The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (to be released Nov. 5, 2013)
I hate sequel albums. Hate them with a passion.
By definition, a sequel is a continuation of a previous story. But most times in hip hop, sequel albums are sequels in name only. In those cases, they have nothing in common with their predecessor, just leeching off the success of a superior work.
I figured The Marshall Mathers LP 2 would be no different. It’s been well over a decade since Em dropped arguably his strongest work – the album that truly made him a critical and commercial titan. But the Eminem who recorded the original MMLP – the guy who killed his girlfriend on wax and was stalked by a psycho fan – is merely a memory at this point. The Eminem of 2013 is a completely different artist.
And that’s what makes MMLP2 such a satisfying sequel. In 2000, Eminem was angry, immature, confused and frustrated. He was the personification of his core audience. But 2013 Eminem is conflicted in a different way – anger has been replaced with confidence, wisdom and hindsight replace confusion and frustration. But he’s still Em, still ridiculously immature.
Think of it this way: MMLP1 Em was the self-loathing kid who was showered with praise but too self-conscious to accept it. He didn’t think he deserved the riches and fast cars. MMLP2 Em is stuck in a mid-life crisis, enjoying the fast life his talent got him but wise enough not to get completely sucked into fame.
And no matter which Em you’re discussing, one thing’s never been questioned – he’s one of the greatest lyricists of all time. OF ALL TIME. Lyrics and concepts are where MMLP2 really shines.
The album opens with “Bad Guy,” the continuation of Eminem’s phenomenal “Stan.” This time, Stan’s younger brother is out for revenge against Em, who unwittingly destroyed Stan’s family when he killed himself. As Em says, it’s a “Tragic portrait of an artist tortured/Trapped in his own drawings.” The evils of Em’s past have come back to haunt him, a realization he only came to with adulthood.
Em has more key epiphanies in “Legacy.” In past rhymes, Em has always been extremely bitter about his childhood, lashing out against those who hurt him. Here, he finally realizes that their sins against him lead to his success:
“Why bother even trying to put up a fight, it’s nonsense
But I think a lightbulb just lit up in my conscience
What about those rhymes I’ve been jottin’
They are kinda giving me confidence.”
And on “Headlights,” Eminem even professes love for the greatest nemesis in his decades-long career, his mom. Promising, to “love her from afar,” it’s shows that our Em has FINALLY grown up.
Eminem also returns to the hilarious, and often self-deprecating rhymes that made him a cultural icon. He wishes death on his lady friends on “So Much Better,” starts randomly rapping like Yoda on “Rhyme or Reason” and outright calls himself a hypocrite on “A**hole”: “Sometimes I rhyme and it sounds/Like I forget I’m a father, and I push it farther/So father forgive me if I forget to draw the line.”
Lyrically, you won’t find a better album this year. Too bad the production can’t always keep up. “Rap God” has been heralded as one of the year’s best tracks – and lyrically it’s in a class of its own. But the beat is oddly outdated. It makes me wonder if this was originally planned for Dr. Dre’s mythical Detox album. Why else would Em reference a six-year-old one-hit-wonder like “Lookin’ Boy?”
“Berzerk” is a nice throwback to The Beastie Boys but the shouty lyrics get old REAL fast, as does Rih-Rih’s cat-strangling hook on “Monster.” “Love Game,” featuring Kendrick Lamar, almost suffers the same fate – the “Game of Love” sample really clashes with the track – but in this case K-Dot and Em’s mind-bending verses win out.
MMLP2 is great but not the instant classic some are proclaiming. It’s a perfect reflection of the creator itself – flawed but bursting with talent.
The album’s best track, “Evil Twin,” best depicts that story. The devil on Em’s shoulder begs him to regress to his old days and skewer Lady Gaga, Beiber or some other helpless target. But even though Em fights to take the high road, he has to admit he’s still the real Slim Shady:
“Don’t try to fix me, I’m broke so I don’t work
So are you, but you’re broke cause you don’t work
But all bulls**t aside I hit a stride
Still Shady inside, hair every bit is dyed.”
He’s older. He’s wiser. But he’s the same old Em. Flaws and all.
It’s a sequel that’s actually satisfying.
Best tracks: “Evil Twin,” “Bad Guy,” “Rhyme or Reason”
4 stars out of 5