What made Marshall Mathers such a phenomenon, along with his ego and his id whom he respectively named Eminem and Slim Shady, was a laundry list of criteria that made him irresistible to listeners, critics and the media. Following a trifecta of superb albums – a trifecta that most forget was preceded by the very admirable Infinite – fans, critics and the media alike were treated to the gradual erosion of each of these qualities. Slowly but surely, Em divested himself of his humour, his anger, his impenetrable flow, his command of theme and concept, and his singular hooks. And while there are echoes of each on The Marshall Mathers LP 2, most are buried under the weight of Em’s malignant hyper-lyricism, uninspired hooks and amateurishly-executed concepts. In fact, MMLP2 might be the album that removes all reasonable doubt that the Em we all knew and loved is gone forever.
That’s not to say it’s completely devoid of anything that warrants repeated listens. Opener Bad Guy, is a fine sequel to Stan from the first MMLP, which became a cultural flashpoint. On Bad Guy, we’re introduced to Stan’s brother, Matthew, who seeks revenge on Slim for the neglect that killed his sibling. There’s mild turbulence on takeoff, with Em’s awkward, start-stop flow, but on the epic third verse, when Matthew metamorphoses from just another Grady into Marshall Mathers’ own conscience, the listener is taken into untapped regions of self-awareness:
“I’m the bullies you hate, that you became / With every faggot you slaughtered / Coming back on you, every woman you insult / That, with the double-standards you have when it comes to your daughters”
On So Much Better, we’re treated to a peek of how MMLP2 might have looked if the past decade had never happened. The track has the unmistakable old Eminem feel, due mostly to its use of the beat from the original MMLP‘s Criminal, as well as a strong hook and effortless flow. Even the iconoclastic Em humour is on full display in lines like “Bitch, where the fuck were you Tuesday? With who you say? / I wasn’t at the studio bitch, what’d you do? Screw Dre?” and “I got 99 problems and a bitch ain’t one / She’s all 99 of ’em I need a machine gun”.
Watch: Eminem – Berzerk
On the much talked-about, rap-for-rap’s-sake verbal deluge of Rap God, Em shows why his flow is so revered. Despite corny metaphors like “They said I rap like a robot, so call me rap-bot” and “But for me to rap like a computer must be in my genes / I got a laptop in my back pocket”, the song is rescued by the so-called ‘Supersonic Speed Verse’, a heart-racing and awe-inspiring lyrical frenzy that demonstrates why Eminem was and is such a formidable battle rapper.
The rest of the album, however, fails to reach the heights achieved on these cuts. On tracks like the fan-faring return single, Berzerk, attempts at humour are either high-school crude (“I’m ’bout to bloody this track up, everybody get back / That’s why my pen needs a pad cause my rhymes on the ra-ag”) or devolve into obvious and outdated pop-culture references (“So baby make just like K-Fed and let yourself go”), all while Em attempts a pale imitation of Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock, and generally distracts you from the rather catchy hook.
Meanwhile, Kendrick Lamar collaboration, Love Game, undeservedly struts around with uninspired flow and cringeworthy metaphors. At one point, we’re treated to six bars worth of baseball-sex tropes. There’s also Recovery rehashes in the form of Survival, which offers a repeat of the believe-in-yourself platitudes of Not Afraid and Won’t Back Down, both of which said less than when Em post-scripted Lose Yourself with “You can do anything you set your mind to, man”, while the conceptual car-crashes continue with the cheesy Rihanna-collaboration, The Monster.
Watch: Eminem – Rap God
The obvious hook from Rhyme or Reason, which heavily samples The Zombies‘ Time Of The Season, has the worrying effect of placing Eminem alongside similar hook-jackers like Flo Rida and Will.I.Am. While tracks like the unfortunately maudlin Stronger Than I Was and the Cleanin’ Out My Closet apology, Headlights, present a mature Marshall Mathers, steeped in fatherhood and at odds with his past treatment of his mother, his ex-wife and women in general, the subpar production and trashy hooks see to it that the songs are compelling for what they mean and not for what they are.
“I peaked” proclaims Em on Bad Guy, like a Freudian slip veiled in swaths of lyricism. It’s fitting that the track soon becomes an honest conversation between Marshall Mathers and himself, because those two words may be The Marshall Mathers LP 2‘s most honest moment. Over the course of 16 tracks we’re treated to agile lyricism that comes at the expense of good songs, buffoonery at the expense of humour and schmaltz at the expense of emotion. Props must be given for not simply phoning in a Recovery 2, but despite the title, it isn’t The Marshall Mathers LP 2 either.
Watch: Eminem – Survival
The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is out now. Eminem will be in Australia in February for Rapture Festival with Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and more!