Back in 2000, at the Stan-led peak of his powers, Eminem released the Marshall Mathers LP. It was an angry, powerful statement, implying that the gawky rapper who we had first met with the playground-esque My Name Is had grown up and thrown down the gauntlet to the hip hop genre.
The album was a global success story, going to number 1 in over a dozen countries and selling 29 million copies in the process. From the lead singles of The Real Slim Shady and the aforementioned Dido collaboration, to the absurdity of Criminal and even the straight nastiness of Kim, almost all the tracks were exciting and fresh in their own way.
Interestingly, one of the more forgettable songs on the album was entitled Remember Me? A question that seems strangely pertinent now in a landscape that has changed markedly since those heady days. In the years since, the likes of Jay-Z, Kanye West and even Kendrick Lamar have all usurped the Detroit honky in the rap stakes. Sure there has been the odd reminder of his gift for a tune, 2010’s Rihanna mash-up Love The Way you Lie being a case in point, but the 41 year old has increasingly seemed like yesterday’s man in the world of hip hop.
It is therefore refreshing that, rather than totally modernize, Eminem has gone back to the future for the release of his latest work The Marshall Mathers LP 2. Everything about the album, from the title down, is a homage to his career and the forefathers who inspired him.
Opening track Bad Guy is an amusingly referential repost to Stan, while Parking Lot also revisits the scene of previous (ficticious) crimes, this time picking up the mid-song heist in 2000’s Criminal. Fortunately these self-referential moments are not overdone, with as many props going to those who went before him. To these ends, the thumping Rick Rubin-produced Bezerk (below) is a throwback to the likes of Run DMC and the Beastie Boys (no surprise given Rubin’s history with those two), a theme that is continued by the Joe Walsh-sampling, scratch-infused So Far… and the old-skool playfulness of the Kendrick Lamar collaboration Love Game.
Elsewhere nods are made towards his last album, Recovery, in the way that Survival apes the excellent Almost Famous and The Monster is a shameless attempt to recreate the immense success of Love The Way You Lie. They even both have the same backing vocalists.
These moments of slight laziness are forgiven however when you hear the one moment of genuine genre-advancement in the album, in the form of Rap God. A futuristic-sounding lyrical whirlwind, the track binds the whole album together and features a section where Eminem spits 97 words in just 15 seconds (4:25 onwards, below), which truly needs to be heard to be believed.
In an age when Kanye and Jay-Z appear to content to compete over “the throne”, it seems timely that Rap God ends with the line “Why be a king when you can be a god?”
If this release marks a return to form for Marshall Bruce Mathers III, he just might have a point.
by Harry Harland