Eminem seemingly turned a corner after gaining his sobriety. While his last album, Recovery, contained a healthy amount of zany, clever and, at times, tasteless rhymes, the Grammy Award-winning work was driven mostly by fist-pumping and inspirational jams like "Not Afraid" and "Love the Way You Lie." But his latest, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, out on Tuesday (November 5), finds the 41-year-old rap icon rekindling the flame he sparked back in 2000 on the original MMLP.
And there are a number of parallels. To start, on the album-opener "Bad Guy," Em resurrects past demons as he comes face to face with Matthew, the younger brother of the suicidal and murderous subject of Shady's unforgettable single "Stan." Vocalist Sarah Jaffe softly sings, "I just hate to be the bad guy," while the maniacal Matthew seeks revenge on Eminem 2.0 and disregards any of the positive changes the embattled rapper has made in his life.
From the beginning, it's clear that Marshall can never escape his bad-guy past, so he meets it head-on. MMLP2's "Parking Lot (Skit)" immediately follows and for those not keeping score, the cinematic interlude comes off as a mere bank robbery gone wrong, but Eminem diehards will draw a clear correlation between this and the original MMLP's closing "Criminal."
But as much as this new MMLP2 revisits its predecessor, it also covers plenty of new ground. For one, music production guru Rick Rubin serves as a driving force, contributing a number of tracks. There's the 1960s-inspired "Rhyme or Reason," the playfully misogynistic "Love Game" with Kendrick Lamar and the rock-tinged "So Far ...," which samples Joe Walsh's 1978 hit "Life's Been Good." Then, of course, there's the project's first single, "Berzerk," which conjures 1980s hip-hop nostalgia.
Throughout his career, Em's mother, Debbie Mathers, has been a sore subject in his music, but on "Headlights," he buries the hatchet. "But, Ma, I forgive you, so does Nathan, yo/ All you did, all you said, you did your best to raise us both," he rhymes forcefully about how he and his little brother now feel.
Not all of MMLP 2 is as mature though. On the DVLP-produced "Rap God," Eminem flexes his lyrical muscle but he also drops a couple of disparaging comments with lines like "You f--s think it's all a game/ 'Til I walk a flock of flames/ Off a plank/ And tell me what in the f--- are you thinking little gay lookin' boy."
Verses like that have drawn criticism from the music press and gay rights organizations, and have Em on the defense. The rapper told Rolling Stone that "those kinds of words, when I came up battle-rappin' or whatever, I never really equated those words [with being homosexual]." He went on to add, "The real me sitting here right now talking to you has no issues with gay, straight, transgender, at all. I'm glad we live in a time where it's really starting to feel like people can live their lives and express themselves."
On "Asshole," he crudely defends his shots and grabs at attention: "Every time you mention a lyric, I thank you for it/ For drawing more attention toward it. ... I'm flattered you thought I was that important."
On the album-closing "Evil Twin," it appears that not much has changed for Marshall. "F--- top five, I'm top four/ And that includes Biggie and 'Pac, whore/ And I got an evil twin, so who do you think that third and that fourth spot's for?" he raps, pole-vaulting himself over the likes of Jay Z, Nas and other rap greats.
Still, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 finds Eminem on top of his game musically. After he released his major label debut, Slim Shady LP, in
1999, Em sat with MTV News and laid out his ultimate mission statement: "I'm in it just for somebody to come up and say, 'Eminem, you're dope.' "