Brazen heroically during a whole new generation of music, we are amidst the great return of Marshall Bruce Mathers, III. Here, a revolution is fought between one’s inner demons and a struggling, new individual. Boundless emotion is exposed like a wound. Both jocular and seriously stupefying audacity intermittently weaves through tales of honest experience. Sixteen tracks, seventeen producers, one main artist, and one album. Welcome to The Marshall Mathers LP 2.
Through and through this album pulls the strings of the original Marshall Mathers LP. Kicking off the sonic journey, “Bad Guy” stands as the sequel to one of, if not Eminem’s greatest songs, “Stan.” This time, the song is from the perspective of Stan’s little brother, Matthew. Already Eminem draws in listeners with a certain tactic that fans have yearned for from the emcee for years: vivid storytelling with graphic details and simple, yet well-crafted bars. Spited for the overuse of accents on Encore and Relapse, as well as yelling too much on Recovery, Mathers takes this track on with a very choreographed delivery.
Then, throwing a curveball, the beat switches up and takes on a whole new aura. A calculated instrumental full of bright, twisted, panning notes dancing over tumbling drums fades out and into an epic symphony of a beat with snare rolls and intense strings. This adds to an atmosphere of Eminem suffering at the words of criticism from his conscience claiming to be all of Eminem’s embodied faults and factions. With a devil-like voice backing him up, Eminem keeps the wordplay witty, the energy at full-throttle, the flow on-point with the beat, and the introspection at an all-time high:
“I’m your time that’s almost up that you haven’t acknowledged/
Grab for some water, but I’m that pill that’s too jagged to swallow./
I’m the bullies you hate, that you became/
With every f***** you slaughtered coming back on you/
Every woman you insult, that with the double-standards that you have when it comes to your daughters/
I represent everything you took for granted/
‘Cause Marshall Mathers the rapper’s persona’s half a facade.”
Further on throughout the album, Eminem drops odes to his most critically acclaimed album through direct and indirect references (see “Parking Lot (Skit)” and “Rhyme Or Reason” for a few examples). Eminem recognizes that calling this album the follow-up to such a beloved record would be touchy for many people, but he has made it clear that the album is not meant to be a sequel to the original, but more of a nostalgic journey back to remembered times. Primarily through the production, but also through the references mentioned earlier, Shady successfully creates an older vibe that is efficiently brought up to speed for a nice nostalgic, yet undoubtedly 2013 feel.
This album really changes things up and brings a new sound barely touched upon by the Detroit star. Rick Rubin is most likely the major influence behind the rock-infused sound brought forth unto the album; most impressively executed was the instrumental for “Rhyme Or Reason” that samples The Zombies’ classic song “Time of the Season.” Funky drums accompany the spacey/groovy beat as Eminem reverts back to his laughable ways by reintroducing his lighter, childish side, rapping:
“And I still am a criminal/
Ten year old degenerate grabbing on my genitals/
The last Marshall Mathers LP went diamond, this time I’m predicting that this one will go emerald.”
Along those same lines, “So Far…” is essentially an entire satire of himself and how old-school he is by not knowing how to operate a computer, not knowing what Facebook is (“Got friends on Facebook all over the world/ Not sure what that means, they tell me it’s good!”) and more. Conversely, the rapper gives fans a dose of his acclaimed darker style on various tracks, but primarily on “So Much Better” when he asks a girl he hates to drop dead. The beat also induces a wave of nostalgia, as does his flow, and the song seems to take on a presence like that of the songs he put out around the time of Encore and The Re-Up. He even recalls the style of hook-making he was always arguably good at doing, which is harmonizing his own vocals with a deep, grinding track paired with his signature whiny (in a good way), high-pitched vocals.
Other themes explored on the album are both new and old territory for Mathers, whether it be showing off his lyrical skill (“Survival” and “Rap God”), his bewildering and unconventional childhood (“Legacy”), his mom (“Headlights”) and his inner-demons (“Bad Guy” and “Evil Twin”). Yet, rather than beating a dead horse, Eminem spends his time attacking these subjects in new ways for the most part. While the singles – “Berzerk,” “Survival,” “Rap God,” and “The Monster,” respectively – don’t necessarily define the album, they all add a bit of something to the record as a whole, each delving into one or more of the aforementioned subject matters.
Some of the most astounding tracks left thus far are “Legacy” and “Rap God.” The former acts as a prelude to Eminem as the superstar we all know him as. Em has detailed his rough childhood on countless tracks before, but the lack of focus on any single event in particular on “Legacy” allows listeners to get a kind of “Almost Famous” vibe, except in the subject of his childhood and adolescents. Then, it is not like he needed a single track to demonstrate this as his lyricism on this album is the best it has been in years, but “Rap God” puts Shady on a pedestal few, if any rappers can attain.
Bar for bar, Eminem sounds more focused than he has in a long time. He focuses and follows a consistent pattern and hones in on a certain sound that was lost on Recovery. Eminem sounds home on The Marshall Mathers LP 2, the most he has sounded arguably since The Eminem Show. Additionally, not that he dumbed down his lyrics, but as penned in my recent editorial, in recent times it had seemed as though the rapper was overdoing his verses and lines and causing an overbearing sense of corniness to emit from his tracks. Simply put, he was trying too hard; but on this album, Eminem focuses more on what he says over how he says it, which contributes greatly to the appeal of the album.
The production ushers along a newer sound unfamiliar to Eminem’s repertoire. To the dismay of a few, Dr. Dre wasn’t as involved as some may have hoped. Not that we wanted a repeat of Relapse where Dre handled damn near 100% of the production, but a few beats or co-productions would have certainly helped Eminem achieve an even greater sense of nostalgia for his earlier records. It also would have certainly drawn in fans of the rapper’s earlier works with the familiar duo working together once again. But after several listens, the album flows quite well and that might not have been had Dre dropped a booming, funk-filled banger in the mix.
Nonetheless, Shady works great with the sounds heard on the record and capitalizes on their vibes to create an energy that isn’t in your face nor horrifying, but more like what was heard on the original Marshall Mathers LP. But what is most sentimental about this album is the growth of Marshall Mathers. No longer are the days of the young kid balancing shock-rap with his comedic tendencies as the 41 year old rapper has evolved from a sometimes unsettling rapper into a full-bodied emcee.
In one instance, Shady puts down his tough-guy bravado for a far more sentimental facade on the track “Stronger Than I Was,” where he sings more than he has since “Haile’s Song.” Equatable to Nas‘ Life Is Good, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 finds Eminem matured and even correcting mistakes made in his younger days, as witnessed on one of the most tear-jerking, emotional tracks every penned by the all-star lyricist.
“Headlights” features an open apology to Eminem’s mom, Debbie Mathers. If anyone knows anything about the past relationship between Eminem and his mother, just play “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” and you’ll get the idea. Recruiting Fun.’s lead singer Nate Reuss to sing a touching hook recognizing past mistakes with their relationship, Eminem openly tells his mother that he wants to put their past behind them and even thanks her for raising him and his brother Nate under her difficult circumstances. Eminem would have never said this… The man has truly grown, putting to rest one of the biggest complications in his life and it is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is not a copy of the first, yet it brings a breath of fresh air to fans and a dose of Eminem’s early years in hip-hop. What the album really recaptures is the narrative of a struggling soul that almost everyone can relate to. In addition, Eminem reestablishes his flow and lyrical skill in a more well-rooted fashion that creates a mesmerizing sequence of speedy bars with few that cannot be followed. Although not without imperfections (most often in some of the mixing of the vocals and the anomalistic production), The Marshall Mathers LP recaptures a vibe felt untouched since before Eminem’s unfortunate drug troubles started in 2004.
Sonically, the album goes against the grain of any other hip-hop out today, contributing to the album’s major stand-out factor. Regardless of the adventurous production and newfound subject matter, Shady sounds as natural as ever and it feels great to hear him do his thing once again. Eminem is on the high road as this coming of age project makes amends and ties up all the loose strings that have been dangling about the past few years.
Hints have been dropped here and there – on the album, in commercials, on his promo hat and elsewhere – that this may be Eminem’s last project. I sincerely hope it is not because after hearing this album, it seems the rapper has finally re-discovered himself and it would be great to hear more music from him; however, if The Marshall Mathers LP 2 were to be the final masterpiece by the artistic poet, it would be a beautifully consummate work for Eminem to leave on. If the curtains must close, it would be satisfying to know that this is the note he left on and for that we owe Marshall Mathers a big thank you.
1) Bad Guy
2) Parking Lot (Skit)
3) Rhyme Or Reason
4) So Much Better
7) Asshole (feat. Skylar Grey)
9) Rap God
11) Stronger Than I Was
12) The Monster (feat. Rihanna)
13) So Far…
14) Love Game (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
15) Headlights (feat. Nate Reuss)
16) Evil Twin
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