It's a ballsy move by Eminem, calling his most recent album The Marshall Mathers LP2. Its predecessor was one of the most influential rap albums of the early 2000s, and the record that made Eminem a superstar. It was a fantastic album, filled with the kind of storytelling, humor, darkness, and rap virtuosity that we have come to expect of Eminem. The sequel is of course not as good as the original. In fact, it is pretty disappointing.
With The Marshall Mathers LP2, I wish Eminem would have gone all out and made a concept album. He could have either written a continuation of the "story" of the first Marshall Mathers LP or come up with a new tale, produced in the spirit of that record. That would have been dope. Instead he has made another typical Eminem album: a couple of serious tracks, a couple of funny ones, a skit. Oh, and then he threw in some references here and there to songs from The Marshall Mathers LP. On top of that, he let Rick Rubin convince him that rap-rock is about to make a big comeback. I am not a million-dollar producer, but I can tell you, rock riff hip-hop beats are not going to be the next hot thing. They might have worked for the Beastie Boys in 1986, but not for Eminem in 2013.
Speaking of concept albums, the only other rapper to feature on The Marshall Mathers LP2 is Kendrick Lamar, who is riding on the success of his most recent album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. That album is a perfect example of a strong topical record. It is dead serious, but has humor. It has a complex and coherent narrative; a story told through a series of smash hits. In a lot of ways, Lamar is today what Eminem was 13 years ago. He is the current rap wonder child, an incredibly talented lyricist and technical rapper. His appearance on The Marshall Mathers LP2, on the silly song "Love Game," is unsettling. It sounds as if he is channeling Eminem's Slim Shady persona, making funny voices, dropping complicated rhymes about nonsensical subjects. Is this really what the former and current rap regents of the world came up with when they came together in the studio for the first time? For the sake of Kendrick Lamar's future career, it would be best if he just said fuck you to Eminem, like he dissed Drake and ASAP Rocky, and never looked back. It would be a shame if Lamar went down the uneven, confused musical path of Eminem.
One more thing that's annoying about The Marshall Mathers LP2 is the senseless and misogynistic violence that permeates the lyrics. In the opening track, Eminem puts himself in the shoes of Matthew, the brother of Stan, the obsessed fan from the hit song "Stan." Matthew wants to kill Marshall - or is it Marshall that wants to kill himself? Or does Marshall want to kill Kim, his ex-wife? Remember her? It is hard to give a fuck. It has been 14 years since Eminem first fantasized about murdering Kim and disposing of her corpse. Not only was it never funny, but at this point the theme is also old and uninteresting.
In the skit "Parking Lot," we find out what happened after Eminem's botched robbery-turned-murder, a scene featured in the closing track "Criminal" off The Marshall Mathers LP. Spoiler: he shoots a dog, then himself. Snore. Since his first self-titled LP, we have lived through eight installments of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and glorified street violence has lost some of its shock value. More interesting, are the moments when Eminem stops trying to shock and instead focuses on rapping really fast and technically. In "Rap God," Eminem shows us why he was once such a musical phenomenon. Sure, rap is not about speed, but showmanship is far more compelling than shock rock.