(I don't, but I've heard the argument made for it). Buck shined on songs such as "Footprints"(his solo), "Salute U", "My Buddy", and suddenly the streets began to clamor for a Buck solo as well. It was around this time that 50 had decided to expand yet again, bringing a west coast MC simply known as The Game into the fold to make it a 4 man collective yet again.

While "Get Rich or Die Tryin" sold 14 million copies worldwide(9 million in the United States), and Beg For Mercy sold 6 million worldwide(and 3 million in the US), the question had to be asked if people would actually support solo albums from Banks, Buck, Yayo or Game? That theory was put to the test when Banks released his first solo album "The Hunger For More" in June 2004. The album debuted at no. 1 and has since gone on to be nearly triple platinum in the US, delivering a message that The Unit had longevity. Yayo was released from jail right around the time Banks' solo album dropped and it seemed as if G-Unit was on top of the world. Headlining Summer Jam, on 75% of the XXL Magazine covers, a victory in beefs against Murder Inc and their associates, the whole 5 man collective now together, with millions upon millions of records being sold. Who could stop The Unit at this point?


With 50 letting his success go to his head just a bit too much, G-Unit saw no need to collab and work with other artists, and treated the industry like the block. After a big scuffle and issue at the 2004 Summer Jam, the rumor was that The Unit was not welcome back to the Summer Jam stage. 50 infamously yelled out "Fuck The Hood" at that event, which began to start a backlash of sorts against 50, while the crew seemed to still get love in the streets. When Buck released his solo album "Straight Outta Cashville", it managed to hit double platinum and solidify Buck as a solo artist, amidst the growing hate towards 50. Game, who was looked at as a secondary member for a while, started to come into his own after a beef with Joe Budden and a cosign from all the west coast greats like Dre(who had Game signed to Aftermath), Snoop, and even Ice Cube. Meanwhile, after setting up for his crew, 50 began to gear up for his next album, which was originally titled "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" and scheduled to release on February 14, 2005. Game, who had been working on his debut solo "The Documentary", set for release in January 2005, started to seem distant from the rest of the crew as rumors persisted that Game and 50 had issues with each other. When Game's album was released and sold 500,000 plus copies the first week off the strength of his three 50-assisted singles, "Westside Story"(which had Snoop on one version of the hook), "How We Do", and "Hate It or Love It". At this point, with 50 gearing up for his next album(which had been pushed back to March 2005 and was now just titled "The Massacre"), he had the game in a chokehold. Successful solo releases from Banks, Buck, and Game, along with a legendary solo album and a successful group album as well? This type of run had never been seen before.

While major stars such as Jay-Z, Eminem, Nelly, and others managed to pull off the feat of establishing a crew outside of the music during that decade, none of them could say they had a crew where nothing missed and the members of the crew all successfully released solos. While Jay and Dame managed to get Bleek a gold album, Beans a near platinum album, and eventually have Kanye become a megastar, Amil's album flopped, and there were a few artists on the Roc who never saw a release date or sales. Eminem managed to have Obie Trice go double platinum and see the D12 albums do numbers, but would anyone have bought a Kuniva or Swift album? I don't think so. Nelly, even after two massive albums and a 2X platinum St. Lunatics album, couldn't get a Murphy Lee album to sell platinum or any other member to reach solo success. In some ways, the G-Unit run might be the greatest commercial run in the history of rap crews. Here are the stats for those wondering:

*Get Rich or Die Tryin

-14 million records solo worldwide(9 million in the US)

*Beg For Mercy

-6 million worldwide(3 million in the US)

*The Hunger For More

-4 million worldwide(2.5 million in the US)

*Straight Outta Cashville

-3 million worldwide(2 million in the US)

*The Documentary

-5 million worldwide(3 million in the US)

*The Massacre

-13 million worldwide(7 million in the US)

Now, sans Death Row and Bad Boy perhaps, has there been a collective with this type of consecutive run in a 2 year period? I don't think so. G-Unit was on top of the world, gearing up for the release of Yayo's first solo album, when it all came crashing down. Game was kicked out of G-Unit, a shootout happened, a fake press conference to squash the beef happened, and nothing was ever the same. 50 began to alienate some of his hardcore fans by going at artists like Jadakiss and Nas, while a large number of people began to take Game's side in their beef months later after the press conference. When Yayo's "Thoughts Of A Predicate Felon" album was released in August 2005 on the same day as Kanye's classic "Late Registration", it managed to sell 215,000 copies and crack gold (eventually being certified platinum), but the damage was done. The G-Unit era was over. One of the most dominant eras in hip hop history came to a screeching halt. After the era was over, G-Unit would see some success as the "Get Rich or Die Tryin" movie soundtrack(released in November 2005) hit double platinum, Young Buck's 2nd album "Buck The World" went gold, and 50's "Curtis" album hit 2 million sold in the US, but it was never the same again. The group separated around 2011-2012 and despite a reunion in 2014-2015, they've failed to capture the old glory. The music they're releasing is still solid, it's just that the time has passed and the era is over. Rumors have persisted that Game might come back into the fold for G-Unit, but only time will tell. Could that be the thing that finally gets G-Unit back to a prominent place in hip hop? Doubtful, but never say never. We've seen Chappelle return, Dipset reunite, Kanye and Dame make peace, State Property are back, etc so why not G-Unit with Game back in it? Anything is possible. Until then? We continue reflecting.



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