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Friday, 15 November 2013

Alternative: Marshall Mathers LP 2

I believe that Eminem is the best rapper alive and the second greatest rapper of all time (rest in peace Notorious BIG).  That is just my opinion and people have the right to differ.

But I was nervous about Marshall Mather LP 2. I thought it was a mistake to name the album after one of his three classic records (the other two being Slim Shady LP and Relapse. Again, my opinion).  MMLP was generational defining – it was the soundtrack of my teenage years. I was angry, sensitive, stupid and irrational as a kid and it was amazing to hear all of these traits reflected back at me – from a white boy no less.

For me, the only sour point to Em’s catalogue is Recovery. It was that record, not Relapse, where he sounded unsure of himself. He sounded too forced, uncomfortable and importantly devoid of humour. Humour is the one ingredient that people overlook when it comes to hip-hop, it is a vital piece of the cog. Notorious BIG had it in spades, so does Redman and so did Eminem but he lost it in Recovery. I hated the pop-hooks and the constant screaming verses.

So, yes, I was scared that I would be disappointed when it came to finally listening to MMLP2. Berserk dampened a lot of my fears but as soon as I heard the Ri-Ri assisted The Monster, I started to worry again.

Although I pre-ordered the album, I also illegally downloaded it when it leaked a couple days before it’s 5th November release date. What I heard surprised me and says a lot about Eminem’s place among today’s rap elite.

First things first, this album is not as good or close to being as good as the first Marshall Mathers LP. Surprised, right? 

A big reason for this is the lack of Dr Dre anywhere on this album. I don’t know if Eminem thinks that Dre beats no longer cut it in hip-hop but the musical foundation the good Doctor provided him in Relapse says very different. In fact, it was the illusion of Dre that provided one of the highlights on this new album – Brainless sounds like a Dr Dre beat, with its running piano lines and smacking drum beat. It was great to hear.

Another mark against the album is the number of choruses that are sung by pop artists. Don’t get me wrong, the choruses are not as bad as the ones on Recovery, but they did leave me a little disappointed. It kept the album from feeling more ‘hard-core’ than it could have. For instance, Legacy could have been a great song but the chorus makes it almost unlistenable.

The biggest mistake on this album is the song Stronger than I was. It is a terrible, terrible, terrible song. Just terrible. I have played this album for a little over a week and not once have I managed to listen to this song all the way through. Eminem cannot sing, his whole career tells you as much and yes he has gotten away with it in the past but this was a step too far. I discovered that there was a rap verse on this song through agreat video review by the fellas over at Dead End Hip Hop and it is sensational but it still doesn’t save that song. It is just bad. So bad.

Given the little time I have had with MMLP 2, I am reluctant to make any absolute judgements about it. I thought Recovery was the best thing since The Eminem Show and I ended up growing out of love with it to the point where I regarded to be a lesser album that Encore. But what I will say is this I felt more at ease with this Eminem album than I did with his last three offerings.
If you're not a fan of Eminem, you will not like this album. If you are a fan of one element of the Eminem ethos, you still may not like this album. But if you’ve been a fan since ‘My name is’ and you appreciate the different elements to his character and how he has evolved as an MC, the likelihood is that you will love this album. There is some wacky Slim Shady LP shit on here (So much better, Brainless), some Marshall Mathers joints (Bad Guy) and some songs which will have your jaw on the floor (Rap God).

Importantly, this album sounds fresh and makes you feel like Eminem is breaking new ground as an MC and a lot of credit has to go to Rick Rubin and his (ironically) nostalgia inducing beats.  I loved Rhyme or Reason from the moment I heard it – the beat is unlike anything I've heard Eminem rap on which made it so refreshing. The same can be said for Love Game, which I believe should have been the first single for this album. Kendrick Lemar holds his own on the song until Eminem shows why he is truly one of the greatest with his second verse.

But the highlight from the Rick Rubin joints for me is So Far, a truly unique Eminem song. This is a song that grew on me with every listen – again, it is unlike any other Eminem track that I have heard and the whitest hip-hop track to come out of Dr Dre’s camp since… well, White Trash Party, I suppose. What makes the song interesting is not the way the beat switches up but the way Eminem tells a story about an aging successful hip-hop star who, like all parents, struggle with new technology and pop-culture. Jay-Z tried to do the same thing with a track off of his much maligned comeback album, Kingdom Come – it didn’t work. So Far is a very mature and self-aware hip-hop track which many are overlooking.

This new mature outlook is more prevalent on the track Headlights. Again, if you have been an Eminem fan from the start you will understand why this track is important, emotional and shocking. Shit, I mean just listen to the first song from the previous Marshall Mathers LP. It also illustrates why Eminem is one of the best rappers working today – I don’t think as audience members we deserved or needed to hear this very personal song, but he put it out anyway.

Marshall Mathers LP 2 surprised me by being better than I expected it to be. It isn’t a very consistent album, the feel of the album is very erratic and the lows of the album sometime reach ground floor. I am also very uncomfortable with how comfortable I was with the homophobic and sexist lyrics on this album – I just carried on nodding away to the beat.

But at its best, some songs on this album rival anything Eminem has ever released. His word play is still second to none ("maybe that’s why I’m so bananas, I appeal to all walks of life") and he still makes you laugh when you don’t want to ("I’ve got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one, she’s all 99 of em, I need a machine gun").

The album finds Eminem at a very interesting point in his life and he is very aware of this.It is clear that Eminem is not like many rappers doing their thing today - Em is embracing his evolution and his transformation into being an elder states-person of hip-hop 

I want to finish by talking about Evil Twin. It is the greatest Eminem song of all damn time.
Just my opinion.

                               Chocolate Slim

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