One listen to The Marshall Mathers LP 2, the new album from hip-hop’s favorite provocateur, and it’s fairly easy to determine two things: 1) Eminem can still rap circles around 90 percent of the other rappers dominating the charts, and 2) He seems to be trying to recapture the glory days of his Y2K peak. The last factor is hinted at the album title, a sequel/reference to his most acclaimed work, 2000’s Marshall Mathers LP. But whereas that masterwork was the magnum opus for adolescent angst and dysfunction released by a 26 year old experiencing his first brushes with stardom, MMLP2 is the work of a 41-year-old who’s been rich and famous now for almost a decade and a half. So it feels a bit false — or at least regressive — to see Em trying so hard to reclaim his youth.
The album is definitely a return to Em’s more cartoonish earlier work, with more over-the-top threats and witty put-downs than we heard on his last project, the clear-eyed return-to-form Recovery. No, here Em wants everyone to remember who Slim Shady is, and he seems to be reveling in re-embracing his crazy alter ego.
Single “The Monster” finds Em rekindling his chemistry with Rihanna, and mines similar dark territory as their 2010 smash “Love the Way You Lie.” He trades verses with Compton’s Kendrick Lamar on “Love Game,” which flips a familiar sample of “Object of My Affection” and features the two in top lyrical form–despite the goofiness of the track itself. “The A–hole” is one of the album’s highlights, featuring a stellar guest appearance from frequent Em collaborator Skylar Grey.
Unfortunately, some of his best performances are wasted on unimaginative, clunky samples and interpolations. “Rhyme or Reason” is a rehashing of the Zombie’s ’60s classic “Time of the Season,” and “So Far” borrows Joe Walsh’s classic rock staple “Life’s Been Good” for it’s Beastie Boys-referencing hook. The samples aren’t terrible, but they do feel lazy — bearing a resemblance to the kind of approach artists like Puff Daddy took in the late ’90s when it came to sampling well-known tracks in the most uninspired ways.
Marshall Mathers LP 2 is an often-engaging look at an artist who’s greatest gift may also be his biggest weakness. As Eminem ages, his naval-gazing nature can alternate between false and grating. There are moments of introspection on the album that feel revelatory, especially when he raps about having teenage daughters or crow’s feet, but when he puts on his murderous fantasies and gay-bashing facade, one can’t help but feel that he’s trying to fight maturity. And thats a disappointing approach for a talent as remarkable as Marshall.