Michael Jordan. Steve Jobs. Michael Moore. What do they all have in common? They are all considered the greatest in their respective fields as innovators and game changers. Throw the name Marshall Mathers on that list and the theme will be continued. On that note, he’s back. Three years after Recovery, Eminem has delivered yet another jaw-dropping, insult-ridden, lyrically-laced album that continues to push the boundaries of freedom of speech, as well as appease all of his diehard fans by getting back to his roots in The Marshall Mathers LP 2.
For what could be the last time, we are graced with another album, but more importantly, another chapter of Eminem’s story. Like MJ sporting the legendary 23 one last year in Washington, this may be the final time Eminem provides us with an album of his own. But this news isn’t something to be sad about. On the contrary, what he gave us last week was a gift that reminds us why we love the greatest rapper of all time, and that he has blessed music as a whole with elements and characteristics that are gradually becoming extinct.
The track list includes 15 songs with one skit to go with five bonus cuts that come with the deluxe edition. Em’s wild story-telling abilities and all-around word wizardry is on full display over the course of every single track; the creativity is endless. He had a much blanker canvas to work with this time around, as previous albums have been themed around his comeback from drug addiction. This time, there’s no addiction, no recovery, no comeback – just one of the brightest minds going to work at what he’s most passionate about.
“Bad Guy” is the opener, and it sets the stage extremely well for what’s to come. A sequel to “Stan” from the original Marshall Mathers LP, this song is organized similarly from the perspective of Stan’s younger brother Matthew, who is mentioned in the precursor. Matthew’s disgusted with the way Eminem ignored Stan’s death and seeks revenge with a plan to kidnap and bury him alive, which is ironic because that’s the same way Em simulates killing his wife Kim on The Slim Shady LP. The chorus doesn’t quite come close to Dido’s, but still ties the verses and overall message together. The division of the voices is by far the most interesting. Obviously, it’s Eminem rapping the entire song, but the way perspective changes from Matthew, to Em’s conscience, and then to his own, is a massive ode to his story-telling and ability to step back and be self-critical, which is sometimes hard to do.
Memorable line: “I’m back/Before it fades into black and it’s all over/Behold the final chapter in the saga/Trying to recapture that lightning trapped in a bottle.”
“Rhyme or Reason” is one of the more funky beats that sounds very MMLP, sampling The Zombies’ “Time of the Season.” His childhood has a heavy influence in this track, as he talks about how it influenced his passion to rap, how he used being white trash to his advantage, and not caring that he doesn’t know his dad. What really makes it is typical Eminem humor, mixing references to “Rain Man” and “Criminal” from previous albums with current reflections on his past. The wordplay that carries from line to line and the multi-syllable flows are unheard of from most rappers today.
Memorable line: “Had a fire in my heart, and a dire desire to aspire, to Die Hard/So as long as I’m on the clock punching this time card/Hip-hop ain’t dying on my watch.”
“So Much Better” instantly comes off as this album’s version of “Puke” from Encore. The same style of sing-songy chorus that leads with, “My life will be so much better, if you just dropped dead,” makes the connection undeniable. The beat also harbors what could be the same percussion snare used in “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” carrying another link to Em’s past. If anything, his music is relatable. For anyone that has that one person in your life who drives you insane, this one’s for them. But of course, in a strictly comical manner, which is something a lot of people have struggled with when listening to Eminem, he’s not always as serious as you think.
Memorable line: “I got 99 problems and a b**** ain’t one/She’s all 99 of ‘em; I need a machine gun.”
“Survival” was one of the four singles that put Eminem in company with only The Beatles for artists who have had four singles on the Billboard Top 100 at the same time. The others were “The Monster” (featuring Rihanna), “Berzerk,” and “Rap God.” While “Rap God” clearly displays the most skill amongst the group, “Survival” is my favorite. The guitar riffs behind an epic chorus that relates music/rap to being a matter of survival of the fittest is a perfect analogy, especially for Em, who has to prove he’s still relevant at 40-years-old. “Berzerk” is my least favorite, not because it was the first released, but because it came across more of a cry for attention. The Beastie Boys’ sample of “Fight for Your Right” was welcoming, though, as well as another Rihanna chorus on “The Monster.” I like that Eminem keeps Rihanna on at least one joint because she has such a gentle, beautiful voice that it nicely contradicts the “I’m going crazy” message of the track. Plus, Em is a business wiz who knows non-fans are going to bite on the single just because she’s on it.
My favorite track on the entire album is “Legacy.” All three verses discuss how, mentally, he’s wired differently than the average person. The first two verses describe being a withdrawn youth who was a victim of bullying, but gravitated to music to defend himself and escape the harsh realities of life through beats and lyrics. In the third verse, he concludes how happy he is to be wired differently and that’s it gotten him to where he is now, translating to the fact that being different isn’t always a bad thing. It’s an emotional track that hits home every listen. The chorus can give anyone chills, written in the voice of rap speaking to Em constantly throughout his life saying, “If you fall, I’ll get you there/I’ll be your savior from all the wars/That are fought inside your world.”
Memorable line: “Me against the world, so what, I’m Brian Dawkins/Versus the whole 0-16 Lions’ offense”
“A******” features Skylar Grey, and like “Brainless,” both tracks transport us back to the MMLP. “Brainless” sounded like a hybrid of “My Mom” from Relapse and “Brain Damage” from Slim Shady LP. It’s an intellectually goofy track that plays off the idea of his mom telling him, “If you had a brain, you’d be dangerous,” in which references to Dahmer, the tin man from Wizard of Oz, and of course, his troubled childhood, ensue. “A******” is pretty self-explanatory. The topic here is how he is perceived by the media, non-fans and society, and how he doesn’t really care. He’s still doing his own thing and is just as immature at heart as he was on the first MMLP.
“Stronger Than I Was” draws parallels to “Hailie’s Song” from The Eminem Show. The first three-quarters is an emotionally driven song sung by Em with a verse of rap to wrap it up. It’s definitely a track written to describe his relationship to ex-wife Kim, but mystery lies in whose perspective it’s actually in. Listeners can see it either way, as they have both done hefty emotional damage to each other in the past. Although the template screams “Hailie’s Song,” Em always seems to dedicate a song to Kim; this being quite different than “Kim” on MMLP.
“So Far…” is a direct address to his white trash, country bumpkin roots. A country-esque guitar, sampled from “Life’s Been Good” by Joe Walsh, successfully portrays the hillbilly images Em rattles off from start to finish, but the DJ scratches do wonders in blending rock with rap. This may be one of my least favorite tracks, but it’s vintage Mathers mixing rap, rock, comedy and lyrical soundness.
Kendrick Lamar joins the few and far between features on “Love Game.” Sampling “Game of Love” by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders from 1965, both Em and Lamar have their chances at telling stories of unbearable relationships; their sarcastic jabs at love are humorous as well as relatable. Both conclude with how much they despise love because sometimes you can’t help how you feel, but it makes your brain whir.
Memorable line: “I confess I’m a static addict, I guess that’s why I’m so clingy/Every girl I’ve ever had either says I got too much baggage/Or I’m too f*****’ dramatic.”
“Headlights” has got to be one of the most surprising cuts in the collection. Another emotional road to travel for Em comes when discussing his mom. Past tracks that poke fun at and/or plainly attack her are put to rest by Slim in this track. He talks about going too far in the way he handled issues he had with his mother, and that through everything, they were one in the same, but somehow never got along. Any true fan of Em’s will love this track because it displays an incredible amount of character to look back on crucial parts of your career and say you might have gone too far and been caught up in emotions while making a song. He even ends the track saying he’ll always love her from afar because that’s all he can really do now that their relationship is forever tainted.
The 15-track main disc finishes appropriately with “Evil Twin,” where Eminem acknowledges his infamous alter ego Slim Shady. The chorus is hooked up nicely with a sample from “The Reunion” off Em’s collaboration album with Royce da 5’9” and parallel to “Criminal,” which seals the original MMLP, and goes above and beyond with clinically insane images and lyricism to depict the other side of him that fans have grown to love. This no-holds-barred finale is another nostalgic tip of the hat to Slim, proving Eminem hasn’t lost a step and isn’t afraid of any current rapper but himself.
Memorable line: “Sometimes I listen and revisit them old albums as often as I can and skim/Through all them b****** to make sure I keep up with my competition.”
The five bonus tracks aren’t to be missed, either, but again, from a story-telling standpoint, they don’t belong with the others. Listening to them separately gives each song a unique effect to be felt after the album is done.
Like I mentioned, there are signs that this could be Eminem’s last ride, but don’t be shocked if he pops back up sometime in the future. It’s not unreasonable to say the man is out of his mind, and he probably doesn’t even know what he’s going to do next.
Eminem has always made the point that lyrics in music matter much more than the beat and chorus, yet people are only focused on the latter. Diehard fans will be extremely satisfied while those foreign to Em might be off-put by the vulgar language; however, if you appreciate top-notch story-telling, flow and lyricism, there’s nobody better than Marshall Mathers.