Tomorrow is the official release date for Eminem’s 8th solo album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2. The album leaked last week (minus the bonus tracks) and I’ve been able to live with it for a bit and form an opinion, but first let me take you through Eminem’s career and how I’ve followed it over the years. I’ll try not to be too obvious with my Artist Profile because we all know who this guy is already; the single highest-selling recording artist in any musical genre for the decade of 2000-2009, one of the biggest and most recognizable names in the history of hip-hop, Eminem is a legend.
He’s actually one of the first rappers I started listening to when I first got into hip-hop as a preteen, around the time The Eminem Show and the 8 Mile Soundtrack came out. The 8 Mile Soundtrack was actually my first real in-depth introduction to hip-hop besides hearing guys like DMX, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg and Nelly on the radio. Not only did that soundtrack feature Eminem in his prime, but it gave a look at both up-and-coming artists like 50 Cent, Obie Trice and D12, as well as some all-time legends like Nas, Jay-Z, Rakim and Gang Starr. Back then, I would mostly just listen to hot singles rather than full-length albums, so it took me a few years before I actually heard Eminem’s older songs in the order they were meant to be played in. It took me even longer to listen to the stuff he put out besides his major-label solo albums, such as his work with D12, Royce Da 5’9″, and his often overlooked debut album, Infinite (1996). He did have that hiatus after the Encore (2004) album though, which gave me time to catch up.
Right from the first Infinite album, Eminem had a talent for rhyming at a high level, filling every bar with as many rhyming syllables as possible. This album features a much more optimistic, laid-back Eminem as he killed every single verse to make up for the subpar production that most independent debuts suffer from. You could tell he genuinely enjoyed just being able to spit a dope rhyme over a simple beat back then. If technology was as advanced back then as it is today, this album might have gotten similar hype to what Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 album got a couple years ago. It may have even gotten that hype and I’m just too young to remember.
His major-label debut, The Slim Shady LP (1999), was a whole different kind of fun though. This is probably my favourite album of his, because he adopted a real cartoony type of persona to portray a character which enabled him to take his storytelling to much weirder places than if he was just rapping as himself. His whole flow and delivery as Slim Shady was much more fun to listen to and he wasn’t always screaming in your ear like he has been in recent years (more on that later). It wasn’t all fun and games though; songs like “Rock Bottom” and “If I Had” showed a more serious, heartfelt side of Eminem that would never be replicated due to the success of this album putting him in a completely different place. I’m glad he didn’t do a sequel to this album because the near-perfect execution would just be too hard to replicate.
The new decade saw the release of Eminem’s most critically acclaimed album, The Marshall Mathers LP (2000). It’s tough to choose a favourite Eminem album because this one was just as good as The Slim Shady LP, but it was executed so differently. This album saw Eminem still shining with his rhymes, storytelling and audio-cinematography, but injected with a dose of realism. All the controversies are well documented in the media so I’m not going to get into that, but artistically we got a much darker, aggressive Eminem on this album. The violent parts of his lyrics went from being playful and comedic (like Looney Tunes) on the previous album to gruesome and horrifying (like Se7en) on this one, but it made for good entertainment all the same. He also made “Stan“, one of the most innovative storytelling songs in hip-hop history, and “Kim“, one of the most graphic and disturbing.
Over the next couple years Eminem released a group album with D12 called Devil’s Night, his fourth solo album, The Eminem Show, and filmed and made the soundtrack for 8 Mile. These projects saw Eminem evolve further and show a wider range of different sides to his personality. He was pushing his own boundaries, getting more ferocious with his battle-styled raps, and even goofier on his more comedic tracks. While Devil’s Night and The Eminem Show may have seemed a little gimmicky (just a little), 8 Mile saw Eminem access his more inspirational side as both the film and the soundtrack focused on the raw talents behind being an emcee rather than having a marketable image. But then the goofiness expanded upon on The Eminem Show began to dominate his sound…
In 2004 Eminem released the weakest album of his entire catalogue, Encore, as well as the final D12 album, D12 World (R.I.P. Proof). Encore is actually the only Eminem album not on my iPod; I remember it being terrible when I heard it and I never wanted to listen to it again. I did, however, revisit Encore for the sake of this article, but that only reaffirmed what I thought of it, and I ended up deleting it again. What happened here was he was getting really corny; using all types of fake accents, bringing a similar singing-rap type of flow to which Kid Cudi and Drake are now known for, and mostly making goofball music. Some of it wasn’t bad, but the bullsh** just out-stank the good stuff, leaving an overall negative vibe despite the couple decent songs on here.
This corniness would continue on some new songs he released on different compilations in 2005 and 2006, although a few of these songs showed signs of a return to form. It could be argued that Eminem started the era of parody-rap that would soon dominate mainstream hip-hop with the likes of Soulja Boi, Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy and Rick Ross emerging during this period, and guys like Lil’ Wayne and 50 Cent becoming a joke (rapping poorly but doing it in an entertaining way somehow became a thing). Later, Eminem would admit that a lot of this mess had to do with drug abuse, which also lead to him not putting out another album until 2009.
After a hiatus and letting G-Unit put out most of the music under the Shady/Aftermath umbrella, Eminem returned in 2009 with his Relapse album. Many people pit this in with Encore as another crappy album, but I actually like it a lot better than that. While the annoying fake accents were still prevalent, Eminem was at least rhyming his ass off like he used to. The subject matter wasn’t that corny either, as he went back to the dark side and made some slasher-film-esque music that only certain listeners will appreciate (not all music has to be pleasant dance tunes).
In 2010 we saw more of a return to form for Eminem, as he sobered up and released his Recovery album. Sober Eminem is a much angrier Eminem though, as the main thing people complain about now is he’s always screaming in your ear on every song (although the fake accents were gone for the most part). I initially loved this album when it first came out, ranking it my #1 album of the year, but over time the production and delivery on some of the songs have gotten stale.
I mean, his rhymes and his wordplay were on point again; maybe not as creative as his earlier work but still way above the average rapper. He just needs to calm down and sound like he’s actually enjoying spitting these ill verses like it’s the 90’s again, or at least have some variety. Eminem’s new vocal delivery isn’t a deal breaker for me though; I enjoyed listening to Recovery and enjoyed the subsequent Bad Meets Evil EP released in 2011, Hell: The Sequel. I love listening to the way he pieces together his rhymes, and just because he’s yelling them doesn’t mean I won’t appreciate the lyricism.
Another issue with his recent work, including new singles for The Marshall Mathers LP 2, is that the production and the hooks tend to sound too poppy and stadium-oriented for a lyricist of Eminem’s caliber. He’s also been indulging in these cookie-cutter, industry-made, pop-rap songs that show a lack of originality. These may just be for the singles he’s planning on performing at his stadium shows, but overall, a lyricist like Eminem needs much smaller production to let his lyrics shine and maybe make it so he doesn’t have to shout them. He needs to find a balance between the simplistic, precise beats he used in the 90’s and the booming stadium-sounds he’s been using in the 2010’s. This is what I wanted to see happen on MMLP2, let’s get into the album review and see how it turned out!
The first song might leave you confused right from the beginning, but it’s actually a great way to start the album; “Bad Guy” takes us through a sequel to “Stan” told from the perspective of Stan’s younger brother in that story, all grown up 13 years later. Then the “Parking Lot” skit gives us an alternate ending to “Criminal” off the first MMLP, symbolizing Eminem killing the controversial, shock-value-seeking side to him that we loved over a decade ago. This is why the title of the album works despite the drastic changes he’s gone through over the years; he’s not continuing to be the Marshall Mathers from 2000, he’s showing us how different Marshall Mathers has become in 2013.
Marshall in 2013 seems to be more mature, still playful, more humble, and slightly less motivated to innovate. He’s still frustrated by the lack of privacy that comes with fame, still resentful towards his ex-wife (although he doesn’t use her name, leaving room for listeners to relate), and still spends time rapping about his parents, but he does so with a more matured perspective. He actually gives us the polar opposite view from what he was saying on the first MMLP album; on one song singing/rapping from Kim’s perspective on how their toxic relationship made them stronger individually (thank you RapGenius.com), and on another giving a true tribute to his mother and apologising for the hurtful songs he made about her in the past. He uses this album to reflect on his past and own up to his mistakes, but he also has some fun by giving us songs with a less serious approach.
There’s no consistent sound or style to this album, literally every song puts you in a different mood as you progress through it, but this may be a good thing. Not every fan enjoys every style Eminem brings to the table, so he doesn’t overkill one particular style here. This may enable a wider range of fans to enjoy parts of the album, but I don’t see many people (other than the “Stans”, which has become a slang term in the culture) enjoying this album to the point where they think 90% or more of the songs are great. Some people will like the personal, self-reflecting songs on here, some will like the fun, braggadocios songs. Some newer fans will like the cookie-cutter pop style he’s adopted in the 2010’s, some may like the songs where he’s singing. I personally can’t see how someone can enjoy one of Eminem’s styles of music without getting annoyed at another though.
For me, the songs on this album I didn’t like were mostly around the bottom third of the album where he just started to sound like a joke again. I can see the reasoning behind “Stronger Than I Was”, but that’s not a song I can vibe with on a regular basis. Then there’s “The Monster”, “So Far…”, and “Love Game” which are all just ridiculous to me. The former is obviously a cookie-cutter bullsh** industry song which could’ve been given to any rapper and wouldn’t be any different, while the latter two sound like more of that parody-rap. I just feel like Eminem and Kendrick Lamar are both too talented to allow “Love Game” to make the final cut, although I can understand the fun they must’ve had recreating that old Wayne Fontana song from the 1960’s. I feel like I need to be in a real apathetic, sarcasm-heavy type of mood to enjoy these songs.
I do have many favourite parts to this album though. Speaking of 1960’s samples, I felt like the “Time of the Season” sample was executed much better on “Rhyme Or Reason”. Even though Necro already sampled and rhymed well over it in 2005, Eminem’s version is much appreciated (we needed a less-graphic use of that sample). I also love the song “Legacy” where Eminem explains the whole appeal of rap music to him: finding strength in your ability to rhyme (i.e. use your brain) where you may otherwise be perceived to have none. Another highlight is on “Rap God”, where he takes the gibberish flow from JJ Fad’s “Supersonic” and actually puts words in it.
Overall this is another solid album from Eminem, although it does have its flaws. He takes the time to dive deep into his own mind and self-reflect, but then on other songs he sounds like he’s being forced to find some mainstream entertainment value, which has him sounding out of place. His vocal delivery sounds slightly more comfortable compared to his most recent albums, but his choice of production can be questionable at times, some of these songs sounding so ridiculous that you have to laugh at them. While I don’t think many fans will find this to be a great album all the way through, I think most will definitely enjoy different parts of it, depending on when you became an Eminem fan. New fans will probably enjoy the cookie-cutter bullsh** songs on here, but it is strongly recommended to listen to the first Marshall Mathers LP in order to fully enjoy all the nostalgic references.
My Joint (I originally posted “Legacy” but the copyright police keep taking the Youtube links down):
My Grades (based on how well I connected to them, no disrespect if your experience was different):
Infinite (1996): B-
The Slim Shady LP (1999): A+
The Marshall Mathers LP (2000): A+
Devil’s Night (by D12, 2001): B+
The Eminem Show (2002): A
Encore (2004): D+
D12 World (by D12, 2004): C-
Relapse (2009): B
Recovery (2010): B
Hell: The Sequel (by Bad Meets Evil, 2011): A-
The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (2013): B