ALBUM The Marshall Mathers LP 2
RELEASE DATE 5 November 2013
4.0 | 10
They’re no longer kids, and they don’t seem right. I’m talking about Jay Z and Eminem, the two most popular hip-hop artists of our generation, who in 2013 are now the same age as Bono when he released All That You Can’t Leave Behind with the rest of U2, and are actually older than Mick Jagger circa Tattoo You. For the first time we’re seeing the hip-hop artists we grew up with grow older with us, and it’s like witnessing a once-great fighter fall in the first round.
Eminem certainly knows what he’s doing. The vapid Recovery (2010), while featuring the monster single “Love The Way You Lie,” did nothing in the way of re-establishing Em as a vital component of the hip-hop scene. It rather found him falling closer in line with pop artists disguised as rappers, such as Flo Rida and Pitbull. But as The Marshall Mathers LP 2 revs its engine, Eminem rips into “Bad Guy,” a seven-minute proclamation that Eminem is back. Or, that’s what it was supposed to be. Instead, the opening number is nothing more than a calculated move on Eminem’s part to make us think he’s back to delivering hard-hitting, emotionally exposed verses unrivaled by anyone not named Kanye West. That much is made clear as the ensuing 15 tracks make up some of the most grating, least interesting work of Eminem’s illustrious career.
Opening single “Berzerk” continues Eminem’s string of awful lead singles, following such tragedies as “Just Lose It” and “We Made You.” It’s faux-Beastie Boys production does make me want to give Paul’s Boutique a spin, so in that case, I suppose “Berzerk” works. But more importantly, it does nothing to make LP 2 an intriguing listen. It’s telling that “Rap God,” one of several pre-release singles, was met with not much more than a shrug. The six-minute cut should have signaled the return of Eminem, as it is through-and-through a rap song. But it instead sounds like a man grasping at his much brighter past, trying to recapture a magic that’s long left its bottle.
As one could expect, Kendrick Lamar is the far and away the best thing about LP 2. Yet even he can’t save the wholly unlistenable “Love Game.” It’s presented as one of the more light-hearted moments on the album, yet there is no joy to be heard here. And while Eminem gets in the way of making “Love Game” a quality track, it’s the feature on the ensuing “Headlights” that is perhaps the most egregious misfire of Eminem’s career. He enlists fun. lead singer (and P!nk and Ke$ha collaborator) Nate Ruess to deliver a sappy and sentimental chorus that touches on Eminem’s difficult relationship with his mother. The verses are lyrically perhaps the best thing on LP 2, as there is a sincerity to his words unfelt by anything else. But the unfortunate and unnecessary addition of Ruess strips the song of its emotional potential, making it another corporate grab at a #1 single.
Earlier on the album, on the Skylar Grey-featuring “Asshole,” Eminem opens the track by rapping, “Came to the world at the time when it was in the need of a villain.” There are a couple of problems with this line of thinking, starting with Em’s justification of his perceived sexism and homophobia at the beginning of his career, that somehow we needed to hear a rapper call out all the “whores” and “faggots” in the world. The second problem is that, if he is right in that we needed a villain at the turn of the century, there are now certainly a lot worse guys out there than Eminem. We no longer need a villain, but more and more it seems like that’s the only role Eminem knows to play.