After selling over 100 million albums en route to becoming the best selling rapper of all time and the best selling artist of the young millennium, after a roller-coaster 41 years wrought with drug abuse, violent bullying, internecine love, and extremely poignant triumph, is it really fair to expect Eminem to recapture the lightning in a bottle that got him here in the first place? This is the question Eminem should have asked himself before releasing the bloated, regressive, and utterly baffling Marshall Mathers LP 2, which is less an album and more the musical manifestation of his mid-life crisis.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Eminem can still very much rap. Through the album’s exhausting 78 minutes – over 100 minutes counting the bonus tracks! – Eminem displays all kinds of technical wizardry and lyrical contortions we’ve come to expect from rap’s most storied spitter. On ‘Rap God’, he breaks out into a monstrous double time rap string evocative of Twista’s most impressive work. He marvelously maintains the same rhyming scheme throughout the Gadsby-esque ‘Legacy’. He even trounces modern hip-hop’s most promising young technician, Kendrick Lamar, on album highlight ‘Love Game’.
This makes MMLP 2 all the more infuriating. Rather than leveraging his tremendous talent, Eminem completely fails to find a compelling voice on the album. On ‘Survival’, Eminem claims “I’m not a rapper, I’m an adapter, I can adjust,” but the album indicates this is baseless braggadocio. Nothing on MMLP 2 indicates Eminem’s growth over the past fourteen years as an artist. He retreads his most tired misogynistic and homophobic tendencies from yesteryear, even as the rap game steadily progresses away from that sort of regressive garbage. He wails away, off-key, on the mercilessly long ‘Stronger Than I Was’, his 4567th song about Kim where he complains about the contradictory nature of love. Perhaps most bizarrely, he routinely disses Kevin Federline, The Backstreet Boys, and Insane Clown Posse on MMLP 2 and then has the audacity of accusing his critics of being “stuck in a time warp from 2004.”
Marshall Bruce Mathers III realizes all of this, of course. He’s a smart and self-aware man, and there are moments of intense clarity on MMLP 2 where he recognizes that he might be over the hill. His honesty comes at an absolute premium here, however, buried underneath track after track of yelling at clouds and disparaging more contemporary, innovative, and interesting MCs. If nothing else, it is absolutely imperative now more than ever that Eminem finds a unique voice in his music. As hip-hop increasingly becomes a producer’s game, Eminem’s competitive advantage over the playing field has mostly eroded. No amount of lyrical gymnastics and technical prowess can hide MMLP 2’s tired beats and even more strained thematic core. Perhaps it’s appropriate that this is the sequel to Eminem’s iconic 2000 album. MMLP 2 is rooted firmly in the past and gasping for purpose in a world Eminem clearly no longer understands.
Download: ‘Love Game’, ‘Brainless’, ‘Headlights’