University of Missouri
Rumor has it that the Marshall Mathers LP 2 might be the last hurrah for one of the greatest, if not the greatest, emcee of our generation. After over a decade of being one of hip-hop's biggest names, is Eminem's grand finale a fitting end to his illustrious, controversial and epic career? Or is it a last gasp, merely a feeble attempt to stay relevant in the ever-changing rap game? Is it truly deserving of its title, a sequel to arguably the greatest rap album of all time, or is it just a half-assed attempt to spark attention and get record sales?
A generation in hip-hop is very short. An emcee is lucky if they can maintain relevance for more than a year, and Eminem has been a top name for over a decade. However, styles change, and unfortunately, Eminem's lyrical prowess and meaningful storytelling have given way to beat-heavy, dumbed-down club bangers. The generation that grew up in Eminem's prime has grown up. That was over ten years ago. Those rowdy teenagers bumpin' Shady in their cars now have their careers, families and have settled down. Shady's psychotic antics have no place in their world anymore. Eminem's audience has narrowed and is continuously narrowing, and he has acknowledged that several times throughout the album.
In "Rap God," he claims that he'll get a lot of heat for his lyrics, as he's not as popular as he once was. While Em is no stranger to controversy and backlash, his superstardom often provided a barrier. Now, in a changing world, there's no room for his homophobic slurs, misogynistic subtleties and violent lyrics. In the epic final minute and a half of "Bad Guy," he claims that this album is the final chapter in his saga, an attempt to recapture that "lightning trapped in a bottle." His time is up, and there's no doubt about it. The Marshall Mathers LP was Em in his prime. The passion was apparent in his music. His style was unique. Masses of people flocked to worship him. A lot has changed since the Marshall Mathers LP, and many albums later, Em, too, has changed.
That takes us to the Marshall Mathers LP 2. "Berzerk" was the first single. A few seconds in, Em screams "let's take it back to straight hip-hop and start it from scratch." A promising statement from hip-hop himself, the song literally took it back to the Beastie Boys era. "Rap God" followed, and Eminem displayed his incredible ability as a writer and his versatility with varying styles and rhyme schemes in a single song. This song built upon his promise to bring real hip-hop back. There were a few forced punchlines here and there but it truly seemed like Slim Shady was back. So far so good. Anticipation for the MMLP2 increased exponentially, with many fans already proclaiming it as the album of the year.
Then came the next single... a weak attempt to recreate the commercial success of "Love The Way You Lie" and get Em on heavy radio rotation. I was not a fan of it at all, but one radio song is understandable and bearable as long as the whole album isn't like that, right?
Well.. The entire album leaked earlier this week so I downloaded it. There are two completely different sides of the album.
Let's start off and get the bad things out of the way first. "Monster" obviously was an atrocity, for any devout fan of Eminem. It got worse though. When you have Kendrick Lamar featured on a track and the guy from Fun featured on another, you'd expect one to be a furious orgasm of rap and the other to be a typical, upbeat radio single. Something is off when Kendrick is on the upbeat radio single. Love Game is one of the most annoying songs I've ever heard from Em, up there with Big Weenie and White Trash Party. Lyrically, not bad, but when you throw the best young rapper and an established legend on the same track, expectations are going to be insanely high. The song fell far below expecations, because no one expected a shitty love song where BOTH Eminem and Kendrick put on display the reason why they aren't singers. Half of the remaining songs are mediocre and clearly exasperated attempts to adapt to the radio-friendly singles of current hip-hop. Hook after hook, guest singer after guest singer, Eminem has become a follower of trends, instead of his usual unique persona. With so many cheesy love songs, it doesn't feel like Marshall Mathers. Come on Em, you're not Drake.
On the flip-side, the album had some incredible moments. "Headlights" brought me close to tears, only showing how Em's openness about his life has made him a relatable human idol for his fans. The honesty of the song was incredible to hear from Em. A heartfelt apology to his dying mother was not something I ever expected, especially after years and years of Eminem throwing his mother into media scrutiny through his criticism and bashing of her in many of his songs. "Bad Guy" is another shining moment of storytelling for Em. The final 2-3 minutes give me shivers every time I listen to it. A throwback to Stan, this time rapped by his little brother Matthew, followed by a complete change of pace. Eminem appears, becoming vicious and ruthless, the beat changes, and we hear the true emotions of Eminem as he faces the twilight of his career. "Rap God" was another great moment for true hip-hop. "Legacy" was a poetic masterpiece by Eminem, a beautiful display of the storytelling that Eminem is known for. But none of these were enough to salvage the album as a whole.
I love Eminem. I think he's the greatest rap artist to ever walk this Earth, and many of his songs have helped me through the angst-ridden times of my dramatic adolescent existence. Expectations were incredibly high for this album, and obviously some people are going to be disappointed. This was a tale of two albums: a radio-friendly, punchline heavy, beat-focused Eminem, and then THE Marshall Mathers LP 2.
Eminem is incredible. His legacy has been established. No rapper will ever accomplish what he has already accomplished. Eminem has nothing left to prove to anyone. He is the greatest of all time, and yes, it would be nice to end your musical career with a bang, but it feels like MMLP2 was forced. It's far from a fitting end, but it was a fitting album to signal Em that his career is coming to an end. The album was stronger than Recovery and Relapse combined, but it was still far, far below Eminem's strongest work.
Em said it best himself:
"'Because after all the glitz and the glam
no more fans that are calling your name, cameras are off
Sad, but it happens to all of them
So one last time, I'm back
Before it fades into black and it's all over
Behold the final chapter in the saga,
Trying to recapture that lightning trapped in a bottle"
Unfortunately, he couldn't recapture the lightning he trapped in a bottle when he released the original Marshall Mathers LP. Hopefully people don't judge his career based off of his last few albums, but instead on the legendary legacy that he leaves behind. Salute to the GOAT. Thank you, Marshall.
Leave your thoughts in the comments below. I'd love to discuss the album with anyone and further explain my thoughts. Also check out my ranking of the most influential rappers and see where I ranked Marshall Mathers.