Shady’s back, back again. It’s been three years since Eminem’s last outing, in which time rap has seen a seismic shift towards trap rumbles, woozy echoes and, in the case of fashionistas A$AP Rocky and Kanye, rhymes about cat walks – a world apart from the Detroit emcee as we last saw him in 2010 around ‘Recovery’, in a dirt-splattered white vest and oversized hoody spitting over ‘90s rap-rock beats. Where does Marshall Mathers fit into 2013’s hip-hop landscape? With the highly anticipated ‘Marshall Mathers LP 2’ – a sequel of sorts to his 2000 coming of age album – out on Monday, we’re about to find out. Here’s our first impression.
A seven minute epic digging once more into Slim’s sorry psychosis over ‘2001’-era Dre synth hooks. not so much a song as an exorcism. “Spent a lot trying to soul search, maybe I needed to grow up a little first, looks like I hit a growth spurt,” he rhymes, explaining his lengthy time off since the last record. A slinking ‘good city’ style bass line, growly vocal and nod to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Poetic Justice’ suggest the Detroit rapper’s been cribbing notes from his young Compton counterpart in his time away.
Parking Lot (Skit)
Sirens blaze, gun shots echo and tyres screech as Slim tussles with police in a minute long skit that imagines his death.
Rhyme or Reason
Twisting the Zombies’ ‘Time of the Season’ into a sad ballad, ‘Rhyme or Reason’ finds Shady at his most nihilistic, likening himself to Charles Manson. “There’s no rhyme or reason for nothing,” the chorus croons, as years of controversy-baiting catch up with him and he wonders what it was all for. “Rebel without a cause who caused the evolution of rap,” he boasts, but it’s of little consolation to a man in existential free-fall.
So Much Better
A vintage Slim production: booming honky-tonk pianos, with dark twists and turns. “You make me want to puke blue Kool Aid,” he hits out at recent pretenders to his rap crown like Lupe Fiasco. “I hope you hear this song and go into a cardiac arrest,” he seethes, turning his attention to the lover who spurned him: “my life would be so much better if you just dropped dead”.
Resurrecting the grinding guitars that have featured heavily in his work since the mid-‘00s, Shady takes a second to point out his endurance at the top of the hip-hop game. “I’m not a rapper I’m an adapter, I can adjust,” he promises, but ironically this is one of the most dated-sounding and hackneyed moments on the record.
“I used to be the type of kid who would always think the sky is falling… why am I so differently wired, am I a Martian?” Another introspective moment, spun out over delicate piano tinkles and rain fall, that tries to imagine how he’ll be remembered should this be Shady’s swansong. “You don’t respect the legacy I leave behind, y’all can suck a dick… The day you beat me, pigs’ll fly up my ass in a flying saucer full of Italian sausage”.
A vitriol-dripped, military drum-accompanied attack on haters. “Everybody knows you are just an asshole,” Skylar Grey cameos on the chorus, around which Shady slings rhymes about Batman and black holes.
Scratch samples, boom bap beats and guitar stabs make this a ‘80s rap-rock throwback. Shady sounds like he’s having fun, though: “Let your hair down all night long… let yourself go,” he implores, joking about getting wasted and waking up with “the ugly Kardashian”.
Dark ‘Next Episode’-era Dre pianos and rhymes about Monica Lewinsky make listening to Eminem’s new single like waking up in 2000 again. But ‘Rap God’ isn’t a total throwback: before its six minute rap ruckus is out, ‘Rap God’ has crammed in visceral trap noises and nods to Waka Flocka Flame, lending it a thrilling modern edge.
Beginning with samples of sensationalist TV reports about the rapper, ‘Brainless’ finds Shady revisit the stormy vibes of ‘The Way I Am’ for a five minute burst of doomy horror rap. “I told you one day they’d have that red carpet rolled out,” he raps – but life in the spotlight isn’t all he thought it’d be. “They said I provoke queers,” he spits, bemused.
Stronger Than I Was
More military drums as Eminem enters surprise ballad mode, singing a smooth lovey hook over emotive piano chords. “If I stumble, I won’t crumble, I’ll get back up and URGGGHHHH,” he says, running out of words. “You’re all that I love.” It jars a little with the angry first half of the album, and takes three and a half minute to reach a rap, but at least Shady can be relied upon to deliver the unexpected.
Teaming up once more with Rihanna, who famously provided a fiery foil to Eminem on ‘Love The Way You Lie’ in 2009, ‘The Monster’ is the record’s biggest pop moment, if not as successful as their first collaboration. Chopped and screwed vocals paint a compelling picture of Shady’s struggle with his monster within.
A light moment to revel in after the storminess of ‘The Monster’, ‘So Far’ finds Slim rhyming over Shania Twain like southern barstool blues rock riffs about his dietary requirements. No, really.
Shady and Kendrick Lamar are no strangers to the darker side of rap, most commonly found exorcising demons from difficult hood upbringings over gloomy urban atmospherics. Which makes it sorta weird that their first collaboration finds them swapping goofy rhymes about fellatio and L’Oreal over a breezy beat borrowed from ’60s Brit jangler Wayne Fontana.
The singer from saccharine rockers Fun, Nate Ruess, provides the hook on a track that’s every bit as sugary as you’d fear from such a cameo. Which is a shame, as Shady’s tale of a Christmas day with his family gone wrong is a perfect example of his story telling nous. Expect it to be released as a single in the festive season.
Synths spiral as ‘Marshall Mathers LP 2’ concludes with an angsty bang. “Fuck your feelings,” Slim sneers, “I’m all out of whack, I’m all out of Backstreet Boys to attack.” That might be the case, but over 16 tracks, Eminem has found plenty of targets for his anger, which even at 41, in changing rap field, remains unabated.