Em is up to his old gags on his impressive sequel LP
Eminem is fiending for a good, old-fashioned rap battle.
Both swords are sharpened, plus the knife stashed in his boot, and he’s sitting silent in the dark, dying for someone with the nerve to try and slash his throat.
Yes, Marshall Mathers’ 13th step is to assert himself as a rap god.
“Lyrically I never hear a peep, not even a whisper/Rappers better steer clear of me,” he warns on “Rhyme or Reason,” an irreverent and irresistible spin on the Zombies’ “Time of the Season.” And later, on “Evil Twin”: “Fuck top five, bitch, I’m top four/And that includes Biggie and Pac, whore/And I got a evil twin, so who the fuck you think that third and that fourth spot’s for?”
If Relapse and Recovery were Mathers drop-kicking addiction and rejoicing in sobriety, Marshall Mathers 2 is Shady doing what Shady does best: rapping his heart out, then holding it up bloody and pulsing for us to examine. There is nary mention of Mathers’ challenges with dependency or the death of his best friend, Proof. Dr. Dre, D12, 50 Cent are all absentees, and the rap guest list is restricted to one: Kendrick Lamar. MMLP2 is the concentration of a 41-year-old multimillionaire hunkered down in his elevator-access home, scribbling internal rhymes on the external of the margins, lashing at everyone outside of Detroit, not to mention the guy a Kroger who notices his crow’s feet.
It’s true: Blonds have more fun. And we’d much rather hear Slim hopped on peroxide than Percocet.
The seven-minute intro, “Bad Guy,” mixes extended metaphor with unpredictable storytelling as an unlikely and detailed sequel to “Stan,” right down to the Broncos hat.
“So Far. . .”—one of four tracks baring Rick Rubin’s fingerprints, all standouts—hijacks and high-speeds Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” guitar riff for a white-trash party of one. Lamar’s jocular side is dragged out for the hilarious heartbreak of “Love Game,” which flips Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders’ 1965 hit. “Brainless” finds our antihero machine-gunning Words With Enemies verb-play over a beat Treach would have murdered in 19Naughty3. And the pre-leak “Rap God” is six minutes of showing off.
These are the pinnacles: When nutty Em slips into “Dead Wrong” mode and rhymes for the sake of riddling. At various points he rhymes with Tourette’s, in Yoda’s voice, between blow-job slurps, while yodeling, and while mimicking Busta Rhymes and the Beastie Boys. No one does juvenile nonsense so seriously. “You’re gonna die a ball-licker/I’ve been diabolical/With this dialogue since/’99 Rawkus,” he blurts on “Legacy,” and you laugh out loud at the risk of missing another punch line.
As for the serious songs, they’re hit and miss. The girlfriends that screwed him up (and likely vice versa), his precious daughters, his estranged mother, his deadbeat dad, that banshee Fame, those pop-culture puppets he’s so quick to skewer—they’re all back. The post-relationship analysis of “Stronger than I Was” seems important to Eminem, but its indulgent inclusion drags the second half of the LP down. Better is the Nate Ruess-featured “Headlights,” an open apology to the mother he shredded in a decade ago in “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” a hit he vows to never perform.
Eminem is such a talented writer, a master of delivery and tension-building, one wonders what he could accomplish if he turned his gaze outward. As in the past, there are hints of the world beyond his self-constructed funhouse—“This whole world is a mess/Got to have a goddamn a vest on your chest/And a Glock just to go watch Batman”—but as always, the topic zips back to family or fantasy.
“I’m all out of Backstreet Boys to call out and attack,” Eminem admits.
The craftsman needs a new muse. He’s mastered his old ones. Someone, anyone, please diss him. —Luke Fox