Album sequels are problematic. To try and re-create the mood and success of the original is almost impossible and instead creatively regressive. When rappers make sequels to albums that are deemed “classic” they set themselves up for an immediate fail because they’re implying that the sequel will be much better than the actual “classic”, and yet there are so many factors that make a “classic” that cannot be recreated a second time. With Marshall Mathers LP 2 it feels as if you’re listening to Marshall Mathers LP except it’s thirteen years later and the themes on the album sound outdated and boring. If there is a purpose to sequels it should be that they display growth in all factors of the original album instead of sounding like you’re listening to the original twice over. MMLP2 does the exact opposite.
Eminem is without a doubt one of the best technical rappers alive. “Rap God” has him spewing more than six thousand words in six minutes; a feat of rap herculean proportions. Even at 41, Eminem still has the acrobatic wordplay that made him famous. No rapper alive can match Eminem’s word-scrambling, syllable-morphing speed work when he rhymes. Yet even technical prowess can hold an album for only so long. What made Eminem so provocative and appealing thirteen years ago has now lost its shock value because of its familiarity. The gay-bashing, misogynistic, seething-with-rage-and-fury Eminem just sounds tired and boring in 2013. The world has changed dramatically but Eminem is still the same old Eminem. He references Monica Lewinsky, Backstreet Boys and Kevin Federline as if he’s stuck in 2000. What made Eminem so controversial has now made him a cliché. New vanguards of rappers, such as Odd Future, have now taken over the “shock value” market of rap. It seems as if Eminem is trying to hold on to the celeb-hating, self-deprecating, juvenile funny formula that made Marshall Mathers LP a classic in 2002 but it just ends up sounding like a desperate middle-aged guy trying to find his relevance in the new hip-hop landscape that’s leaving him behind.
Example of things on the album that highlight what a cleverly executed sequel should look like, are for instance the opening track “Bad Guy” which offers a twist to the iconic track “Stan” where Stan’s brother is planning a revenge plot. “Parking Lot” carries on with the narrative in the middle of “Criminal” from Marshall Mathers LP where the getaway driver from the heist runs away and the shooter dies. The track “Headlights” has him apologising to his mom who he’s insulted and ridiculed for nearly all of his career. This apology might’ve made a difference ten years ago but now however, no one really cares. “Legacy” is the must-listen of the album highlighting what happens when Eminem uses his amazing lyrical ability for relatable storytelling that his audience can empathise with. The rest of the tracks celebrate the worst of Eminem with homophobic slurs being bandied about as if he didn’t perform with Elton John. Songs about killing the mother of his children and the words “whore” and “bitch” are littered everywhere on the album as if Eminem doesn’t have three teenage daughters that he’s raised entirely himself. Eminem’s shtick has always been to be offensive and to incite controversy but now as father and a middle-aged man; his gimmick is starting to get lame.
Another difference is in the production. Eminem has left Dr. Dre out of this album and instead has recruited Rick Rubin. The result is an album that sounds like rock-rap – similar to a Beastie Boy offering. But what sounded fresh in the 80’s isn’t exactly what’s good for Eminem now.
This album is saved by Eminem’s lyrical gymnastics but it seems as if Eminem has the gift of wordplay but just doesn’t know how to use it constructively. Words are used to just fill lines to make them sound mesmerising but the result is just empty rhymes saying a whole lot of nothing. Eminem is trying to navigate his way through this new hip-hop era using old-school formulas and it’s just not working. Either he retires gracefully and not ruin his legacy with another half-ass album or he comes up with something original that will cement his place in the pantheon of rap gods.
Written by Nomusa Mthethwa (@NomusaMT)