Eminem has lived and died by division. Some people love his verbal Molotov cocktails, which have set fire to everyone from his friends and family to B-list celebrities and anyone else he sees fit to lyrically destroy over the past 14 years.
Others find him reductive, repetitive, mired in his own misery and not immune to bouts of homophobia and sexism.
Those opposite ends of the spectrum pop up time-and-again in reviews of Em’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 , the sequel to his landmark 2000 smash. While reviewers can’t help but give him props for the intense speed flow on “Rap God,” they also can’t help but get tripped up by the use of anti-gay slurs on that song and others on the album.
A number were happy to see him reunite with Rihanna for “The Monster,” but a bit disappointed at how little new ground the duo’s latest collabo covers. Ditto for Kendrick Lamar’s verse on “Love Game,” the only rap feature on the collection. And while Rick Rubin’s hard-rock goosing of “Berzerk” drew hails from some critics, a few tagged it as one of several songs on the album that are propped up on classic rock samples that feel dated.
What’s clear is that Eminem still has the power to divide, delight and destroy his enemies, spiking his songs with clever wordplay undiminished dexterity and a sharp ear for a pop hook. Here’s a roundup of what critics are saying:
Machine-Gun Verbal Spray
Calling the album the “hip-hop version of a classic-rock album,” the Chicago Tribune said MMLP2 encapsulates “all that was good, bad and just plain tasteless about hip-hop’s middle-age prankster 13 years ago,” when the first volume came out. On the upside, the new effort rekindles Em’s “ink-black humor and bruising swagger” and “reaffirms his prodigious ability with rhymes” as he “crunches together syllables, silliness and storytelling flights of ridiculousness with acrobatic skill.”
On the downside, it also, “revives some of his worst traits as a world-be provocateur.” In particular, the paper alludes to the dated cultural references and gay-bashing in “Rap God,” which it lauds for Marshall’s precise, “machine-gun” flow, but dings for put-downs that, “suggest an Andrew Dice Clay stand-up routine, desperately trying to get a raise out of someone, anyone.” — Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
All Hail Pop Music’s ‘Antihero Poet’
“The good news and not as good: Eminem meets expectations raised by naming his new album after the landmark he released in 2000 … he recaptures the original release’s wild, clever, emotional brilliance in a flurry of caustic, brazenly honest, rapid-fire rhymes and aggressive beats.” On the downside for one of rap’s formerly bravest visionaries, USA Today wrote, Eminem spends most of the album gazing into the past, “reworking old tricks and wading in nostalgia rather than forging a fresh path.” The other good news is that he’s “sharpened his tongue and his skill set.” — Edna Gundersen, USA Today
Marshall Versus The World
“He’s also rightly considered a rap great for his technical prowess, wicked humor, and tenaciousness … As a rapper, he’s virtually untouchable. As a rager, he’s right on many fans’ levels. Which makes his flashes of hatred for women and gay men all the more alarming. At this point, though, his ultimate obsessions are with his disappointing mother and absent father — and those he uses to abuse himself.” Entertainment Weekly said the 41-year-old MC works his “me-or-my-demons shell game more furiously than ever” on the album, on “Bad Guy,” where Stan’s brother kidnaps Em for revenge and he “recognizes that he’s no better than the bullies who damaged him.” — Nick Catucci, Entertainment Weekly
Michael Phelps Of Rap
While Eminem shouts out 1990s names like Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky and Lorena Bobbitt on MMLP2, there are other rappers who share more emotion, tell better stories, have better hooks and are more relevant to today. “But if rapping were a purely athletic competition, Eminem would be Michael Phelps and Mary Lou Retton combined: pure agility and flexibility, like an unstoppable bullet with only white-hot hate in his wake. His flow only gets more baroque and knotty and Nutrageous with age: syllable-cramming, unnecessarily complicated assonance.”
Though Spin found MMLP2 almost “completely devoid of actual content or actual emotion,” the site said Slim Shady still shows he has the skills to pay the bills on the “weird, unlikely album.” — Christopher R. Weingarten, SPIN
Slim Cranky Replaces Slim Shady
“Nostalgia is everywhere. Em surrounds himself in allusions to classic hip-hop, like the Beastie Boys samples producer Rick Rubin laces together on ‘Berzerk.’ It’s telling that the only guest MC is Kendrick Lamar on ‘Love Game,’ probably because his slippery syllable-juggling owes a lot to Eminem … Yet Em’s former obsession — his own media image — has been replaced with a 41-year-old’s cranky concerns … He raps about how he can’t figure out how to download Luda on his computer and waves the Nineties-geek flag with references to Jeffrey Dahmer and the Unabomber. He’s playing his best character: the demon spawn of Trailer Hell, America, hitting middle age with his middle finger up his nose while he cleans off the Kool-Aid his kids spilled on the couch.” — Jon Dolan, Rolling Stone