At this stage in Eminem’s career, numbers fail to tell the story. The Detroit MC could put out a record reciting the words to “Goodnight Moon,” and it would still go platinum within a week. So how do we measure the quality of an album that, due to its provocative title, begs to be dissected and critiqued?
Simply put, this album is not asking you to view it as a sequel. Rather, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 wants the listener to forget its 2000 predecessor and view it as a bold and entertaining album in it’s own right. Eminem spent his time on Relapse and Recovery airing out his grievances, disclosing his battles with addiction and attempting to reclaim his footing. Essentially, The MMLP2 is the first album since 2004’s Encore where Eminem has nothing to hide behind. This is The Marshall Mathers LP 2, not “Part 2,” and it stands as his finest work since The Eminem Show. There’s a reason this album was not titled “The Slim Shady LP 2″, as Em has already offered his opinions on the picket signs and angry mothers when he first turned heads back in 1999.
The MMLP2 finds a man revisiting his raw, genuine love for the expressivity and satirical wit of hip-hop. No, the 41-year-old rapper is not “…on a porch telling stories/With a bottle of Jack/Two grandkids on my lap/Babysitting for Hailie while Hailie’s out getting smashed.” Instead, he’s rapping circles around kids half his age, delivering more furious intensity, humor and cleverness to date. Recovery proved a success far beyond anything fans imagined it would be. Yet, the production on The MMLP2 is far more polished than the often disorganized, emo-sounding vibe of the latter record.
His beardness, Rick Rubin, takes the reigns for a handful of album highlights. “Berzerk” might not pack much lyrical substance, but the lead single offers a good time, with Em doing his best Mike D impression over a sample of Billy Squier’s “The Stroke.” Its vintage Rubin, adding thrashing guitars to hip-hop, which he championed on the Jay Z Smash, “99 Problems.” The tracks “So Far, “Love Game” and “Rhyme or Reason” also feature Rubin at the helm, perfectly complimenting Eminem’s word bending flow. “Rap God” sees Em spitting at an impossible pace.
Earlier this year, Kanye West put out the song “I Am a God,” just for the sake of raising a few eyebrows. Eminem’s dizzying delivery backs up this title’s declaration. Perhaps the album’s most surprising elements come from how Em addresses the many elephants in the room. Featuring tracks about his mother always carries great potential to come off as old and stale. But the song “Headlights” somehow seems refreshing, with Eminem almost making amends with his arch nemesis (at least in his own twisted way). We also get more insight into his absentee dad (whom he still despises) on “Bad Guy” and “Rhyme or Reason.” Overdone nostalgia could have been yet another pitfall to an album that could have gone horribly wrong. Yet Eminem pulls it off without sounding desperate.
The record features several, subtle nods to the era of The Marshall Mathers LP. In “Evil Twin,” Em perfectly channels the menacing Slim Shady, stating, “I’m frustrated cuz no more ‘N Sync/Now I’m all out of whack/I’m all out of Backstreet Boys to call out and attack.” Well played, Marshall, well played.
Back in 2009, Eminem returned to the game with Relapse, his first full-length album in five years. The album received mix reviews, and 2010’s Recovery was considered the true resurrection of perhaps the greatest rapper of all time. But on The MMLP2, Slim forgets the drugs, the death of Proof, his stints in rehab and gets down to brass balls. Although there have been shades of his brilliance in between, we haven’t seen this guy since 2002.
Finally, the real Slim Shady decided to stand up. 5/5 Starts. The Marshall Mathers LP 2 drops Nov. 5.