I like Eminem. And it’s not because I love rap (it’s just okay), or because I’m a hair away from white trash (yup), or because he’s cute even though he says all sorts of nasty stuff about women (nice eyes). I like Eminem because I’m a music geek. And as I listened to The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (Aftermath, Shady, Interscope), my heart was filled with pure glee as I racked up all of the layers of riffs I recognized, and I celebrated, because MMLP2 is more than just sampling and clever lyrics. It is a return to form for Eminem, but it is also his best album in years; a pushing forward that shows maturation not only stylistically, but also personal level that makes me root for him.
You see, Eminem is older and wiser now, but that doesn’t translate into kinder, gentler rhymes or a loss of the classic hyperbolic anger or scathing self-deprecation that sets Mathers apart from the rest. In fact, the rhymes on MMLP2 come at your chest harder, faster, and more cutting than you’ve heard from this source in years. A close listen to any part of this album will be rewarded with a nuggetty gem of a clever couplet or acute observation regarding Eminem’s life, view of pop culture, or experience with fame. These subjects have proven fertile fodder for Eminem for years, but while he revisits these topics time and time again, it’s always with a new perspective that keeps things from becoming repetitive.
‘Bad Guy’ is the perfect way to start off the album: an exploration of relationships, yet schizophrenic in its rhymes: is it Eminem versus his mother, his wife, his absent father, his daughter, his fans, or perhaps just Eminem himself? Meanwhile, ‘Rap God’ finds him with a mouth faster than the Micro-Machines guy, and when, after ticking off all of the great rappers of yore, he ends with ‘why be a king when you can be a…god?’ you’re quite inclined to crown and saint the man.
Of course, Eminem is also a master of funny, and that continues here, although the amount of ‘chi-ka chi’kas’ and quirky sound effects has been greatly reduced (a good thing here). Instead the jokes are almost entirely contained within the brain-twisting wordplay, with songs like ‘Brainless’ and ‘So Much Better’ encapsulating this area well. But where MMLP2 really shines is in the clutch of Rick Rubin (Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash, Dixie Chicks) produced songs that make excellent use of a pile of throwback samples and tracks. ‘Rhyme or Reason’ takes The Zombies’ ‘Time of the Season’ and turns it on its spleen as Marshall torques an anthem on sexual awakening into a reflection on coming of age without a dad. ‘Berserk’ is an incredible, insane mash-up of Beastie Boys and Billy Squier that creeps closest to the good ol’ Slim Shady days, only better. ‘So Far…’ takes on Joe Walsh’s ‘Life’s Been Good’ in a straight up modern homage/reinterpretation of the original. And anyone remember the old track ‘Game of Love’ by Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders? The update…not so PC, but hilarious as all get-out.
The bevy of guest appearances (including Rihanna on ‘The Monster’ and Kendrick Lamar on ‘Game of Love’) are a perfect complement, the female voices providing an almost protective, ameliorating layer without taking the focus away from the sometimes brutal lyrics. The ballads ‘Headlights’ (an apology to Eminem’s mom) and ‘Stronger Than I Was’ are probably the weakest tracks, but still work well as they outline another facet of Eminem’s self-deprecating honesty. The misogynistic and homophobic lyrics are still here as well, but I have to take Eminem’s actions over his words in this case, although I think that he’s intelligent and mature enough to move beyond this crutch. The only thing on this album that makes me cringe? Marshall…can the Yoda. Other than that, this is an absolutely stellar album. The five bonus tracks on the deluxe version don’t disappoint, either. This music geek is a happy girl.