Album Review: Eminem’s “Marshall Mathers LP 2”

Kevin Costello

Eminem is a freakin’ spitter. We should all agree on that much. You may not like the man’s recent work. You may not even like his older work. You might not enjoy the misogyny, shock-value style or unorthodox subject matters that brought him to prominence. It should be universally recognizable, though, that Em is, before all else, a lyrical and technical beast. Unfortunately, this was overlooked when his drug addiction pushed his sound beyond the realms of sanity (“Relapse”) and when his rust diminished his creativity (“Recovery”).

With critics and fans skeptical of hip-hop’s favorite villain (apologies to MF DOOM), Em did the only thing he could to try to reestablish his place amongst rap’s divine: he went back to what’s worked. The “Marshall Mathers LP 2” is certainly a gutsy name given that the original MMLP is an undisputed hip-hop classic. It was brilliant, controversial and a genre game-changer. Everyone from Tyler, the Creator, to Kendrick Lamar can speak to its vast influence. With all this widely known, fans begged the question: “Can Em do it again?”

In short, the answer is “almost.” Bearing in mind that Slim is now 41 years old and more mature, hardened and worn, it’s almost impossible for anyone to expect him to recapture the exact feeling of “MMLP,” even with all his talent. This is the sentiment many fans and hip-hop heads expressed upon first hearing the album’s title. This is still Eminem, though. The dude thrives under pressure, and he wasn’t about to flop on a release this big.

MMLP2 opens with “Bad Guy,” a bitter track that expresses indirect anger and blame with no apparent target for the first two verses. In verse three, however, we see the concept revealed: “Bad Guy” is a sequel to “Stan,” the classic story of a crazed Eminem fan from the original “MMLP.” What follows is an epic, two-minute verse to signal Slim’s return to hip-hop prominence.

What follows is a continuation of “MMLP”‘s last song, “Criminal,” in the form of a skit, a second allusion to the original “MMLP.” Next comes “Rhyme or Reason,” another victim of Slim’s “beat-killing spree” filled with Satan self-comparisons and verbal middle fingers to his father. While “Rhyme” doesn’t necessarily contribute anything new, it’s nostalgic as hell and a vulgar display of lyricism.

Moving on, misogyny emerges as a recurring theme, particularly in the center of the album. This really isn’t anything new, as none of Em’s previous work indicates that he’s ready to join a feminist movement, but on the original MMLP, misogyny at least was presented in an artistic way that develops the character of Slim Shady. Here, it just feels rehashed, and while “Love Game” stands out as technically impressive and even humorous at times, tracks like “So Much Better” seem to present repetition for repetition’s sake and don’t do a whole lot for me.

Fortunately, Em is able to make other old themes work quite well as he embraces his role as the underdog on tracks like “Legacy,” which chronicles his ascension past a depressed, tormented and socially-estranged childhood to stardom. “Survival,” while lacking in the production and hook departments, also effectively conveys feelings of empowerment and tenacity. Supremacy is the other theme that Slim really brings home on this project. “Rap God” is a braggadocio, six-minute technical assault on the listener’s ears, while “Asshole” takes a more humorous approach to establishing dominance.

The album ends with “Headlights,” a reconciliatory testament to his mother, the target of many of Em’s past lyrical rants, and “Evil Twin,” another reconciliatory track regarding Slim Shady, Marshall’s evil alter ego who, despite exacerbating many of his past demons, is largely responsible for the rap phenomenon we know as Eminem.

In conclusion, “MMLP2” is no “MMLP,” nor should it be.  It’s an effort by a 41-year-old recovering drug addict to reimagine a classic album he created 13 years ago, and a good one at that. “MMLP2” isn’t perfect, but it recreates a near-perfect sound in an artistically impressive way that few could’ve imagined possible. Props to Slim Shady for this heck of a trip down memory lane.

Contact Kevin Costello at [email protected]