The bank teller lowers her pleas to a hoarse and desperate whisper: “Don’t kill me, please don’t kill me.” An annoyed Eminem insists, again, that he won’t. Then he shoots and runs.
In this brief skit from “Criminal” — off of The Marshall Mathers LP — the Detroit rapper brings the listening public’s biggest fears to life. He sprints through threats directed at homosexuals, his mother, and the parents of whoever would purchase his music. After the skit, he rattles off threats to shoot the eyewitness, the private eye, bitches, bastards, brats, pets. “This puppy’s lucky I didn’t blast his ass yet,” he raps.
The violent jam concludes Eminem’s second and best album, 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP. It’s also a dizzying summary of the media coverage that surrounded and dissected Em when his hair was bleached blond — the same shocking shade as his “Total Request Live” peers: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, *NSYNC, people who had repulsed him because, unlike Em, they actually wanted to be pop stars.
Just a few years ago, though, Eminem seemed to have settled into and accept his status as a musical icon — in rap and even pop. He features Rihanna in the abusive relationship ballad “Love the Way You Lie.” He earned his fourth-ever No. 1 hit with “Not Afraid,” one of several anthemic cuts from 2011’s Recovery. And, as in that album, he continues to speak openly in interviews about sobering up after a years-long addiction to painkillers: Vicodin, Valium and Ambien.
However, when he reappeared with his hair bleached once again, then unveiled the cover art of his new album —The Marshall Mathers LP 2 — Em appeared to have resurrected his mischievous, ruthless and troubling alter-ego Slim Shady. Pictured on the cover is the same childhood home featured on The Marshall Mathers LP, at 19946 Dresden St. in Detroit.
The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is “not necessarily a sequel, as much as it is a revisitation,” Eminem, now 41, told Rolling Stone. He’s right, and the biggest differences between the two are between who he targets and how he targets them.
Throughout MMLP2, Eminem revisits his biggest causes of concern from 13 years ago. Christina Aguilera? Check, but he only does this to regard her and move on. GLAAD? Check, as he continues to toy with homophobic slurs in songs like “Rap God,” the second single and a six-minute display of astounding rap athleticism. (Why bother? To “stroke fears in queers,” Em raps later in MMLP2, on “Brainless”.) Of “Rap God” in particular, The Week said, “The new single … proves that the rapper’s rhetoric is as ugly and regressive as it was in 2000.” Days later, other outlets had echoed The Week ’s complaints.
As if he anticipated that sort of critique, Eminem casts out easy-to-find comparisons between his past and present throughout MMLP2. In introduction “Bad Guy,” he raises his voice to evoke the pinched desperation of the titular, crazed fan of “Stan.” In “So Much Better,” he caps off a series of slut-shaming retorts at women who sleep with other rappers by saying, “I’m just playing, bitches,” in the same tone used to conclude Marshall Mathers’ “Kill You” (“I’m just playing ladies”).
However, MMLP2 concerns itself more with drawing different connections than its cover art has led listeners to believe. With more specificity than before, Eminem raps about how being bullied as a child drove him to acting as one of music’s biggest bullies.
Marshall Mathers only brings up the latter a few times. In “I’m Back,” he briefly raps about being shoved into a shelf at age 13, before he launches a gleeful dissection of why media outlets and FCC love to loathe him. He attributes his rise to pop star status to external factors: “You think of my name now whenever you say, ’Hi’/ Became a commodity because I’m W-H-I / T-E, ’cause MTV was so friendly to me.” Here, too, is where he raps the line that he gets away with in MMLP2’s “Rap God” — “I take seven kids from Columbine / stand them all in a line” — but is bleeped strategically in the original jam. When the song ends, it’s easy to forget that Eminem mentions his childhood at all.
MMLP2, however, devotes entire songs, as opposed to single verses, to stories rooted in those times. In “Legacy,” Eminem remembers being shy, awkward and shoved into a locker, then traces through how he tried to redeem himself. That 10-speed bike? Nope. Comics? Not as they once could. But rap? As of now, obviously.
In “Brainless” Eminem recalls being age 6 and facing off against a tween for a sticker book, then trying to process what Debbie Mathers took away from such incidents — as this song goes, if young Marshall Mathers had a brain, he would have grown up to be Jeffrey Dahmer. Such songs are among the album’s most straightforward; he wants them to be heard loud and clear.
It’s a good thing, too. Marshall Mathers feels like a determined and focused backlash, in which Eminem takes shots at everyone who targeted but also elevated him to musical icon status: “TRL,” Debbie Mathers, Kim. Meanwhile, MMLP2 feels more like a messy, violent outburst by someone who was troubled long before Bill Clinton was president. In Marshall Mathers, Eminem had made up his mind. In MMLP2, he realizes that he was wrong about what he felt most certain of in 2000 — well, except for the fact that he can rap.
In “Rap God,” Eminem reminisces about inducting Run-DMC into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then disses Soulja Boy via homophobic slurs in one fell swoop. The song’s piano chords fade out. Buoyant synths and snaps enter, recalling the steel-drum bounce of “Crank That (Soulja Boy).” Em follows suit: “Little gay lookin’ boy / So-gay-I-can-barely-say-it-with-a-straight-face-lookin’ boy.” Then, just to make his priorities especially clear, he revs up to Twista’s neck- and record-breaking speed over the flow from J.J. Fad’s platinum breakout “Supersonic.”
Eminem sounds like a violently nervous wreck in songs that address any other aspect of his life than rap. Proceed through “Love Game” with caution. Set to a goofy British invasion hit by Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders, Eminem and “Control” God Kendrick Lamar take turns dizzily demeaning the women who divide their time between other rappers. Em insists on simulating a woman talking while performing a blow job, which is so scarring that it’s easy to disregard how helpless he ends up being — as if reading a text, “Wait? Dinner at 8.” In this horrific yet zany depiction of abusive “relationships,” Eminem acts as crazy and spastic as Pee-Wee Herman.
And he does this after he nearly cries throughout “Stronger Than I Was,” a confession of how suicidal he felt when his ex-wife left; and before he sounds sympathetic in “Headlights,” a pop-framed apology to Debbie Mathers for targeting her so frequently in songs. fun. frontman Nate Ruess sings the rambling hook, while Eminem’s father becomes the one to blame for both Em and Debbie’s misguided actions.
In MMLP2 Eminem realizes that he cannot bully the same people that he once did — he knows better now — but still struggles to manage his unresolved anger. So as Eminem compares his past to his present, he seems to beat himself up most of all.
“The Real Slim Shady” contains one of Marshall Mathers’ most quotable lines: “In every person, there’s a Slim Shady lurking/ He could be working at Burger King, spitting on your onion rings.” At the time, Eminem was taunting a nation that had already decided that he would be rap’s biggest scapegoat. Meanwhile, to the riffs and hook from Joe Walsh’s AOR staple “Life’s Been Good,” MMLP2’s “So Far” recalls how a next-generation Slim Shady spat on Em’s onion rings. He’s self-deprecating, to the point where he practically dares you to call his music “dad rap.”
Eminem re-emerges in MMLP2 as a scarily disciplined athlete with a pad, a pen and a still-persistent sense of pessimism. Most of all, that pessimism manifests itself as the sort of nagging frustration that can rear its head after a 12-step program: You learn to behave rationally and responsibly. You resolve to change for the better. Then, you realize that life can still feel unfair because of what’s out of your control.
That frustration appears in “Parking Lot,” a skit that flashes back to the robbery scene from Marshall Mathers’s “Criminal,” when the teller is in hysterics. Eminem shoots and sprints out of the bank. His partner takes off in the getaway car. Sirens swarm in. Em shoots a police dog, but then he sprints as if he has forgotten the rest of his original plan — shoot the eyewitness, the private eye, bitches, bastards, brats. When helicopters start to hover over him, he shoots himself.
And that frustration pops up all over MMLP2, this lyrically dexterous but emotionally ugly and musically tasteless album. With his dad and Kim still gone, the world’s most successful rapper behaves as if no one would actually listen to him.
Eminem’s album The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is out now via Shady/Aftermath/Interscope.