Review Summary: The second coming of the Rap God... crucified again, this time by Rick Rubin.
In 2006, the rapper Proof , Eminem’s long time best friend and fellow D12 member, was murdered. Eminem became an emotional wreck, stating in an interview that Proof’s murder was the worst possible tragedy he could imagine. Almost overnight, the most famous rapper in the world, who couldn’t take a SHlT in a bathroom without someone standing by it, became irrelevant. As a result, his next two albums suffered from a clichéd feeling of a has-been trying to get his mojo back. The Game, also a rapper signed to Interscope Records, once said something I think captures Eminem’s situation perfectly:
“Niggaz politickin’, wanna know ‘why I’m RHYMIN’ different?’
My best friend got murdered, homie my MIND is different!!!”
After two unfocused albums, The Marshall Mathers LP II is the story of Eminem growing up. No, not the same story about Eminem growing up in Detroit as a poor dishwasher, but the sequel, the story of an immature adult finally giving up on what once made his music the bees knees to white boys in 6th grade everywhere (myself included). On MMLP2 Eminem is able to make relateable music to his old fans, he writes a heartfelt apology to his mom, admits he isn’t qualified to be a parent, and only dibble-dabbles in the misogynistic fairy tales of Slim Shady, usually to make nostalgic references to his notorious past works.
Eminem’s lyrics are on point for the entirety of the album, during every single verse, making the terrible features (and to a lesser-extent: the beats) the only significant problem with the album. Attempting to bring Rock and Roll legend Rick Rubin in as a producer creates a hit or miss atmosphere for the album. For every track where Eminem flows perfectly over an intriguing, adrenaline-pumping beat (like in “Rap God”), there’s another track like “Love Game” where Kendrick Lamar comes on and sings, in what sounds like a joke, but sadly isn’t. The only other problem worth mentioning is that, for some reason, four of the best tracks on this album were left off for the deluxe edition.
There are three keys to appreciating this album. The first is being able to appreciate bad music. (Traditional or “Old School”) Hip Hop, despite all its attributes, is bad music. Aside from the lyrics in the raps, the songwriting is usually atrocious, and the beats are usually just secondary - something to give the lyrics a bit more enthusiasm or soul. In Eminem’s book “The Way I Am” he explained one of the key reasons old school Hip Hop tends to be more lyrical than new school rap “Because our equipment was so ghetto, I’d have to nail it in one take. If I messed up, I’d have to do it all over again from the top. So I had to not only write the song, but learn it by heart.” An artist who learns each of his songs by heart creates lyrics where every word is given care and considered in the overall craft of the song. It also has the effect of making the music sound progressively better to the listener with repeated listens, as they memorize the lyrics themselves and bond with the artist’s experience. So try to take the pop-country hooks with a grain of salt, and instead of trying to focus in on beats, keep your brain tuned in on the lyrics, from start to finish. This may become exhausting for some listeners, but to Hip Hop Heads it is nothing new, and with repeated listens the chore will become less and less exhausting while the music becomes progressively more enjoyable (you’ll thank me later).
The second key to appreciating this album is keeping in mind exactly what and who Eminem is. Eminem never expected to be even close to as big as he is now. Remember that his first album Infinite sold seven, yes, SEVEN copies. In short, it was his image of a white kid with blonde hair that resonated with so many people, not solely the music itself. As Eminem abandoned this image that Interscope Records created for him, it alienated his old fans who thought he was being sincere. Yet, by virtually killing off his Slim Shady persona for MMLP2, he brought back some of his even older fans (all seven of them) who once accused him of selling out, who now, (like myself) can be content with the explanation Eminem gave to this accusation : “As an underground artist starting out, I never wanted to sell out, but I’m sure there are fans who think I have. To them I say, I still love you. I don’t feel like I made music that sold me out. I made pop joints, yes, but my lyrics and flow and command of the beat were always pure hip-hop all the way.” This album is a testament to that statement. Say what you will about his music overall, but the man’s raps are 100% Hip Hop and he is one of the few who can claim to be a Rap God without being bitch-slapped by KRS-One. Lastly, try to appreciate what Eminem has done throughout his career to bring two cultures and/or races together, and keep in mind the immense obstacles he had to climb to get to this position, as Eminem once put it: “Vanilla Ice made it damn near impossible for a white kid to get respect in rap music.”
"(Traditional or “Old School”) Hip Hop, despite all its attributes, is bad music. Aside from the lyrics in the raps, the songwriting is usually atrocious, and the beats are usually just secondary - something to give the lyrics a bit more enthusiasm or soul."
Negged just because of this. I don't mean to sound mean, but are you even a fan of hip-hop?
"Remember that his first album Infinite sold seven, yes, SEVEN copies." Please show me your source on this, like Oneiron said.
"old school hip hop that eminem grew up in, is almost all lyrical. In what way would you argue it is not?"
I didn't argue that it wasn't lyrical, I just said I hear what you're saying though, but I find old school hip hop lyrics much more meaningful than present day lyrics.
Public Enemy, De La Soul, The Roots, Nas, etc. all had something to say. Unless you mean even older party hip hop like Kool G Rap and stuff like that, in which case I would argue that it was fun, a lot more fun than Eminem shouting homophobic and misogynist diatribes. But I digress.
Also, the fact that Infinite sold seven copies before Em got truly popular... why are we discussing facts that only you would obviously know? In order to get someone into your review, I think it's best to take a more general non-fan's point of view and not throw out obscure facts that could alienate your potential readership. Thanks for keeping the conversation civilized though, always nice to intelligently discuss music.