It is a living, breathing, autobiography of an extraordinary and complex artist.
Eminem has a track on the Marshall Mathers LP 2 called “Legacy”. The chorus eloquently repeats the line – “This is my legacy” – and Eminem raps “You don’t respect the legacy I leave behind, y’all can suck a dick / The day you beat me, pigs’ll fly up my ass in a flying saucer full of Italian sausage”.
The juxtaposition is the perfect summation of an album that is both self-aware and introspective, but still brash and cleverly comedic. The record, released as the “follow-up” to the Marshall Mathers LP, isn’t a sequel. It’s the autobiography of Marshall Mathers 2.0, a 27 year-old man turned 41, and it is his legacy.
Out of all of the rap behemoths, Eminem has been having the hardest time. A fortnight ago, I wrote that: “He isn’t going to release an experimental interrobang like Yeezus, but he also isn’t going to put out another “Real Slim Shady”, because that format is no longer unique.” Instead, his new record ties into everything that Eminem does well. There’s huge pop singles, visceral anger, technical shock-and-awe, rock-infused rap, dark humour, and a shed load of self-referencing. Neither element overpowers the rest, and the result is a balanced body of work that is an assimilation of the Marshall Mathers story, thus far.
The record opens with “Bad Guy”, a seven-minute long banger that concludes with a reference to ”Stan”. It’s incredibly self-aware, told from the perspective of Matthew, the little kid who waited for “six hours in the blistering cold”.
“It's just me you and the music now Slim, I hope you hear it, we're in the car right now, wait, here comes my favourite lyric. 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 to get people to buy.”
It’s brutal, and immediately sets up the predicament that Eminem finds himself in. He raps, “Last album now cause after this you'll be officially done / Eminem killed by M&M / Matthew Mitchell, bitch, I even have your initials”, as if to say that it’s the over expectant fans, and old personas of Eminem, that are killing his career. But, “One last time, [he’s] back, before it fades to black and it’s all over… Here goes a wild stab in the dark / As we pick up where the last Mathers left off”. And with that he’s put forth his last mission statement.
This self-referencing continues throughout the record, “So Much Better” ends with the “I’m just playing bitch, y’know I love you” line from “Kill You”. “Asshole” cleverly references the “Thanks for the support asshole” bar from “My Name Is”. “Rap God” samples “Remember Me”. It’s within these small ticks alone, that die-hard Eminem fans will be pleased.
But this record is much more than a Rap Genius users wet dream. It’s continually surprising and progressive.
On “Rap God”, Eminem talks about not being able to shock any more. It’s a fair assumption, and again, evident of Eminem’s self-awareness. But although the subject matter no longer acts as a catalyst to dropped jaws, the sheer creativity, bravery, and at times, downright weirdness of this record, ensures that it is unceasingly perplexing.
He flirts between bare-boned singing on “Stronger Than I Was” - a song so beautiful that it’s the sound of sitting on a porch, bathed in moonlight, breaking down like a scene from a montage in a life-affirming movie – to BBQ chicken Americana on “So Far”, to straight up Rick Rubin influenced rap on “Bezerk”. But it’s the Kendrick Lamar featuring “Love Game” that is perhaps the most pleasing. It’s entirely separate from the expected convention of a Kendrick Lamar track, instead setting up the mise en scene of a tropical themed cocktail party where Kendrick Lamar is the Wedding Singer.
It’s beautiful, and when placed alongside radio singles “Survival” and “Monster” and Marshall Mathers throwbacks, hints at the bi-polar nature of the record. It’s sporadic, in the way that a schizophrenic Eminem album should be, and also incredibly emotionally bare.
Eminem has put himself out on the line on this record. And not just in the sense that he’s flipped up one of the most anticipated guest features of the year into a flamingo tinged strawberry daiquiri high. “Headlights”, which is dedicated to his mother, is one of the deepest songs that he’s ever released. When contextualised next to the line “You selfish bitch / I hope you fucking burn in hell for this shit” from “Cleaning Out My Closet”, the line “I love you Debbie Mathers… And I'm mad I didn't get the chance to thank you for being my Mom and my Dad” cuts deep. It’s representative of how far Eminem has come as an artist.
This album is full of uncertainty, he talks about his fear of technology (“So Far”), running “out of Backstreet Boys to call out” (“Evil Twin”) and how he has to seize his moment and not squander it, because it may soon be gone (“Monster”). But Eminem needn’t be afraid, and at times, he knows it. On “Evil Twin”, he raps “Fuck top 5, bitch, I'm top 4 / And that includes Biggie and Pac, whore / And I got an evil twin, so who do you think that 3rd and that 4th spot's for?”
They’re for you, Eminem, and they’re for Slim Shady.
No other rap album this year has managed to continually surprise in the way that the Marshall Mathers LP 2 does. The only songs that come close are “Bound 2” and “Numbers On The Boards”. I don’t think my jaw closed for a high majority listening through this album, consistently finding myself laughing out loud, pleased, shocked, and at times, emotional.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Eminem stated: “I’m probably working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life”. It’s clear that he has, and it’s paid off. The autobiographical backbone of the record may suggest that to truly appreciate it, you need to understand the backstory of Eminem, and the life of Marshall Mathers. We’re never going to get another Slim Shady LP, another “My Name Is”, or another “Kim”, and once we get over that, the Marshall Mathers LP 2 is the best possible thing that Eminem could have put out. This is his legacy.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanBassil
Read more like this: