2013 has been an exciting and memorable year for music. Justin Timberlake’s 2-part return, Jay-Z’s Samsung agreement brought in 1 million dollars prior to his album’s release, Kanye West’s fusing of rap with gritty, industrial production. Its safe to say that every person has one moment or another that will stand out in their mind, five years from now, when their friend asks them, “Man, remember when all those artists dropped albums in 2013?” In an attempt to become the first musician that emerges in your mind, Eminem gives us the Marshall Mathers LP 2, an album where he looks back to his distant past, but effectively prevents himself from becoming trapped in it.
During the first two verses of “Bad Guy,” the leading song on the LP, Eminem makes listeners believe that he wants revenge on some woman after a corrupt relationship. However, Em unveils the unexpected twist during the third verse – this is actually the story of Stan’s little brother, Mathew, back to kidnap Slim after the events that occurred in the first Marshall Mathers LP. The story telling based around Mathew is arguably more vivid, with loads of imagery, and Eminem surprisingly gets quite introspective. He recognizes that his raps are crude, that he disses women far too often, and that he has a lot to answer for. He even admits that both Stan and Mathew are symbolic representations of everything he takes for granted or doesn’t usually acknowledge. Following this song is “Parking Lot (Skit),” a skit that directly follows “Criminal” from the first LP. As these are the only two songs directly following older songs, Eminem’s death in the new skit probably symbolizes how he is not the same person and that this album will not simply be a follow up production. Even if that is what listeners prayed for, he doesn’t want you to get confused. Just as he told Rolling Stone, “there’s not gonna be…continuations of every old song on there or anything like that. To me, it’s more about the vibe, and it’s more about the nostalgia.”
The album continues to develop in exciting ways. Eminem revisits past ideas about his relationship with his family, his ability to be comical, and his often-aggressive nature, but at the same time, establishes the fact that his album will be extremely diverse. He speaks about his father in a somewhat comical manner on “Rhyme or Reason,” but instead of a typical rap beat, he uses the intro from “Time of the Season,” created by Zombies in 1969. This mixes a throwback rap idea with a throwback rock tune for a song that is quite innovative in its combination.
This is not the only interesting use of songs that were popular long ago. In “Berzerk,” a sample from “The Stroke” by Billy Squire is used, and the song creates a great atmosphere that really pumps up the listener, even if it takes some getting used to. Remember “Life’s Been Good” by Joe Walsh? References to his song are made in “So Far…,” a track that has a beat that lies closer to rock, adding even more diversity. “Love Game,” featuring Kendrick Lamar, uses Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders’ “Game of Love” for, yet again, another pleasant surprise far from what anyone expected the rap duo to concoct while in the studio. This entire visitation to the past, both to his old rap and to others’ old rock hits, pushes Eminem’s versatility forward. In an interview with Complex Magazine, Eminem mentioned working with Rick Rubin, and how he’s “always admired Rick and what he’s done. The way he’s able to jump from different genres of music and be a master at all of them.” Looks like Em’s been perfecting his own personal form of musical flexibility.
Apart from Skylar Grey’s forgettable addition to the song “Asshole,” every featured artist stands out and adds to the album. Kendrick Lamar shows he can dabble in comedy on his verse, acting out a scene between him and Sherane, all while maintaining tremendous lyricism. Rihanna helps Eminem create pop-rock track called “The Monster” that is quite catchy, offers more introspective themes, and further diversifies the album. On “Survival," Liz Rodrigues assists Eminem in a gritty piece about surviving in the world of rap. Finally, in a song dedicated to his mother, Eminem enlists the lead singer of Fun., Nate Ruess, for the chorus on “Headlights.” Nate compassionately sings as Eminem surprisingly apologizes to his mother through lines that can easily make hairs stand on end.
As for the songs that neither feature artists nor incorporate popular songs from the past, Eminem delivers on almost every track, apart from a possibly forgettable beat on one or two and the fact that “Stronger Than I Was” includes a portion of singing that I personally enjoy, yet I could foresee being hit or miss with some listeners. His rapping on these, and every song, is possibly his best in years, and he is better lyrically than any other rapper who released an album in 2013.
One standout track in particular, “Rap God,” rightly proves that Eminem is one of the best rappers of all times. Harshly in contrast with Kanye’s “I Am A God,” which would in itself only prove that Kanye thinks that French restaurants do not bake croissants quickly enough, Eminem uses so many different rhyme schemes, rap techniques, flows, and skills in one song that it’s a bit ridiculous.
While bonus songs do not typically add significantly to an album, the 5 extra tracks that appear on the deluxe version of MMLP2 do not adhere to this norm. Each one is interesting, and all of the songs except for the questionable “Desperation” are necessary additions. They provide even more solid rap songs, with a unique beat in “Groundhog Day,” wicked verses on “Wicked Ways,” and a track with Sia called “Beautiful Pain,” that could very well top the charts sometime in the future. Paying for bonus tracks doesn’t usually pay off; buying deluxe for this LP is essential.
Ultimately, the MMLP2 delivers amazing flows, great story telling, diversity, and nostalgia of both old Eminem and old music in general. There are areas of production that could have been better, but Eminem succeeded in what he aimed to do – look to the past and build upon it. He is not the same man, and to create an entirely follow-up album would have been doing an injustice to himself, as he has matured and changed as both an artist and a person. MMLP2 has secured its spot as one of the top rap albums of 2013, but a strong admiration for evolving lyrical wordplay is necessary to enjoy it, as his focus is not always on making a song “catchy”. We will have to wait to see how his album fares the test of time, but for now, there is a lot to appreciate.
Images via Tumblr.