Eminem's much-anticipated The Marshall Mathers LP 2 dropped this week. The themes of the album (family talk, personal problems, fighting to win) stick to the traditional Slim Shady formula, but Em is no longer the hungry and provocative MC he once was -- he's one of the most successful musicians (not just rappers, but musicians) of all time. His success hasn't done him any favors.
On "Rhyme or Reason," Em rides a sample from Zombies "Time of the Season." It's not that he doesn't have a decent (albeit comedic to a flaw) flow -- it was already done (and with much more venom) by Necro on "The Sexorcist" over five years ago. Necro ate the beat with a rhythmic, rapid-fire, and passionate verse. While I appreciate Marshall recognizing his single mother is, by default, a better person than his deadbeat dad, he didn't bring his best to this track (at least I hope not).
Things get even more abstract on "So Much Better," where Em showcases his trademark high-pitched, auto-tune-layered singing voice. Eminem was once known for his innovative and catchy hooks, but on MMLP2, his formulaic approach to creating an album is becoming tired. His angry lyrics lack the hungry rage and passion he once had. Where I was once able to fully immerse myself in Mathers' albums, I can't bump this song in front of people.
Eminem's career was once defined by his fighting attitude. Listening to him put his family, life, and the entire world on blast was a guilty pleasure enjoyed by generations of music fans. On tracks like "Survival" and "Berzerk," it feels like Em is overcompensating for the lack of rage by going overboard with overly produced high-adrenaline rock songs that veer far off the tracks. Sonic and emotional variety would normally be welcome on an album, but it interrupts the flow of this album, instead feeling like the god of rap is trying too hard.
The album isn't without its bright spots. His flow on "Stronger Than I Was" reminds us why we fell in love with Eminem in the first place. He does abstract well on "So Far," and, even though the album itself isn't his best work, he truly proves himself to be the "Rap God," he claims to be.
Where Eminem makes a fatal mistake on his album is inviting Kendrick Slim proves he's one of the only MCs alive capable of hanging with Kendrick Lamar on "Love Game," making K-Dot flow over one of the craziest and cartoony hip-hop beats ever made...and K-Dot delivers, easily hanging with Eminem in a chaotic and complicated beat not normally associated with hip-hop. Much like Sylar on NBC's defunct Heroes, Kendrick took Eminem's superpowers and now wields them, along with all the other rappers he's slain.
Overall, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 isn't Eminem's worst album to date (Relapse), but it's a far cry from the Marshall Mathers of old. Eminem is known as one of the most focused and hard-working MCs in the game, but this album showcased none of that. Even the "2-disk" label feels like it was half-assed, containing only 5 songs. Either give us a couple bonus tracks or a full double album like Tupac and Biggie. Either sell an eightball or a teener - there is no in-between, Slim.
Brian Penny is a former business analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower, writer, and consultant.