Sound — 9
Eminem has worked hard to create a market for his specific brand of rap, which includes scathing attacks on his friends, family, celebrities and rivals. There is the usual ranting psychotic and violent fantasies in his verses with a fervor that hasn't been there for the past few releases. "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" contains 16 tracks and has an approximate runtime of just under 80 minutes. Four separate singles have been released in anticipation of the album, and each single has been very successful. The first single from the album is the track "Berzerk," which was released in late August this year and debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 charting in 3rd place. "Survival" was released in early October along with a music video as the second single from the album. "Rap God" was released roughly a week after "Survival" as the third single. "The Monster," which features Rihanna, was released as the fourth single from the album in late October. The album opens up with the track "Bad Guy," which starts with some audio samples of a shovel digging a hole, and the chorus is sang by Sarah Jaffe. Like a lot of the album, the actual beat is fairly minimal compared to a lot of recent releases by other artists. Eminem's style on this track is much like his earlier work until you get to the last couple of verses. The lyrical theme is kind of an internal struggle between the good and the bad inside Eminem's head, as well as a kind of revenge-theme. "Parking Lot" is just a short skit, which is playing off of an earlier skit on a previous album. "Rhyme or Reason" is taking samples from "Time of the Season" by The Zombies. Of course, Eminem turns the sample onto its head, including doing a verse in an imitation of Yoda. "So Much Better" has a really crazy vibe/groove to the beat, and the verses have an odd cadence. The choruses are gang vocals. The lyrical theme of this track is heartbreak, revenge and spite which is a common lyrical arena for Eminem. "Survival," the second single from the album, contains guest vocals by Liz Rodrigues, who sings the choruses. "Survival" has an almost-rock vibe to it, reminding me a lot of bands like Sleigh Bells. "Legacy" has a softer intro, including audio of rainfall. The choruses are sung by a female vocalist, but I'm not sure who she is. The lyrical theme deals with Eminem's roots and where he came from - which, again, is common lyrical ground for Eminem. "A-shole" is next up, with guest vocals by Skylar Grey. I really dig the beat on this track, which uses some LOUD drums and dirty keyboard. "Berzerk," which was the first single from the album, opens up mixing samples from "Fight For Your Right (To Party)" by Beastie Boys and "The Stroke" by Billy Squier, with Eminem actually rapping in the beginning more in the style of Beastie Boys. There are lot of samples used on this track, and I didn't know where all of them came from. Part of the lyrics in the chorus "all night long" sounds like it may be possibly sampled from a Mindless Self Indulgence track, but I'm not 100% sure about that. The lyrics play with a lot of pop culture references from the '90s through today. "Rap God," the third single, is probably my favorite track from the album. The track both gives a nod to a lot of hip-hop's most established artists as well as claiming his rap god status. Eminem really shows his ability to rap fast on certain verses on this track. "Brainless" uses some vocal samples in the intro and has a very old school beat to it. This is one of the few tracks where Eminem does his own choruses. "Stronger Than I Was" is the first track on the album to use some audible auto-tune (to my ears), but it is actually done to serve the song instead of being used excessively. This is a much slower song, and really seemed out of character for Eminem – while the song focuses on heartbreak there isn't really much in the way of hostility on this track (or at least not at the level of hostility I'm accustomed to from Eminem). "The Monster," which features Rihanna, was the fourth official single from the album. The lyrical theme is about the contradiction of wanting fame and success but wanting to keep privacy and anonymity. "So Far" uses extensive samples from "Life's Been Good" by Joe Walsh, but without the original vocal audio. It really comes across with a Kid Rock feel for some reason. "Love Game" feature Kendrick Lamar, who is on the same label with Eminem. This track utilizes samples from "The Game of Love" by Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders, and is one of the funniest tracks on the album. "Headlights" is next up, and features vocals by the Fun. vocalist Nate Ruess. Until Eminem comes in, with the exception of the beat, this could be confused as a song by Fun. "Evil Twin" closes out the album, which is similar to the first track, "Bad Guy," as it plays on the idea of having a "good" and "bad" selves battling each other. This track is very much like Eminem's earlier work, which stands out along with the first track in that regard as well as the lyrical themes. I've got to give this album props for avoiding over-production (which seems to be a serious problem with modern hip-hop), as well as the fact that Eminem actually seems to still be trying (again, more than I'm seeing from a lot of other rappers lately).
Lyrics — 8
There are a few guest vocals on the album: "Bad Guy" features vocals by Sarah Jaffe, Skylar Grey was included on "A-shole," "The Monster" includes Rihanna, "Love Game" features Kendrick Lamar, and "Headlights" includes Nate Ruess (vocalist from Fun.). Eminem definitely seems to have been perfecting his craft, including his writing as well as working on his overall verbal speed and his phrasing/ vocal cadences. I've talked a little about Eminem's vocal style, cadence and speed previously in the "Sound" category, so I'll just move on to the actual lyrics. Maybe I'm biased, but Eminem really seems to be one of the few people in the business who has some true creativity when it comes to writing verses. As a sample of the lyrics her are some from "Bad Guy": "I also represent anyone on the receiving end of those jokes you offend/ I'm the nightmare you fell asleep in and woke up still in/ I'm your karma closing in with each stroke of a pen/ Perfect time to have some remorse to show for your sin/ No, it's hopeless, I'm the denial that you're hopelessly in/ When they say all of this is approaching its end/ But you refuse to believe that it's over, here we go all over again/ Backs to the wall, I'm stacking up all them odds/ Toilets clogged, Yeah 'cause I'm talking a lot of shit but I’m backing it all up/ But in my head there's a voice in the back and it hollas/ After the track is demolished/ I am your lack of a conscience/ I'm the ringing in your ears/ I'm the polyps on the back of your tonsils/ Eating your vocal chords after your concerts/ I'm your time that's almost up that you haven't acknowledged/ Grab for some water but I'm that pill that's too jagged to swallow." Here are some lyrics from "Rap God": "I'm never stating, more than never demonstrating/ How to give a motherf--kin' audience a feeling like it's levitating/ Never fading, and I know that the haters are forever waiting/ For the day that they can say I fell off, they'd be celebrating/ Cause I know the way to get 'em motivated/ I make elevating music, you make elevator music/ Oh, he's too mainstream/ Well, that's what they do when they get jealous, they confuse it/ It's not hip hop, it's pop, cause I found a hella way to fuse it/ With rock, shock rap with Doc/ Throw on Lose Yourself and make 'em lose it/ I don't know how to make songs like that/ I don't know what words to use/ Let me know when it occurs to you/ While I'm ripping any one of these verses diverse as you/ It's curtains, I'm inadvertently hurtin' you." You can say a lot of things about Eminem, but he's still writing some wicked verses.
Overall Impression — 8
This may the best new hip-hop album I've heard this year. One major factor in this is probably the fact that there aren't a dozen writers and producers on each track. While most tracks were written by 2 or 3 people, Eminem is credited for writing on each track, as well. There are no more than 2 producers on any given track. Compared to what could be considered the other two largest hip-hop releases this year (by Jay-Z and Kanye), Eminem's beats may be much less sophisticated but his verses definitely make up the difference. While there seems to be, in my opinion, a tendency for rappers to become lazier and more elaborately produced as they become more and more successful Eminem has avoided this pitfall. I'm not saying that there isn't some great production on this album, and he obviously has some great people he's working with. My favorite tracks on the album are "Rap God," "Rhyme or Reason," "Survival" and "Berzerk."