Ever since Eminem announced he would be releasing a follow-up to his diamond-certified The Marshall Mathers LP, fans have waited anxiously to see whether Shady’s eighth studio album could meet the tremendous expectations necessitated by its title. After all, the original MMLP is widely-regarded as Eminem’s best project, a classic, and as one of the finest emceeing performances committed to wax. So does The Marshall Mathers LP 2 represent a return to form for Slim Shady, or just another in a string of disappointing-to-mediocre albums?
Eminem can rhyme with the best of them, and is peerless in his technique. Unfortunately, too often does Em focus on technique at the expense of actually making a good song. This technical hubris is on full display on MMLP 2. It’s difficult to be too upset with “Rap God,” which will have fans hitting the rewind button, but “Berzerk” and “Love Game,” among other cuts have the distinction of having an absurd number of syllables mashed into a track that ends up saying absolutely nothing. The album would have been much better served by Em spending more time crafting song concepts than he did on his über-complex rhyme schemes.
Listeners who have closely followed Eminem’s music will note that the production on The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is actually a tighter soundbed than the noisy mess that was Recovery. “Rhyme Or Reason” is a nice flip of a familiar sample from The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” (even though the hook is painfully obvious), while tracks like “Legacy” and the synths on “Evil Twin” do a great job of carrying Em’s wicked rhymes. However, it’s not all good, with “Survival” essentially unnecessary after Recovery’s “Won’t Back Down,” and “Berzerk” existing merely to let everyone know that, for the right price, Rick Rubin will happily make a poor Beastie Boys impression for you.
Although the production and detrimental hyper-lyricism place Eminem’s worst habits on display throughout the album, there is plenty of good here. Extremely compelling is the theme of Eminem’s growth, particularly in the form of repenting for much of his misdirected anger towards his mother (and setting his sights on his father, who abandoned him when he was an infant). This is a well Shady goes to on several tracks, including “Bad Guy” and “Headlights.” On the latter, he deals with agonizing guilt: “But I’m sorry mama for ‘Cleaning Out My Closet,’ at the time I was angry / Rightfully maybe so, never meant that far to take it though, ‘cause / Now I know it’s not your fault, and I’m not making jokes / That song I no longer play at shows and I cringe every time it’s on the radio.”
So how does The Marshall Mathers LP 2 fare as a sequel? Interestingly, on “Bad Guy,” the album’s intro track, Em rhymes, “And hey, here’s a sequel to my Mathers LP / Just to try to get people to buy / How’s this for publicity stunt? This should be fun / Last album now ‘cause after this you’ll be officially done.” It’s almost as if Shady is trying to be preemptively self-aware of the fact that calling this album MMLP 2 may scream moneygrab—and he’s absolutely right. A few lyrical references to previous songs, an extension of an old skit and a few played Insane Clown Posse references do not a sequel make. In all honesty, MMLP 2 suffers as a project when Eminem asks it to be compared to his best release. Sure, it may be one of the better LPs you hear in 2013, but make no mistake: The Marshall Mathers LP 2 only serves to tarnish the original’s legacy, whereas titling it something else could’ve just meant another passable addition to Eminem’s night-and-day catalogue.