Friday, November 8, 2013

Download — The Marshall Mathers LP 2 — Album Review

Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP 2 Cover
The Marshall Mathers 2 Album
DJ Booth Album Review

Starting nearly the second after My Name Is dropped in 1999, Eminem became a lightning rod for controversy, and the release of his classic Marshall Mathers LP would cement his place as hip-hop’s leading firestarter, a title that he’s worn with pride for well over a decade now.

Eminem - Berzerk Artwork

Throughout the original MMLP, he held up a mirror to mainstream America’s failings and hypocrisies, and much of America hated him for it. He was a celebrity that burned down America’s shrines to celebrity every chance he got. A rapper who walked the razor thin line between rap fantasy and reality, sanity and insanity, so expertly that even when he was fantastically rapping about murdering his wife, there was always some part of you that thought he might, maybe, someday actually kill someone. Listening to Eminem was never just about listening to Eminem, it was about supporting him in his quest to destroy the world, and in the process himself.

Eminem - Survival ArtworkIn 2013 though, the Marshall Mathers that just released his quasi-sequel 13 years in the making has both changed completely and not at all, which explains much of what makes MMLP2 both such a fascinating and frustrating listen. Compared to his rap peers - and in terms of success over the last decade really only Jay, Kanye, 50 Cent and Lil Wayne are his peers – Eminem’s music has changed the least. While Weezy has cycled through rock albums, Jay has become a Basquait rapper and Ye’s changed styles more times than Lil Kim’s changed noses, Eminem’s largely continued rapping about the same thing (himself and his personal demons) in the same breathtakingly precise, barrage of rap style. He’s added a catchier more movie trailer-esque sound, what some call pop but I’ll just call Love the Way You Lie, but really, despite the upheavals in the world, despite his relapse and recovery from drug addiction, for better or worse Eminem at 41 is essentially the same artist as Eminem at 28-years-old.

Eminem - Rap God Artwork
MMLP2 is about Eminem, celebrity culture, what it’s like for Eminem to be a celebrity, and not much else. This isn’t an album particularly concerned about making a larger statement, unless that statement is “hey, don’t forget, I can still motherfu**king rap”. In fact, his undiminished mic skills are really the centerpiece of this album. It can’t be a coincidence that the two lead singles were Berzerk and Rap God, both tracks that are little more than empty skies for Em to explode some rap fireworks into. And despite the occasional oddly outdated cultural references (had anyone thought of the Ray J versus Fabolous feud before Em devoted nearly 8 lines to it?) it’s impossible to listen to tracks like Rap God and Evil Twin and think his flow and delivery have missed a step. He may not put out music often, he may not engage in the the constant barrage of diss tracks and freestyles, but Em needs the world to know that, if he so chose, he could still outrap (almost?) anyone alive. Mission accomplished.

Where MMLP2 struggles though is in everything that happens away from the mic. I don’t know if there’s a single beat on this album I’d want to listen to as an instrumental; I suppose Bad Guy comes closest, but that’s mostly because I appreciate its understated vibe. Sure, it’s cool to hear a Zombies sample on Rhyme or Reason, the beat’s still not much more than the looped sample, and the same goes for Love Game. While I like that Em played with our expectations of a rap-off with Kendrick and instead made a light-hearted track about failed relationships, structurally the song is a mess; there’s no real hook and both Em and Kendrick rap over the beat than to it. Similarly, the album has no real cohesive sound; the musically schizophrenic So Far is miles away from Legacy which is miles away from So Much Better. Eminem doesn’t need a “hot” beat or great songwriting to show he can rap, but why not have great production and great raps? I can think of at least one album that had both. It shares the same title as MMLP2, only without the 2.

Eminem ft. Rihanna - The Monster Artwork

Just like on the original though, the real breathtaking moments on MMLP2 come when Eminem isn’t trying to prove he can still rap or make stadium anthems; they come when he gets deeply personal, and no one dives deeper into their personal life than Em. Bad Guy is an ostensible follow up to the classic Stan that’s an absolutely masterpiece of storytelling; this is Marshall Mathers at his lyrical and conceptual best. And even though the hook on Headlights, by Fun’s Nate Reuss, is light and airy exactly where it should have been deep. The raw and crushingly emotional lyrics from Eminem, especially ones that put an end to his running feud with his mother, are more than powerful enough to make Headlights remarkable. No rapper’s ever let us closer to his life, and that proximity can still be stunning.

Ten albums into his career, I think it’s now a fair question to ask when Eminem should retire. Not because he’s fallen off, again he’s still clearly one of the best rappers alive, but because he doesn’t seem to have much more new left to say, and I’m unsure how much he still purely loves making music. By his own admission he can’t change (despite the millions, he still lives a white trash lifestyle), and he can’t have anything left to prove. Unlike Jay Z, who seems to be addicted to ladder-climbing, and Kanye, who seems to be addicted to self re-invention, Eminem is a relative hip-hop hermit, only emerging in public when he absolutely has to. So why not pull a Barry Sanders, or a Dave Chappelle, and leave on top? Why not focus on building Shady Records, or hell, even better, just a generally happy human being? Why not close the book after coming full circle with a MMLP2?


The rap lover in me hopes we get another thirty years of Eminem albums, but the music lover in me, the one who knows the kind of groundbreaking music Marshall Mathers is capable of making, would rather live the rest of my life with ten (including Infinite) albums from Enimem than hear him reach a day where his heart’s just not in the music anymore. I couldn’t care less about some benchwarmer grinding out games until his knees collapse, but watching Michael Jordan on the Wizards, watching the GOAT look like anything but the GOAT, was painful. Here’s to hoping that never happens… — DJ Booth's Nathan S.

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