The Marshall Mathers LP2
Since I am the first one weighing in on Eminem’s MMLP2 I’m going to have to do some preemptive work to dispel the strong feelings against the album I’m sure Wes (and to a lesser extent Todd) are going to have against it. Wes doesn’t like Eminem for who he is. Eminem is unapologetically crass, emotionally raw to a terrifying degree, and cares much more about getting as many thoughts onto a record in word form than flashy production techniques. MMLP2 sticks to these tenets, and much like his previous record, Recovery, this all comes across with varying levels of success.
If you are looking for a rap album with production that is some sort of artistic breakthrough or statement, MMLP2 is not the record for you. That’s not to say there aren’t songs with great artistic merit in the production. For example, the change of pace opener, “Bad Guy”, has two very distinct parts. The track opens with a familiar measured Lil’ Wayne-esque beat for the first five minutes, and then devolves into a haunting outro with Eminem decimating the mic over snare and strings. Rick Rubin also brings a lot of gusto to the album with his sample-heavy contributions. You can almost imagine Rubin bringing a box of records to the studio and camping out at some turntables; grinning as he pulls out Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” (Eminem’s “So Far…”), The Zombies “Time of the Season” (“Rhyme or Reason”), Wayne Fontana and the Mindbender’s “Game of Love” (“Love Game”), and of course his previous work on Beasties “Fight For Your Right” (“Berzerk”).
Despite some solid production on the above tracks, what you really listen to an Eminem record for is to hear him spit, and he hasn’t slowed down a bit. Whether you like what he says or not, Eminem is hands down the best lyricist when it comes to rhyming technique. On “Legacy”, Eminem boasts of his technique and then goes on to seamlessly rhyme the words “Dawkins”, “Offense”, “Falcons”, “Dolphins”, and “Coffins”. None of these words are anything more than slant rhymes. Eminem’s grasp of the English language can only be described as mastery. I’m sure Wes or Todd will try to rip on Em for lip-syncing on SNL, but with the speed and difficulty of Eminem’s delivery, it would be nearly impossible to sound passable in that environment without a backing track.
Before I pass this on to the other guys, I wanted to hit on the fact that Eminem is emotionally raw as ever, as displayed on “Headlights”; his ode to his mother who has been much-maligned in his music over the years. There is nothing contrived about Eminem. Just like anyone’s emotions, there are wide swings, and changes and regrets over the years. While Kanye and Jay are popularly tackling macro issues that affect the world as a whole, Eminem is still toiling away with his inner demons in the most public of forums. Emotion is art, and if you can’t respect that, then don’t bother with anything Eminem puts out there. This is no perfect, or even near-perfect album, but it has its merits. Attack away fools.
I was going to start my portion with a disclaimer of my distaste for Eminem, but fortunately, Austin did it for me. Frankly though, it is difficult to review any of Eminem’s music without my opinion of him and his past work jading how I see his music (even though we are both diehard Lions fans: see the video below). That being said, there are some real highs and unreal lows on Eminem’s latest, Marshall Mathers LP 2.
First of all, Eminem must have shelled out some serious cash for all the samples used on this album, with Eminem pulling a trick from the Kid Rock’s playbook: take a song that blue collar people love, don’t change it a bit, and just sing/rap over it. That’s the case on “…So Far”, “Love Game”, and “Rhyme or Reason”, with the first being ordinary, the second being actually kinda great (with a huge assist from Kendrick Lamar), and the last being an absolute atrocity. “Rhyme or Reason” ruins the timeless Zombies “Time of the Season” so badly, I don’t think I can ever enjoy the song quite the same.
Another reason this album falls short has been how dated and somehow Eminem’s lyrical references are. From “That’s like telling Gwen Stefan’ that she sold out/Cause I was tryna leave, no doubt” on the brutal “Asshole” to “I’m Brian Dawkins/Versus the whole 0 and 16 Lions offense” on “Legacy”, Eminem wants you to know that he is out-of-touch and was only relevant 10 years ago.
Those barbs aside, there are a couple songs I do think are really strong on MMLP2. “Berzerk” is quite catchy and a good throwback old-school rap track, which is then followed by two other notable tracks. “Rap God” is one of the best things I’ve heard Eminem release, with its squeaky beat and him displaying why he is one of the most talented MCs in the league. “Brainless” is an actual clever commentary on critics and mom like me who say Eminem is wasting his talent on brainless rhymes. So there are 5-6 tracks here that can be pulled out and are worth hearing but on the whole, the album is pretty exhausting to listen to, but some of that could have to do with how I feel about B. Rabbit.
My distaste for Eminem began forming around the time of his third major release, The Eminem Show. While songs like “Cleanin’ Out My Closet”, “White America” and “Soldier” maintained his more hardcore rawness with his usual brand of insane rhyming/flow, songs like “Without Me”, “Sing for the Moment”, and “My Dad’s Gone Crazy” seemed like kid bop tunes. While his usual sound began becoming a bit old-hat, his “new” sound seemed gimmicky. Since then, Eminem has not really changed much over the years. Despite his wealth and fame he still raps about the same old things. But there doesn’t ever seem to be much substance behind the words anymore. It doesn’t seem real. Instead it seems empty. It seems to be cold for the sake of sounding cold, not contrived from being horrendously under privileged and living in one of the worst parts of all America.
To be perfectly clear, I agree with Austin when he speaks to the man’s raw talent. It’s up there with the greatest rappers of all time. How he chooses to use that talent is just something that I do not care for at this point. I remember back when I first began listening to his music, it was pure shock. Now I mostly laugh because his music is just funny, but (to quote Mr. E) not “ha ha” funny. I tend to agree with both of these guys with the strongest of the tracks. I like hearing Eminem on top of some of Rick Rubin’s magic touch. But on the whole, this is not an album that I will revert back too. It’s a very middle of the road effort from a man who could still be soaring higher than all his competition. Pretty standard Eminem since about 2004 if you ask me.
Aggregate Score: 6.5/11
Can’t Miss: “Love Game”, “Berzerk”, “Bad Guy”
Can’t Hit: “Survival”, “Asshole”