After a three-year hiatus, Eminem returns to the music scene with a bang in a sequel that has been 13 years in the making – “The Marshall Mathers LP 2,” which hit stores Nov. 5.
The album generated a lot of buzz well before the release date after it was announced during the MTV Video Music Awards in August and when Eminem made a memorable appearance on ESPN during the halftime show of the Michigan vs. Notre Dame football game, where many speculated he was under the influence.
Eminem hopped in a time machine to take fans back to a deeply troubling period in his life, including his childhood and eventual rise to superstardom as he dealt with his estranged wife Kim, his mother and nonexistent father.
But if such topics were already covered more than a decade ago in “The Marshall Mathers LP,” arguably his best work, Eminem had a tough job ahead of him in trying to channel the demons of his first 30 years. There’s no doubt they’re vivid memories for him, now 41, but similarly, when Michael Jordan came back with the Washington Wizards, he wasn’t quite the same Jordan.
It’s not the same Eminem, either. What resulted is a disjointed album that isn’t an accurate tale of Mathers’ personal life in present day – something that would feel more authentic.
Eminem said he called upon Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin as executive producer to incorporate vintage hip-hop and classic rock samples, which Rubin is known for. It doesn’t do much good though, when thrown on the same album as an obvious radio-made single “The Monster” with Rihanna and a few pop-sounding hooks such as “A–hole” featuring Skylar Grey.
Rubin and Eminem sample classic songs with “Love Game” (containing samples from 1965’s “Game of Love”), “So Far…” (containing samples from 1978’s “Life’s Been Good”) and “Berzerk” (highlighting hip-hop’s “The Stroke,” “The New Style” and “Fight for Your Right”).
On “Rhyme or Reason,” Rubin samples The Zombies’ “Time of the Season.” It’s the best of the samples, and Eminem flips it into a personal tale about his lack of a father.
“(What’s your name?) Marshall(Who’s your daddy?) I don’t know him, but I wonder
(Is he rich like me?) Ha(Has he taken, any time, to show you what you need to live?) No, if he had, he wouldn’t have ended up in these rhymes on my pad I wouldn’t be so mad, my attitude wouldn’t be so bad, yeah dad, I’m the epitome and the prime example of what happens
when the power of the rhyme falls into the wrong hands.”
But other than “Rhyme or Reason,” the sampling falls flat. Eminem has been plenty successful without heavy sampling. It makes for an interesting listen based solely on examining how much the original song was altered, which in each case is very little. But after the first listen, it comes off as an uncreative, desperate attempt at nostalgia.
What made Eminem poignant was his originality. He brought a style and subject matter nobody had heard before. From 1999 to 2004 with the albums “The Slim Shady LP,” “The Marshall Mathers LP,” “The Eminem Show” and “Encore,” he traveled down that road with great success.
That trip ended nine years ago with “Encore,” and one has to wonder if Eminem can continue to reinvent himself. With 2009’s “Relapse,” we saw a record of emotions after a nonfiction relapse from a sleeping pill addiction.
“Recovery” in 2010 was well-done and necessary. It was a brutally honest Eminem after finally kicking his addiction. It was the type of honesty displayed on the “The Slim Shady LP” and “The Marshall Mathers LP,” only it was with a sober mind and clear thoughts about relationships in his life.
The singles “Not Afraid” and “Love the Way You Lie” immediately connected with audiences as well as any of his previous material, both soaring to the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
A better option for Eminem would be telling updated stories of raising his daughter Hailie, a recently crowned high school homecoming queen and his adopted niece and adopted half brother.
Fellow 40-year-old rap club member Nas executed this on his 2012 single “Daughters,” where he analyzes his own techniques as a parent, lyrics littered with guilt and second-guessing his life decisions.
Where rap veterans Nas and Kanye West have continued to push the subject matter forward as a representative time capsule of their life in present day, Eminem seems to have gotten bored with such topics. After “Recovery,” one would expect a progression into more serious topics.
On several tracks, Eminem says he’ll “never grow up,” but at this stage, as a middle-aged man who has held his family together and provided for them in ways his parents couldn’t for him, there’s more meaningful material for Mathers to rap about, but it seems for now he’d rather not do so.
To revert back to a time in life where he was extremely troubled with issues he had already addressed, shows not a lack of improvement as an artist, but a lack of progression in subject matter relative to this stage of his life.
Eminem is still a cunning wordsmith, able to rap circles around 80 percent of emcees on his worst day. But that does no good when it comes time to craft a cohesive and relevant album, and that’s where “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” comes off as an ill-conceived sequel, reaching at what was once authentically provocative and thought-provoking material.
Much like “The Godfather” trilogy, which waited 16 years to release a follow up to 1974’s “The Godfather: Part II,” 13 years between the “The Marshall Mathers LP” and “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” was far too long.
It just makes you want to listen to part one instead.