With the release of Recovery earlier this week, Eminem is back in the spotlight after delivering his second album in just over a year. The projects, Recovery and 2009's Relapse, bookend the rapper's return from a five-year, drug-impaired hiatus.
The two albums, however, couldn't be more different. Although both chronicle his dependency, each does so in different ways. Relapse was made as Em was flushing the drugs out of his system, while the new offering was made during his focus on sobriety. Also, Relapse's satirical first single, "We Made You," was rife with stale pop-culture references and no introspection.
"My expectations for Relapse were very low, 'cause this is a man coming back, basically, from hell," Keith Murphy, Vibe senior editor, told MTV News. "If you really wanna go into it, drugs have always been a part of rock-and-roll folklore. It's always been a part of that from Marvin Gaye to Jimi Hendrix to David Bowie. But those guys kind of seemed to always be able to rebound from their excesses and put out incredible work and work that seemed like their head was on their shoulders. Relapse, you got the sense that he had no business recording that album, and not because it was a bad album — there was some good songs on there — but you could just see that struggle of someone trying to figure it out and someone that was actually afraid to rap sincerely about what he went through."
Dr. Dre helmed the majority of the project, and on standouts like "Beautiful" and "Deja Vu," Eminem vividly articulates his dark descent. The project, though, was made in the aftermath of Eminem's divorce, the murder of his close friend Proof and the rapper nearly overdosing. The emotional turmoil Eminem was facing, perhaps, made it difficult for him to focus.
That may be why the rapper himself called his last album "ehh" on Recovery's lead single, "Not Afraid."
Looking for inspiration, Eminem reached out to a slew of new collaborators for Recovery, only using Dr. Dre's production on a handful of tracks.
"He was not as forthcoming with his unhappiness with Relapse at that moment," Noah Callahan-Bever, Complex editor in chief, said about Eminem, who graced the magazine's December/January cover. "I think he was still forming his own opinion and sitting with it and dissecting it in hindsight himself. But it was clear he understood that he had more to say and he hadn't articulated it all. So, for me, my personal expectation was that he would create this thing that would be to Relapse what 'The Dark Knight' was to 'Batman Begins.' That was the beginning and a loose thought, and then he's gonna fully polish it.
"To me, that's so indicative of where his head was at that he hadn't sorted out how he felt about all this stuff that transpired during his downtime," Callahan-Bever added of the differences between the two sets and the lack of a Proof tribute on the former. The Complex editor even suggested that Recovery rivals the best of Eminem's work, putting the collection nearly on par with The Eminem Show (an opinion Murphy, however, didn't share).
Freelance writer and frequent Village Voice contributor Chris Weingarten said the rapper is simply back to doing what he does best: delivering rhymes on a superior technical level. And despite appearances by Pink and Rihanna, Weingarten said the album feels hushed and minimalist.
"He's rapping again," Weingarten said. "He's a beast again. It may not be the hottest album. The choruses are still a little corny, but he's rapping like he was in the '90s, when he was doing ridiculous punch-line rap on Rawkus [Records] stuff. He's back to being a crazy wordsmith. He's being very clear and focused, and it shows."
What album do you like better: Relapse or Recovery? Let us know in the comments below!
It's Eminem Week at MTV News, so stick with us as we celebrate the release of Recovery and take you inside the making of Em's latest album.