It’s a sad trend in rap that an artist usually takes a giant leap forward on their second (occasionally third) release, and then immediately falls off. To stay commercially successful in today’s current environment, rappers are forced to fall into that same old “dark, heavy beat" with very little variation, or “absolutely silly, inane beat" with plenty of variation…on levels of annoyingness. However, some rappers try and transcend that, ditching memorable choruses and beats for a strong set of lyrics and a powerful voice. Eminem was one of the artists who tried to balance out the two; while he always had fairly bland beats that were manufactured to be hits rather than anything unique (even when Dre was the primary producer), unlike many mainstream rappers, he still controlled the song with his incredible MC skills and (some would say) brilliant lyricism.
After The Marshall Mathers LP
showed he was an elite MC, Eminem released The Eminem Show
a dividing factor among both his detractors and benefactors. While he was a stronger rapper and lyricist than ever before, some of what he was writing about was getting tired, and his production skills were noticeably inferior to anything else that he ad put out to that point. Was Eminem going to finally fall into the trap with his third release? Encore
came out, and too many, he finally did. It was filled with mediocre beats, the same topics, and unlike any time before, funny songs that weren’t funny, just uncomfortable to listen to. He did, however, still have that flair as an MC, and despite the redundancy he was getting into, his lyrics were still fairly top notch on his more serious songs. Which side outweighs the other, however, is quite a task to decide.
When Eminem is bad on here, he can become quite terrible. The biggest sign of this is the track span of 7-14. This is essentially the joke song section of the album, an easily features the worst songs of Em’s career. The infamous Ass Like That
is an absolute shamble of a song in nearly every sense of the word. The sampled sitars, however much I try to like them, become annoying, and the “big bass" isn’t even neat to have blasting in you car. Talking about how hot Hilary Duff is, all while attempting to make parody of a puppet, also serves as one of the most shameful moments in music history. Ever. Rain Man
’s chorus is another one of those moments, being completely and plainly stupid. My name is…I forgot my name!"
is plain tripe, and its unfortunate, as Em’s rhymes in he chorus are some of the best on the album, despite the once again crap lyrics.
Remember that silly thing I mentioned earlier? Made just to ensure success? Yeah, Just Lose It
is the perfect example of that. Despite having a good line occasionally, the song is still filled with poor lyricism and riddled with a dance beat that Em just doesn’t compliment well. At all. The tease of when “the rap breaks down" only serves to remind you of how average this song really is. Puke
is just that. Moving on, My 1st Single
is a strange little beast, as the beat is silly but still irresistible. The problem here is Em’s delivery: despite the fact the rhymes are very solid (when you rhyme “jerk circle", you’ve done your job reasonably well), he sounds extremely bored. Even when it seems like he’s trying to set other than “monotonous", he ends up leading us into another veritable cock-tease. It’s unfortunate that there are at least 3 or 4 other tracks on the album that share these problems, and cause the middle of the album to be nigh unlistenable.
Luckily, the first five real tracks are all of reasonably high quality. There is of course Like Toy Soldiers
, undoubtedly the strongest song on the album. With a marching beat and an underlining piano, it’s certainly unlike anything else Em has made previously. However, it’s also one of his strongest songs lyrically of all time, up there with Stan
, Sing for the Moment
, and the singular Kim
. Speaking of what rap has become, and how despite how much he obviously enjoys the support he gets, he believes things are being taken too far in the hip hop arena, and its essentially his call for a “lowering of arms." While recent events have shown this obviously was not heard in any fashion, it’s still a brilliant song, and one of the strongest he’s ever recorded.
The other songs in the beginning, while not on the same level, are still solid. Mosh
is probably next overall, while it follows the “dark" beat pattern a I described, it still has Em giving a heated performance, and while it may not be very controversial, a strong political message that doesn’t sound self indulgent or righteous. Evil Deeds
fits into the “tired" category once again mentioned earlier. Whole he may rap about his mother far too often, he still makes it convincing, and throws a slight twist on it by slanting it to a more humorous tone than the previous condescending and angry moods he took on when confronting the issue. Yellow Brick Road
is an overly long, “epic" song by Em’s standards, but its still one of the best songs on the album. Confronting multiple issues, the slow build he takes up to the most controversial ones (particularly his calling a ex-girlfriend “******") is one of the most sublime moments of the album, and it’s also one of the most interesting beats on the album.
The final parts of the album are a mixed bag, and largely up to interpretation. There are songs like Spend Some Time With Me
, the ballad of the album. While the verses themselves rarely stand out, the chorus is still rather bittersweet, and makes up for the inclusion of a boring 50 Cent appearance. One shot 2 Shot
is one of the few D12 tracks I’d recommend. A concept song about some sort of shootout, it’s darkly funny, and all of the D12 members drop a good verse, and Bizarre shows off his skills. While Proof may be mysteriously missing, the song works anyways. Mockingbird
is the hip hop version of Haile’s Song
from The Eminem Show
, and is a generally enjoyable song. Em’s voice is annoyingly sweet here, but the sugar-coated lyrics are rather touching, and he delivers them all in high fashion (although, he does state him and Kim will probably never get back together again…yeah).
is, obviously Eminem’s weakest album. It shows an aging and lack of inspiration that was only present in small quantities on The Eminem Show
, but lacks the emotion he still was showing. However, it’s still hard to deny that he still possesses a good mic technique, and regardless of how sick you are of hearing about it, he still can write a strong song. While they are present in almost equal qualities, I feel the good outweighs the bad here, and have to say this is a good, if extremely disappointing album, by Eminem. It’s truly only for fans of him; those who don’t like hip hop are going to think this is abysmal. Those fans of hip hop in general are going to just listen to the multitude of better material out there. If you’re trying to get into Eminem (which has to be a near impossibility at this point), start with The Marshall Mathers LP
, as it is his most likable and generally well received album. As for this, get this if you really like the rest of his releases; while you most likely will think the album as a whole is weak, there are plenty of good to excellent songs here to justify it’s existence.
Yellow Brick Road
Like Toy Soldiers