Friday, 8 November 2013

Guest Post - Jim Mackney: The Marshall Mathers LP

They tried to make him a social pariah, they tried to banish him from the airwaves but every missile lobbed at him he caught, rewired it and threw it back so hard it decimated every argument. 

It was the year 2000 and Eminem had just released The Marshall Mathers LP. A scathing, brutal, brilliant rap album that became the fastest-selling solo album in US history. It contained some of the greatest hip-hop songs ever seen on record and Eminem, at this point, was untouchable and his critics hated him for it. 

It is thirteen years later and Eminem is in somewhat of a rut. He is no longer the social barometer for offensive lyrics, his raps have been said to be lacking and he has released three underwhelming albums in a row. ‘Encore’ was patchy to say the least, ‘Relapse’ was a tired attempt to reconnect to his alter-ego Slim Shady and ‘Recovery’ which despite showing a much more consistent flow was shallow lyrically. 

The album opens with ‘Bad Guy’, a seven minute follow-up to ‘Stan’ and it is easily the most astonishing song has released in over a decade. Eminem introduces Matthew (“that’s my little brother man, he’s only six years old") and chronicles Matthew’s long awaited revenge. The song is, weirdly, a way for Eminem to take a shot at himself, as Matthew mimics (“I’m the bad guy who makes fun of people that die/And hey, here’s a sequel to my Mathers LP just to try and get people to buy”) - mimicking and attacking his critics in the opening two verses. A classic Eminem quick punch to the jugular. The song contains deeper self analysis, and knowingly references the double standards he has of being a horrible misogynist in his lyrics and then in the same breath defends his daughters. He understands his own hypocrisies and it makes for wonderful listening. 

The Marshall Mathers LP2 is Eminem’s best album in over a decade. Its links to MMLP1 are explicit, with its rock-rap production and furiously fast flow. Many lines on the album are carefully chosen echoes of the past that both subvert his old lyrics and delightfully play with our expectations. On ‘Asshole’, it’s the altered line “Soul’s escaping through this asshole that is gaping", whilst ‘So Far’ has him again “spittin’ on your onion rings” and the ‘Rap God’s dizzying flow hides references to ‘Kill You’ and ‘My Dad’s Gone Crazy’. 

But the greatest example of messing with our expectations is on Bad Guy where Eminem raps (“It’s just you and the music now, Slim, I hope you hear it; we’re in the car right now – wait, hear comes my favourite lyric!”). Eminem knows exactly what he is doing when he busts out this reference, he is manipulating words he knows are chiseled into the brains of millions of listeners around the world and the effect is as jaw dropping as it is great. 

Apart from the occasional freestyle in the last few years listening to Eminem has felt like chore. Bogged down in average beats, underwhelming lyrics and no genuine surprises. MMLP2 takes this and throws it out the window. He is genuinely funny (‘So Far…’ in particular) and throws everything into making this album a success, even including an unexpected apology to his most hated sparring partner, his mother, on ‘Headlights’, (“I love you Debbie Mathers, oh what a tangled web we have”). Elsewhere ‘Stronger Than I Was’, a five minute ballad that is the first moment on the album where you question Eminem’s judgment. This quickly passes however as he settles into the song and you realise it is an inspired move and those initial reservations are forgotten. The Beastie Boys-inspired ‘Berzerk’ is a particular highlight and the huge Rihanna chorus of ‘The Monster’ proves once again that fusing rap and pop is something Eminem can do better than any other rapper in the game

MMLP2 contains so many raps that another rapper could probably fill three albums. His machine gun-like delivery is exemplary throughout, consistently making the listener wonder where he will take them next and only at one point, during Survival, did I question his judgment. It is not that Survival is a bad song it is just obviously the weakest, feeling like an unused Recovery track. The only guest spot Eminem offers up on the album is to Kendrick Lamar. After hearing Kendrick’s verse on ‘Control’ it would be interesting to see who comes out on top but MMLP2 itself proves this irrelevant. Kendrick has a long way to go to touch Eminem. 

When I first heard Eminem thirteen years ago, it felt like a whole new world had opened up to me. This world was scary but words themselves had a new meaning and my perception of what you could do with them had changed. Eminem was the biggest rapper in the world at that point and he cemented his success with the brilliant ‘The Eminem Show’ two years later. It may have taken him just over a decade to scale those heights again but with MMLP2 Eminem has once again proved himself as a brilliant, demented genius. MMLP2 is one of the most impressive, enjoyable, and addictive hip-hop albums of the year.