For someone who once vowed that his lone alternate profession to being a rapper would be a f****n rapist in a Jason mask, its remarkable how little turbulence Eminem has caused in recent memory. His year-long Rihanna-assisted comeback in 2010 notwithstanding, the best-selling rapper in history has spent the better part of a decade on the outskirts of the rap music scene a far cry from when he was overwhelmingly at its forefront at the opening of the century.
Sadly, the man born Marshall Bruce Mathers III has been subject to a wide range of personal demons, including a second divorce, battles with drug addiction and the loss of his best friend. All of these have combined to significantly limit the output of one of hip-hops most phenomenally gifted and troubled megastars over the latter half of his career.
With the release of his first album in three years, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, will it be time to exorcise these demons?
Hard to say. Its doubtful that this album or any rap record in the foreseeable future, frankly will be able to generate the level of commercial success and cultural backlash that defined Eminems signature release, The Marshall Mathers LP (2000). But 13 years later, the albums sequel offers plenty of reminders of what first made Mr. Mathers one of the most magnetic and unavoidable figures in the hip-hop landscape reasons that extend well beyond his status as the white rapper.
On this record, Eminem finally manages to embrace his role as an emcee, after having contemplated leaving it behind for so long. Whereas his more recent albums, Relapse (2009) and Recovery (2010), have displayed signs of skepticism, with lyrics like … I may be done with rap / I need a new outlet … and F**k you hip-hop / Im leaving you / My life sentence is served, the verdict here is different: Dont know what the f**k I would doing if it werent rap / Probably be a giant turd-sack.
Indeed, there are plenty of moments on Marshall Mathers LP 2 which prove that if anyone was born to rap, its Eminem. At this point, he refuses to let anyone deny him his rightful place in the upper echelons of hip-hop. On 2002s Til I Collapse, he told listeners, In this industry, Im the cause of a lot of envy / So when Im not put on this list, the s**t does not offend me. However, that is clearly no longer the case: F**k top five … Im top four / And that includes Biggie and Pac … he raps on Evil Twin, adding And I got an evil twin, so who do you think that third and that fourth spots for?
Tough question. But Eminem certainly does his part to back up that boast time and time again on this album. Its hard to imagine any other emcee pulling off the combination of speed rap, rhyme scheme and verbal energy to the mind-blowing extent that Eminem manages on Rap God and Berzerk, among other tracks. At age 41, his versatility as a rapper remains as singular as ever.
Always renowned for his storytelling gifts, Eminem shows audiences what hes made of with tracks like the introspective Legacy and Stronger Than I Was. The standout, though, has to be the seven-minute album-opener, Bad Guy.
After long deliberating a sequel to his signature single, Stan, off of his first album (Lil Wayne stepped up to the plate with his own take on the topic, 2011s Dear Anne), Eminem finally pulls off the feat by rapping as Stans little brother, Matthew, who is bent on avenging Stans death.
The original remains quite possibly the most hair-raising rap song of all time. Amazingly, the sequel finishes not far behind.
Like his last album, Recovery, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 includes several collaborations that may seem odd and overly commercial on paper, but work surprisingly well on the record. Fun.s lead singer, Nate Reuss, is featured on Headlights, a sorrowful reflection on Eminems relationship with his mother, and Reusss contribution makes the song all the more affecting and memorable. The Monster builds well upon the masochistic themes of Slim Shadys past duets with Rihanna. And it goes without saying that Love Game, the first-ever Eminem-Kendrick Lamar faceoff, is a must-listen.
In the end, while this 21-track album may have been better off with about five fewer songs although, to be fair, this same critique could be applied to more than one of his past records The Marshall Mathers LP 2 still emerges as one of the most satisfying entries in this iconic emcees catalogue. Its the tragic portrait of an artist tortured / Trapped in his own drawings, as Eminem himself explains on the opening track.
The results are admirable.