by Henry Ofori
13 years after he gave us one of the most, brutal, honest and cartoonish records rap has ever seen in the Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem returns full of the wacky, absurd and inventive wordplay combined with the lightning fast and syllable-laden flow that cemented his place as arguably the greatest rapper alive. The whole 78-minute sequel of sorts pays homage to the 80s music that went before him (‘Beserk’). Nevertheless the very fact the album is based on nostalgia kind of makes a listener wonder: ‘when is he gonna give us some new sh*t?’
MMLP2 is not necessarily a sequel to his legendary second album. This record returns to the themes we’re already attuned to hearing from Em. The difference is that he understands he is no longer at the height of his fame. The opening track ‘Bad Guy’ is a two part story that acts as a sequel to his milestone record ‘Stan’. He immediately addresses the expectations people throw at him for the album’s title: ‘and hey, here’s a sequel to my Mathers LP just to get people to buy!’ Throughout the album it’s clear he has become self-aware. He can get away with things now more than ever because the rap landscape has morphed. On the mightily impressive single ‘Rap God’ (where might I add he raps 101 words in 16 seconds) he states ‘One where I tried to say I take seven kids from Columbine/ Put ’em all in a line, add an AK-47, a revolver and a nine’. He can say this seeing as he ‘ain’t as big as I was’.
In other words, the climate has changed. He understands that. The album’s strengths highlight some weaknesses. It’s refreshing to know he hasn’t lost that slapstick humour which made the Slim Shady, MM LPs and The Eminem Show legendary (on ‘So Much Better’ he claims ‘I got 99 problems and a bitch ain’t one/ she’s all 99 of ‘em I need a machine gun’) but can this really be acclaimed when he’s recycling misogynistic gags we heard 13 years ago? Prior to release, Em stated the mood he was going for was “nostalgia”. That’s all cool but as an audience we want to be amazed again and again. The album’s lead single ‘Bezerk’, a Rick Rubin-produced 80s throwback to the Beastie Boys is catchy and the sample of ‘Time of the Season’ by 60s group the Zombies will feel dated to many.
Can he really lead a ‘new school full of students’ when he’s still making the same, exhausted slurs about ‘gay looking’ boys? On technical skill alone he can. His flow at times is as divine as he claims on ‘Rap God’. He’s playing around with flows on songs like the Skylar Grey assisted ‘Asshole’ because he knows (and loathe him or love him, you do too) he’s a G.O.A.T. The dark and guilty-pleasure storytelling Em founded his fame on comes in full force on songs such as ‘So Much Better’ and his wordplay is as original and hilarious as ever ‘So Far’. The latter actually made me LOL.
Kendrick Lamar being the only other rapper (who himself admits he owes a lot of his style to Aftermath’s main man himself) featured on the album is a message to all the other rappers looking at him ‘like its lunchtime’; No one else has a right to share the limelight with him. In terms of crafting rhymes there isn’t a rapper who can touch him besides Kendrick. The intricate rhyming and wordplay in ‘Love Game’ is jaw-dropping.
Being an Eminem fanatic since I was 7 I’m used to Shady putting his entire life and emotion on the record. Surprisingly this album lacks that. And when he does try to tap into these emotions come the less entertaining tracks from the album such as ‘Stronger than I Was’. But those who have followed his career even slightly would know that there isn’t much else for us to know. Relapse described his phase as an addict and the quadruple-platinum Recovery acted as its catharsis. Here he allows his burning passion for his art take centre stage. He comes out fighting on tracks like ‘Legacy’ and the anger present reminds how stirring the rapid-fire lyricist can still be. He’s frequently switching from his three personas. One of the most shocking moments on the album was the open apology he sends to his estranged mother on ‘Headlights’ (‘and to this day we remain estranged but I hate it though!’)
Eminem knows he’s a walking contradiction more than ever now, he concedes in ‘Asshole’ ‘sometimes I rhyme and I forget I’m a father’. In addition to his shock value being greatly reduced, Eminem relies heavily on his raw skills to paper over the lack of new content (soft-rock anthem ‘Survival’ has a “yeah-it’s-good-and-he’s-great-but-nothing-write-home-about” feel, despite being a lead single) But this isn’t a bad thing. He’s going back to basics, reminding us of the bitterness that made the prequel to this album so hard to digest in the first place.
In all, MMLP2 proves that the man who once made it his life goal to enrage the whole of Middle America and corrupt its kids still has the power to disturb, awe, infuriate, divide and wow in equal measure. Despite some faults this is his best album in years; a 78-minute sound bite of a man who’s exercised his demons and can still make motherf*****s do jumping jacks. Eminem could have easily given us something as commercial as Recovery but instead had the courage to return to his heralded magnum opus and close the chapters on those parts of his life while reminding us that he isn’t slowing down one bit. The Rolling Stone magazine declared him the ‘King of Hip Hop’ once upon a time. This album reminds us he’s sitting comfortably on that throne.
It’s not the perfect album many expected, but that’s because he’s set the bar so damn high. He is, without any uncertainty, back again.