The first music artist I ever remember really getting into was none other than Eminem. A cousin of mine had given me a copy of The Eminem Show when I mentioned enjoying the track “Without Me” which I heard a lot on the radio. I immediately found myself enamored with his music and even asked my cousin to lend me Eminem’s older albums. I was drawn in by the obvious musical insanity, both in the sense of his talent level being quite insane and in the literal sense. The balance between the goofy “Slim Shady” material and his more deathly serious material made it clear that this was the work of an insane man, and it was glorious to me as a child…
…and then Encore came out and I hated everything and everyone and wanted the world to burn in fire because of it… I was not a happy camper when it came out. I have yet to listen to anything that dropped the ball as much as that album did. It was enough to make me steer clear of any of his releases for as long as possible. Now, it’s been almost 10 years since I have had a full proper taste of Eminem’s music, and a lot has changed since then. None of us are the same person we were 10 years ago, including myself and especially Marshall Mathers. So I was willing to give his newest release, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (a sequel/successor to the first MMLP) a chance.
The album certainly makes a great first impression with the opening track “Bad Guy”. The beat is undeniably creepy, perfectly establishing a haunting atmosphere for the first half, and then using symphonic violins and piano for a more somber tone in the second half. The song tells an amazing story that starts off as someone attempting to kidnap and murder someone, which sounds kind of standard, but it goes to a dark place that you are definitely not expecting. I won’t say it here because part of the enjoyment of the track is the surprise reveal of what specifically is going on, but suffice it to say it’s a fantastic song and is easily one of the all-time great Eminem tracks.
“Rhyme or Reason” has a very western film inspired beat, backing lyrics that focus primarily on Eminem’s abandonment issues with his dad and relating it to his success in music. There’s some interesting lyrical ideas at play, especially in the third verse when he describes how his fans relate to his music and view Marshall as a father figure of sorts, which makes for an interesting parallel to his own lack of a real father growing up. The track does have a couple of sore spots, namely that the flow of the track has someone awkward starts and stops, and he also uses a couple of silly accents (specifically a Yoda voice in the beginning), though thankfully they don’t last that long.
“So Much Better” is a noticeably flawed song mostly due to the execution of its concept. The beat is a series of piano chords almost like a dark waltz, which makes sense in the context of the lyrics being Eminem complaining about a woman who’s cheating on him with other rappers. I’m normally not bothered by his more admittingly misogynistic songs, but the overreliance of the term “bitch” feels a bit lazy, and towards the end of the third verse he devolves a bit into nonsense words (“oye yoy yoy, man oh man, your boy boy boy’s getting sick of these girls girls girls, oink oink oink, you fuckin’ pigs. All you good for is doink doink doink”) that makes the lyrical themes a tad annoying. Then comes “Survival”, which is an okay song primarily about his hopes to survive in rap music, but it feels more like filler (which makes sense given its use in promoting the new CoD game) that would have been better placed as a bonus track on the deluxe version.
“Legacy” is Eminem examining the difference between himself as a child and the type of person he grew up to be. It’s a more subtle track, but a solid and sincere one. The next track “Asshole”, which features solo artist Skyler Grey on vocals, is the complete opposite of subtle. Eminem begins to speed up his flow in places, the lyrics acknowledge his notable position as an insane douchebag, and the beat is loud, thumping, and very grand-sounding. There’s some decent wordplay here (“A pessimist who transformed into an optimist in his prime, so even if I’m half dead, I’m half alive.”), but he feels the need to dip into an awkward accent in the first half of the third verse.
The lead single “Berzerk” is basically just a party track, but I will say it is a damn good one. Compared to most other mainstream party tracks, which are weakly written and built around generic club beats that do the exact opposite of their intended purpose, this song uses 80’s rock samples (specifically Billy Squier’s “The Stroke” and a couple of Beastie Boys tracks) which actually gives it some energy. The rhymes also have some honest effort put into them and come out pretty good.
The art of MC’ing mixed with da Vinci and MC Ren, and I don’t mean Stimpy’s friend, bitch.
Far as hard drugs are though, that’s the past, but I done did enough codeine to knock Future into Tomorrow
My only problems are that the beat and production on this track can feel kind of overpowering at times, and there’s a couple of lines that are just plain weird, specifically “This is your jam unless you got toe jam” (…what?) and the chorus line “Grow your beard out”, because I don’t think beards can grow on command. The following song “Rap God” is an attempt for Eminem to assert himself as the best of his genre, and it certainly makes a game effort of it. His flow is more on point than on the rest of the album, using more rapid flows which I wish he would use more of on this album. His effort is admirable, but it’s somewhat undercut by the usage of occasional gibberish and in the second verse where he ends several lines with the word “boy”, which I think is kind of cheating. There’s an interesting point where he brings up the Columbine Massacre as a callback to the first Marshall Mathers LP to make a point about how his altered fame levels have affected what he can get away with without being censored. Halfway through the third verse he breaks out with a segment rapped at “supersonic speed”, and it stands as the highlight of the song.
“Brainless” is an okay song which looks at Eminem’s life from the perspective of his childhood, his teenage years, and his adult life. It suffers from failing to properly utilize the whole “brainless” conceit throughout the song, only appearing in the choruses, the end of each verse, and that’s about it. “Stronger than I Was” is… probably the worst song on the album. It’s an incredibly dull track that fails at conveying the powerful emotions behind its sentiment. The lyrics are meant to convey hatred of Eminem from the perspective of his ex-wife Kim, but it’s so lacking in any real emotional punch that it comes across as the worst kind of after-school special. It grinds the album to a significantly annoying halt.
“The Monster”, which features a guest verse from Rihanna (because of course), is another okay track that doesn’t really stand out that much. It’s probably the most generic on the album, as the production makes it sound like a dozen other pop songs, and the lyrics are the typical “dealing with the pressures of fame” but not in a particularly interesting way. “So Far” is about how Eminem feels stuck in his ways and the disconnect this creates given his fame. While it has some decent lyrics to it, they’re undercut by a lame beat (a sample from classic rock guitarist Joe Walsh) and an uninteresting flow. There is a cool moment in this track though towards the end of the second verse where he makes reference to the classic track “The Real Slim Shady”.
Went to Burger King. They spit on my onion rings. I think my karma’s catching up with me. (The music even switches to the beat of the classic song).
“Love Game” is another song about Eminem’s (and guest rapper Kendrick Lamar’s) romantic troubles. The song deserves a significantly better beat than the one it has, which sounds like it was sampled from a film soundtrack from the 1960’s. Unlike the other romantic trouble-focused song on this album, “Love Game” has more effort in terms of flow and lyricism which makes it more tolerable, and Kendrick’s verse is probably the highlight of the track. The second to last song “Headlights” is an apology to his mother Debbie for his constant insults of her across his entire music career. It’s a slow track, and I run relatively cold on the guest vocals from fun.’s Nate Reuss, but it’s sweet and touching, so it gets a pass. Finally comes “Evil Twin”, which is of course focused on his famous alter ego, feels like a strange place to end on. It’s a decent song with appropriate levels of menace to it, but it feels like it should have come before “Headlights” as far as structural purposes and general album flow.
Ultimately, the album comes out average from my perspective. There are things which I liked and occasionally even loved. The album has a lot of well utilized callbacks to the first MMLP, the first half of the album is overall pretty good, and it definitely has some effort put into a lot of it. However, there are also noticeable flaws that prevent me from fully enjoying it, from the hit-or-miss production work to the second half of the album being a relative slog to sit through. If you’re a hardcore Eminem fan, you’ve no doubt made up your mind in advance and are probably enjoying it right now. From my perspective, I guess I liked it more than I didn’t but that’s not saying much. For everyone on the fence: proceed with caution and maybe stream it on Spotify or something before leaping out to buy it.
Here’s the iTunes download link if you’re interested:
There’s also probably a store in walking distance of you that sells it, so there’s that.
Written by: Robert Barrueco – November 10th, 2013
This album shines during the weirdest intervals and completely falls flat in between. I feel the album opens amazingly with strong tracks like Bad Guy and So Much Better and pretty much everything up until Brainless is right up my alley, except for Survival which is way too corny to hold up to anything else on the album. Tracks like Rhyme or Reason and Legacy are absolutely stunning, both rhyme-wise, flow-wise and beat-wise. Matters absolutely delivers straight up “dope” on this first half of the album. The highlight of the entire album is Rap God to me. Not only does he prove he is still the flow-master, but the beat is infectious in its simplicity and it’s just long enough to stick. Hiphop 101, right there!
But then the album takes a plunge. The beats become asinine, the lyrics get childish and lackluster and all of it just seems so mediocre. The collaboration with Rihanna is flatout silly and feels like the mandatory radio-pleaser. There’s a diamond in the rough in the second half of the record with the track So Far, however. It’s start might put you off, but the lyrics are strong, the flow is better than a river’s and the beat is amazingly strong with enough repetition to stick and enough variation to be special. It also features one of the strongest references I’ve heard in hiphop in years. You’ll just have to find that out for yourself.
It’s such a shame the album takes a u-turn for the worst. Its strong start ensured it was in front of the pack for the first thirty minutes of the race, but then came the hairpin halfway, and the driver completely lost track of the wheel and crashed into the guardrail, broke through it and landed the car on its roof with no way out.
Written by: Job van Dongen – November 10th, 2013