Will the Real Slim Shady Please Stand Up?

Courtesy of Interscope Records.

Eminem is back, yet again, with a new album. “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” was released earlier this month as a sequel to his commercially successful “The Marshall Mathers LP,” originally released in 2000.  In the early returns, the album has garnered the artist’s best reviews since “The Eminem Show.”

Four singles had been released before the album dropped; “Berzerk,” “Survival,” Rap God,” and “Monster.” “Berzerk” features a heavy reliance on sampling of other music artist’s works, coupled Eminem’s precise use of that sampling is pervasive in the entire album. “Survival” marks his third partnership with the “Call of Duty” series, and was premiered in the trailer for “Call of Duty: Ghosts.” The singles off the album demonstrate the rapper’s ability to adapt to the current music market with fast-paced songs and catchy hooks.

As is typical of Eminem’s work, profanity, misogyny, violence, and homophobic sentiment abound, but as Robert Everett-Green once wrote, “Being offensive is Eminem’s job description.” The best artists draw upon their own experiences when expressing themselves. In “The Marshall Mathers LP 2,” Eminem returns to the raw grit he learned growing up in Detroit but it comes off more as nostalgia from an artist who has grown and changed since “The Marshall Mathers LP” came out.  Some of the uplifting tone that he adopted in “Recovery” carries over into his new album that grates against the rage and violence in the album’s antecedent.

Fans will appreciate Eminem’s ability to continue finding a way to turn a phrase and run with it. He blends current references with classic ones, and shows that he studies other styles of music for inspiration. Most of the tracks maintain a speed and flow blended together seemingly seamless, with key sampling and smart use of featured artist’s vocals. Skylar Grey, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and Nate Ruess (fun.) collaborated with Eminem for this album as well as Jamie N Commons, Sia, and X Ambassadors for the deluxe bonus disc. Though the last five songs are only available in the deluxe edition they are consistent with the progression of the album and add to its depth.

He raises the bar for what is possible for rappers in his track “Rap God” in which he, at one point in the track, raps 97 words in 15 seconds.  Hearing it on an album is one thing, but it would be even more amazing to see Eminem rap it live. In his recent appearance as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live,” Eminem chose not to perform “Rap God” but instead performed “Berzerk” and “Survival” with Grey. His performance was criticized by some for Eminem’s poor lip-syncing, but it is hard to translate all of the layers Eminem can create in the studio, live. One thing is true; the balance between vocals and instrumentals was not properly calibrated and the impact of the performance was lessened.

The tracks “Stronger Than I Was,” and “Headlights,” stuck out as sour notes for me in a generally strong set of songs. In “Stronger Than I Was,” Eminem sings most of his lyrics and the vulnerability he shows does not jive with the more aggressive upbeat tracks. “Headlights” was shocking in its blatant apology to Eminem’s mother, who famously sued her son for defamation. There is nothing wrong with Eminem apologizing to her, even in a song, but it seemed an odd and unsettling choice as part of this album.

All things considered, I like this album. As far as cohesion goes it is not my favorite Eminem album. If you have listened to, and enjoyed, Eminem’s music in the past I recommend this album to you.

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