** (out of 4)
Eminem is one of the best rappers ever. That fact cannot be disputed.
Yet “The Marshall Mathers LP 2,” the sequel to Em’s 2000 smash, is a frustrating record. Though Slim Shady hasn’t lost a step technically, the bawdy, "shock you for the sake of doing it" style hasn't aged well. There are times where Mathers now sounds like your drunk uncle, goading you to fight him by using slurs in a failed attempt to regain the power of language that was always offensive. We're supposed to sit here and accept lazy jabs at whoever happened to be in the issue of US Weekly—and Monica Lewinsky, whom Eminem’s still joking about for some reason--that was in the studio that day? Give me a damn break.
I'm looking forward to the people who usually decry homophobic and misogynistic lyrics tearing their hamstrings running to throw platitudes on this album. Eminem spouts more BS on “MMLP2” than seven Tyler the Creator's, and you're not going to hear much about it. The lack of outrage already is maddening, especially given the welcome lip service toward tolerance in a post-Macklemore world.
The biggest narrative of "MMLP2" is that now that Eminem isn't in the mainstream spotlight as much anymore, he can wrap himself in the comfort of the music that inspired him. The ‘80s are all over this record, from nods to one-hit wonders J.J. Fad to production from Rick Rubin. Em’s a testament to the days when sheer ability was enough to get you noticed, but for better or for worse, those days are gone. Besides, the album contains a frustrating amount of blatantly pandering anthems ("Legacy," "The Monster" and "Berzerk") that sound like a studio exec is telling the rapper, "Think about the college football highlight packages!" The obvious "Love Game" (featuring Kendrick Lamar) was a novel attempt but ends up sounding like well ... Eminem and Kendrick Lamar releasing a doo-wop single. It's awkward. Very awkward.
I don’t hate Eminem. I’m happy to have him back. I just wish I got the evolved version of the icon I grew up with. I respect Jay-Z because he got old and was open about it. Eminem is a guy trying to pull off the same shocking material I used to absorb while watching WWF in 1999. I'm also angry because this is what the music industry thinks I want. We're expected to put up with average content because the artist gave us something amazing once. We whine about aging rockers showing off their skills by noodling endlessly and expecting to be heralded. We scoff at lyrically dexterous "backpack" rappers spitting rapid-fire rhymes, put our noses in the air and claim "rapping for the sake of rapping" isn't enough to set them apart. So why is Eminem getting a pass to be mediocre? Because he made "Stan?" "The Marshall Mathers LP" was a man from the poorest upbringing opening fire on the establishment and the hypocrisy within it. His last album, "Recovery," saw him coming to terms with getting clean after years of addiction. This? This is the Rolling Stones doing uninspired tours for rich people. This is the most frustrating parts of "Magna Carta Holy Grail." This is realizing the men who inspired you to do great things are only just human beings who like money. It sucks. A lot.