Review Summary: Don't you wanna grow up to be just like me?
You know, I’m starting to think Eminem doesn’t understand how this Slim Shady thing works.
We didn’t root for Eminem during his peak because he went on record insulting celebrities and politicians, we rooted for him because he insulted celebrities and politicians that either came at him first, were more powerful than him, or both. When Em as Slim opened fire on Christina Aguilera, Tipper Gore, or Lynne Cheney it was thrilling because, no matter how impossible it seems now, there was a chance that they could have done something in return that ended his career. Hell, he even went on record multiple times making fun of Dr. Dre, the guy arguably responsible for his career taking off in the first place.
Now it’s 2014. Eminem is worth 110 million dollars, is the best selling rap artist in history, and is threatening to “punch Lana Del Rey in the face twice like Ray Rice” and rape Iggy Azalea and Nicki Minaj on his new Shady Records compilation Shady XV
. These are unprovoked attacks aimed at people so far below his lofty perch that there's no sense of risk in it. He’s the schoolyard bully that hit puberty early picking on girls half his age. His defenders will of course claim that this is how Slim Shady has always been, but this is not a Slim Shady album. Eminem as Slim Shady was fun, he had an infectious way of organizing words with such pure joy for language that you couldn’t help but be swept up in his shenanigans. Shady XV
is not fun. It is a dour, oppressive album that says a whole lot of nothing in really complex ways.
If you prize technical ability to the exclusion of everything else in rap music, stop reading now because this is your album of the year. Throughout Shady XV
Eminem is somehow too good at rapping, executing every internal rhyme scheme, double time, triple time, consonant bend, and flow switch trick in the book. Eminem has always been a complex rhymer but in his prime he never put his rhyme schemes ahead of what he had to say. Now his rhyme scheme is all he’s got.
If Eminem is rapping here purely to make Rap Genius commenters flip the fuck out over his barz, then the irony is that as soon as you start annotating his lyrics you realize how awful they are. From “Vegas”, “Bitch, shut the fuck up and get in my car/And suck my fucking dick while I take a shit/And I think with my dick so come blow my mind.” From “Shady XV”, “No emotion hence I guess this sick prick dies hard/I got a Magic Johnson.” He drops out of nowhere celebrity references (Linda Ronstadt? Donald Fagen? Paula Abdul?) simply because their names fit his rhyme scheme, makes a my nuts hang like Robin Williams joke, and raps in the exact same
clenched throat flow through the whole album. Overall, it’s the same shit we’ve been getting from Eminem for 5 years now, the “look at all this crazy stuff I can say” from Relapse
(“Shady XV”, “Vegas”), the “long lonely road” stuff from Recovery
(“Guts Over Fear”, “Fine Line”), and the “look how good I am at rapping” stuff from The Marshall Mathers LP 2
isn’t an Eminem album. Despite having five songs all to himself and appearing on another four, Shady XV
is a Shady Records compilation. So D12 show up to do what they always do, kill time until Eminem shows up again ("Bane"), Slaughterhouse go all in on the old man bars and fail to leave an impression ("Psychopathic Killer", "Y'all Already Know"), and the less said about Skylar Gray/Eminem duet “Twisted” the better. The album’s sole reliefs comes in the form of Yelawolf, who careens into his showcase and album highlight “Down” with the kind of reckless enthusiasm absent from the rest of the album, and “Detroit vs. Everybody” which feature verses from Big Sean and Danny Brown that are funny, flavorful, and memorable.
But Shady XV
is a double album and the second disc is a greatest hits album. That means in order to purchase the new material, you’re going to have to pay double disc prices to get a second disc of songs you already own. I guess, in theory, the kids that got into Eminem through “Love the Way You Lie” haven’t heard these songs yet but they’re readily available in plenty of other forms and, really, the kind of person that’s putting down money for a hitless Shady Records compilation in 2014 has these songs. I mean… “In Da Club”? “My Band”? “P.I.M.P.”? “Lose Yourself”? Who needs another set of these songs? Certainly the second disc trounces the first disc but forcing fans to pay double disc prices for a single disc album is flat out selfish.
Maybe the most frustrating thing about Shady XV
is that it will, inevitably, get propped up as the kind of straight lyrical fire that 2014 hip hop needs. It’s going to get a pass because of the weight of Eminem’s legacy and the staunch anti-commercial intentions of most of its tracks. But Shady XV
is the same shovel full of crap we’ve been getting from Eminem and his cohorts for the last half decade. It’s infinitely more concerned with approaching the art of rap like an advanced calculus problem then actually coming up with anything interesting to use all those words on. As a commentary on the state of hip hop in 2014, it’s a sad reminder that legions of fans are still hung up on rappers rapping like it’s still 1998. As a commentary on the state of Shady Records in 2014, well, Eminem used to make fun of rappers who couldn’t sell two copies if they pressed a double album, now he signs them to his record label.