’Eminem – Love Game (Feat. Kendrick Lamar)”
’Eminem – Bad Guy’
’Eminem – Headlights (Feat. Nate Ruess)’

In the entertainment world, the mention of a sequel to an original work that was borderline perfect is usually a polarizing experience. When you first hear it, you are excited because the original story was so great but you are also nervous because the follow-up could just ruin the first. Unfortunately, most of the time, sequels fall into the latter and are never anywhere close to the quality of the original. Such can also be said for Eminem‘s 10th studio album The Marshall Mathers LP 2.

When you mention some of the greats in hip-hop, Eminem should be one of the first names out of your mouth. For 17 years, the Detroit emcee has changed the game by breaking through multiple barriers of the corny white rapper (Marky Mark, Vanilla Ice, etc.) and delivering a raw flow that is as equally controversial as it is dope and cynical. The one thing that separated Em from his counterparts was that he had no shame on the mic; no pop-culture icon nor topic was really off limits for his comedic and aggressive rhymes. From detailing  his dark upbringing in an abusive home to his battles with addiction and later his recovery, Marshall Mathers’ trauma has fueled some awesome music. Now at 41, he drops a sequel to his iconic third album The Marshall Mathers LP that attempts to continues his story and sets out to trump the mediocrity of his last few albums.

Nostalgia is definitely a recurring subtle theme throughout this project. As the album begins, we are re-introduced to a continuation of the hit “Stan” with “Bad Guy.” In this 7-minute psycho-rap, Shady takes on the role of Stan’s little brother seeking revenge on the rapper. It almost seems like Slim took the role a little too literal, as he spits more like an angry young teenager, than a seasoned emcee. “Berzerk” samples some old school Beastie Boys’ hits in a Rick Rubin produced mash-up, while ‘The Monster” sets out to re-capture the pop-crossover success accomplished with 2010 hit “Love the Way You Lie,” as Rihanna belts out a catchy chorus with little substance.

Minus the industry formula of shallow radio hits, Em still returns to his usual antics of cynicism and laughs as he spits over a mix of rap and rock beats. Tracks like “Legacy'” and the synth heavy “Evil Twin” find a good mix of excellent production to carry the wicked rhymes of the Detroit spitter. Shady even samples Zombies‘ classic ‘Time of the Season” on “Rhyme or Reason” and spits syllable heavy verses on “Survival” (an almost reductive version of “Won’t Back Down”). His flow is the cleanest on “Rap God,” but it also finds him returning to the homophobic lyricism that made his earlier career so controversial. Back in 2000 it would have been shocking, but now it just comes across as forced and repetitive. The Kendrick Lamar-assisted “Love Game” is a return to the asshole persona, as Shady crafts together tongue-twisting rhymes over a 50’s inspired Rubin-produced beat. Considering that both rappers owe their success to Dre’s mentoring, it is no surprise that Em holds his own but the heavy syllable use can be jarring after a couple listens.

Not every track is Em at his best, but, as a whole, Em is not at his worst. The most compelling and introspective track is the Nate Ruess-assisted “Headlights,” as he forgives his mother for their troubled and muddied relationship. After building most of his career off of his misdirected anger towards his mother, it is actually a “wow” moment to hear Shady come full circle with his past trauma. 13 years later, Eminem still finds a way to stun fans and show off his maturity.

Other than a few references to previous tracks like “Cleaning Out My Closet” on “Headlights'”and following the same formula of catchy hooks with cynical lyrics, there is nothing really similar to the original Marshall Mathers LP. Em is still at his best when he is spazzing out on the mic or just making jokes, but the imagination seems lacking with old age. To return to the mindset laid-out by the 28 year old rapper in his prime, it just comes across as more of a mid-life crisis of an aging rap genius, rather than a fitting conclusion to a storied career. With MMLP 2, you get an album that is still better than Recovery and Relapse but is more of an industry ploy to sell units than to be called a continuation to one of Eminem’s greatest works.

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