Shady XV (to be released Nov. 24, 2014)
Bad news, guys. We’re old.
It’s been FIFTEEN years since that guy with the weird voice and hateful lyrics invaded our stereos. In that time, Eminem has become of the greatest rappers of all time.
Of ALL time. If he’s not in your top five list, you’re fooling yourself.
Shady Records was originally launched to put on Em’s D12 rap crew, but over time it grew into one of rap’s powerhouse labels. The Shady XV compilation is an ode to 15 years of hits — one disc features classic like “Lose Yourself” and “In Da Club,” memorable cuts like “Purple Pills” and stuff I barely remember at all (pretty much everything from that Re-Up album).
We’ll focus on the other disc, with features all new-music from the Shady clan. And like most collaboration albums, it’s a mixed bag of content and quality.
As you could probably guess, this album is really the Eminem Show (so to speak), with Em featured on all but three tracks. On the title track, he lives up to that Top Five Dead or Alive billing I gave him, rattling off a maniacal stream-of-consciousness flow that can’t be touched by anyone in the game right now. In the span of a minute and a half, he goes from spitting game to Ronda Rousey to kidnapping your mom to jacking Santa Claus and abusing reindeer.
While that one is fun, most of his other solo tracks feel like a case of the Been There, Done Thats. Lyrically, “Die Alone” is cool, even if the hook is oversung — a typical Shady shortcoming. And the single “Guts Over Fear” is yet another Em story of overcoming adversity backed by — yep — more oversinging. He even says in the song’s opening lines “Sometimes I feel like all I ever do is/Find different ways to word the same old song.” Um, yeah, homie.
But when the other members of Shady Records link up like Voltron, then things really get good.
When Slaughterhouse team with Em and Yelawolf for “Psychopath Killer,” your eardrums become the victims of a 5-minute lyrical assault. Crooked I sounds especially motivated, carrying that momentum over to the DJ Premier-produced “Y’all Ready Know.” Bad Meets Evil reunites on for “Vegas,” allowing Em to flip another lyrical style while Royce Da 5’9 puts in that work. And we even get the return of D12! A lot of their material has been very hit or miss for me, but “Bane” hits hard. The bizarre track (no pun intended) gurgles like it has a case of the bubble guts — it’s just the type of weirdness that D12 excels in.
When Shady’s individual factions link up, all is well. But when we have too many cooks (word to Adult Swim), things go haywire. Skylar Grey’s “Twisted” — featuring Yelawolf and Em, of course — is filled with energy but it never gets off the ground. “Detroit Vs Everybody” is fine when Em and Royce are at the controls but veers off course when one of the other guest stars step up.
I mean, Big Sean has been rapping for (allegedly) over a decade and is still struggling to stay on beat? Don’t be mad, playa, UPS is hiring.
Shady XV is a great showcase of the label’s talent but if you want to hear that talent at its best, you need to listen to the disc of greatest hits. The new material is solid, but there’s no topping the classics.
Best tracks: “Psychopath Killer,” “Y’all Ready Know,” “Bane”
3.5 stars out of 5