Everyone loves a comeback story, and in 2010, that's what they got from Eminem.
Even though Marshall Mathers sold 608,000 copies of 2009's Relapse in its first week, the project was panned by critics and longtime Em fans. They said he rhymed in too many weird voices, that the production sounded dated and that the subject matter was too grim. The LP didn't make enough of an impact, and there really wasn't much buzz around Eminem to even warrant him making the Hottest MCs list last year.
This year, however, was totally different. Eminem pretty much dominated 2010 from start to finish, and the MTV News Hip-Hop Brain Trust voted him the #1 Hottest MC in the Game. "Obviously, the last album was lackluster," mtvU's Yomi Desalu said during the Hottest MCs roundtable discussion. "I think he recognized that, not being on the board last year."
Em got back in the swing of things this year, first by ripping the all-star posse cut "Forever," which, despite being released in September 2009, had enough momentum to keep playing all the way into 2010. Then he guested on the Lil Wayne single "Drop the World," a highly anticipated duet between the two rappers that had been buzzed about for years; added a poignant verse to the remix of B.o.B's "Airplanes"; and even dropped a couple of freestyles (on Drake's "Over" beat and Lloyd Banks' "Beamer, Benz or Bentley").
It all led up to the release of the first single from Recovery, "Not Afraid." The song was a turn of form for Em that found him spitting motivational rhymes and encouraging people to face their fears, for better or worse. In a post-recession America, it felt like a message people really needed to hear: Don't give up, because we're all in this together. "Not Afraid" hit #1 on the Hot 100 and pushed Recovery to 741,000 units sold its first week. Em followed that with "Love the Way You Lie," which was poignantly assisted by Rihanna.
That song also hit #1 on the Hot 100, as well as pretty much every other Billboard chart. The video was viewed 6.6 million times on the day it debuted on Vevo, a record for the site, and has since been viewed 167 million times. Both songs remain staples on radio playlists and video countdowns nationwide.
"Something about Em this time around, you don't feel like he's following some type of formula," MTV Jams' Tuma Basa said. "He didn't come out with that corny Slim Shady record. This time, he came like, 'I came to play.' And the records have this motivational anthemic type [of feel] we haven't seen in him. He's stepping into a new space."
While there's little doubt Em will take home a stack of trophies at the 2011 Grammys, he actually nabbed two this year for Best Rap Album (Relapse) and Best Performance by a Duo or Group ("Crack a Bottle" with Dr. Dre and 50 Cent). He also brought home VMAs for the Best Male Video and Best Hip-Hop Video for "Not Afraid," while winning three Teen Choice Awards (Choice Rap Album for Relapse, Choice Rap Artist and Choice Rap/Hip-Hop Track for "Love the Way You Lie").
He also had a handful of performances on the BET Awards, the VMAs and the Grammy Awards. And who could forget his cameo on the season finale of HBO's "Entourage"? Em was everywhere in 2010.
But it was his Home and Home Tour with Jay-Z this past September that really showed just how big of a year he had. MTV News' Shaheem Reid wrote of the concert at Comerica Park: "Detroit hasn't screamed this loud at a baseball park since Kirk Gibson was hitting home runs in the 1984 World Series." Em actually faced stiff competition during the roundtable, where he was initially voted #2. Some Brain Trustees were coming for his head, claiming Jay-Z or Kanye should actually have that slot. The coup didn't last long, though.
"When you do close to 3 million in three months — come on, man," MTV News supervising producer Sean Lee said.
"You think Kanye's gonna sell 3 million?" MTV News senior producer Rahman Dukes added.
Others, like MTV News senior writer Jayson Rodriguez, felt like Kanye held more cultural caché at the moment. He was the new guy on the block; Em was old news.
But when it came down to a test of skills and performance on records, Eminem got the nod.
"He jumped on Wayne's 'Drop the World' and murdered that verse," Reid said. "Obviously, you heard him on 'Airplanes' with B.o.B, a very unexpected collaboration. Now you gotta come sit at the table with the other bosses in rap, and he's doing it."
Eventually, after initially voting to keep Jay-Z at #1, because of Eminem's momentous year, the roundtable pushed Em to the top.
The 2010 Hottest MCs in the Game rollout is now complete! As in 2008 and 2009, the criteria was based on a combination of rhyme skill, flow, buzz, commercial success, business ventures, Web presence and cultural influence. Upload your reaction to our list, arguments and/or your own list to Your.MTV.com or send tweets with the hashtag #hottestmcs — the best responses could be on TV or our hip-hop blog, RapFix! For the complete 2010 Hottest MCs list go here.