It’s been a while since we’ve seen a track on an Eminem record with the word “skit” after its title. The fact that the second track on his highly anticipated release, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 does just that and offers an introductory spoken word track as a perfect harbinger of his general attitude on the album. He spans topics from the classic Slim Shady staples of campy misogyny and violence to a lyrical apology to his mother for things he said on earlier releases. The MMLP2 offers an artist performing a near-perfect balancing act of understanding what got him where he is, while simultaneously reflecting on that from a matured eye.
From the paternal attack on “Rhyme or Reason,” to the angst-ridden “So Much Better,” and the introspective think-piece “Legacy,” Eminem finds a way of conjuring a style beautifully reminiscent of his old lyrical brilliance while hanging an attitude of quiet regret and matured understanding to what he does.
Key moments that unearth the Slim Shady of years past include songs like “Brainless,” and the Kendrick Lamar feature “Love Game.” Both boast chuckle-worthy lines enough to remind us all why everyone got into Em in the first place, and the retrospective self-parody that reminds listeners why they still are.
What seem to be the most unnecessary tracks on the record however, are “Stronger Than I Was,” a reach for Kid Cudi-style melody and a real snag in the momentum of the album as a whole, as well as its successor, “The Monster.” Rihanna must have Dr. Dre held hostage somewhere with the promise he’ll be fine provided she is featured on every Eminem release from now on, and, much like her previous offerings, it sounds more prepared for a middle-school break up playlist than an Eminem record.
“Survival” is another one of his bass-heavy, inspiration-driven songs that will inevitably pulsate high-school weight rooms for the next few months. It would be fine if it stayed as the promotional single for the new Call of Duty like it was supposed to, holding out in the dark basements of those high on Monster and wi-fi racism; but the whole parallel of sports movie victory tales and Em’s rap career got a little stale after “Won’t Back Down.”
Other than the excess of songs like those three, I have very few problems with the album. The only other real qualm lies in the increase in production. Much of the beauty in Eminem’s early stuff – what he is working towards rekindling – was in its instrumental simplicity. His beats were relatively standard which pushed the focus towards his brilliantly psychotic lyricism. MMLP2 half-follows the line of Recovery in the realm of production, with beats that were in key form on a musically hard-hitting record. But this time around, the lyrics bleed a return-of-Slim-Shady feel, and there are moments where I almost lose track of Em’s lines because the backbeat demands too much attention.
The final two tracks round off everything he could have done and more with this release. On “Headlights” he goes forward with the impossible, and apologizes to his mother. Yeah, remember that lady he called out for drug abuse and child neglect for like five albums? That one. It’s a shocking contrast for long-time fans to see how honest and emotional he gets on this track, repenting through lines like “Anything to have each other’s goats / why we always at each other’s throats? Especially when dad, he fucked us both / We’re in the same fucking boat / You’d think that it’d make us close, nope / further away it drove us.”
The record ends with “Evil Twin,” a song that throws every quality ingredient Eminem ever had on the shelf into the blender of a steamroller beat. It’s a deliberate throwback to the old, celebrity-bashing singles of his early work, and a closing declaration of his eternal spot at the top of the rap game, employing the Slim Shady persona perfectly with lines like “fuck top five, bitch I’m top four / and that includes Biggie and Pac, whore / Plus I got an evil twin / so what the fuck you think that third and fourth spot’s for?”
Yeah, it’s loud, offensive, loaded with slurs, and the P.C. Police aren’t going to be thrilled, but at what point was Eminem concerned with appeasing those people?
Where Recovery showed us a grown-up Eminem, Marshall Mathers LP 2 showed us what we never thought we’d see: a grown-up Slim Shady.