To understand Eminem’s eighth studio album, “The Marshall Mather LP 2,” you must first travel back to 2000 and listen to Eminem’s raw, emotional and controversial effort “The Marshall Mathers LP.”
The fastest selling hip-hop album of all time upon release, “The Marshall Mathers LP” was insulting, loud and extremely explicit. And it’s a classic. Tracks such as “Kim” and “Amittyville” showcase an inner anger and passion that are prominent in what is one of the most honest and cutting rap albums ever made.
The album also contained some of Eminem’s most recognizable and popular songs including “Stan” and “The Real Slim Shady.” So the question is, does “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” capture the same rage, emotion and twisted sense of humor that the Eminem from 2000 was able to create?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. If you are expecting to hear the same style and unmitigated force that was in “The Marshall Mathers LP,” you will be disappointed. But this isn’t surprising considering that it has been over a decade since the album’s release and Eminem is a completely different person and artist now.
So why did he choose to name the album “The Marshall Mathers LP 2?” From what I can tell, the album isn’t about being a direct sequel to “The Marshall Mathers LP: and sounding exactly the same. it’s about nostalgia. From this standpoint, the album works well, with many nods to Eminem’s old music including lyrical references and even snippets of old songs within certain beats (such as the reference to “The Real Slim Shady” within the song “So Far… “).
Eminem even writes lyrics about his father who left him as a child in several songs as well, which was also a recurring theme in “The Marshall Mathers LP.” So let’s go track by track and look at what makes up this album (not including deluxe version tracks).
•Bad Guy: The story behind this song (spoiler alert if you haven’t heard it yet) is that the narrator, Matthew Mitchell, is the little brother of Stan Mitchell, a character from The Marshall Mathers LP. Matthew decides to murder Eminem as revenge because Eminem caused the death of Stan many years ago. Though “Bad Guy” is a sequel to “Stan,” it does not capture nearly the same amount of emotion and powerful lyricism. A common theme in this album is the more pop-like production that seems to detract from the raw emotion behind the lyrics. The story-telling is great, but Eminem never really seems to get into character during this song, making it a little bland. However, the idea behind the song and it’s powerful conclusion make up for these things. One other thing to note is that the simplistic rhyme schemes and over-exaggeration of the last words in sentences seem to be Eminem’s attempt to mimic the juvenile and inexperienced rapper that Matthew Mitchell would be, which is an incredibly creative effort on his part. 3.5/5
•Parking Lot (Skit): This one minute skit is a direct continuation of the final song on “The Marshall Mathers LP,” “Criminal.” There’s not much to say about this one. It contains many references to lyrics from “Criminal” and serves to further link the two albums. Near the end of the skit, Eminem shoots a dog and himself, acts which are commonplace in the satirical and outrageously over-the-top mind of Marshall Mathers. While the shooting of the dog almost feels like an attempt to capture the old, offensive Eminem that we know and love, it feels forced and might be going a little too far for no reason. It’s not that I’m offended by it (it’s not real of course), but I feel like he could have come up with more funny or entertaining things to put into the one skit on the album. It’s just a little empty. 2.5/5
•Rhyme Or Reason: I am a total sucker for the sampling of old classics for use in rap songs. Eminem samples The Zombies “Time Of The Season” for this track, and it works wonderfully. That alone makes this song a winner. Eminem’s lyrics are also ace as always, though I will admit the chorus is a little awkward. Eminem’s yoda impression is slightly jarring and out of place, but despite this “Rhyme Or Reason” is a very solid entry to the album and it is one of my favorites. 4/5
•So Much Better: The beat on this song is SO wonderfully reminiscent of the old Dr. Dre production that graced “The Marshall Mathers LP.” With similar themes to “Kill You” from The “Marshall Mathers LP,” this song is the closest that you will get to the Eminem from 13 years ago on this album. The hook is catchy and outrageous at the same time, and shows us that the same mad genius is still alive and well within Eminem. 4.5/5
•Survival: This is where things start to go a little bit downhill for me. With a cheesy guitar-line in the background and an uninteresting and generic chorus, this song is just boring. This is the promotional “Call Of Duty” affiliated track on the album, and it sounds like something that could be straight off of Eminem’s 2008 album “Recovery.” For this reason it feels incredibly out of place on “The Marshall Mathers LP 2.” I understand that it’s supposed to be a high-energy anthem, but it just doesn’t have enough energy to interest me. It’s like a carbon copy of the last “Call Of Duty” Eminem track, “Won’t Back Down.” 2/5
•Legacy: The first song on the album with more serious and introspective tones, “Legacy” is an honest look by Eminem at himself and his past. A nice and simple piano riff combined with slightly muffled vocals weave a sad and nostalgic atmosphere. This song feels genuine and comes from a real place. However, this song commits one of my largest pet peeves in music: The cheesy rain sound effects in the background. It’s a sort of cheap way to make your song seem sad and depressing rather than just rely on the music to do so. That knocks it down a few points. Also the loud uttering of “Italian sausage” really breaks the otherwise captivating theming of the song for me. The chorus is a little boring too, and the singer never really gets to shine because of this. 3.5/5
•A–hole (Feat. Skylar Grey): On this track, amidst a wild and raucous drumline, Eminem admits that he is a bit of a hypocritical a–hole. He relishes in this fact, and always has throughout his career. The lyrics are absolutely stuffed with references to “The Marshall Mathers LP,” and it is wonderful. Also, the Insane Clown Posse diss is wonderful and shows that Eminem still isn’t afraid to call out celebrities in outrageous ways just as he always has. Once again though, the chorus is boring and unimpressive for Skylar Grey. I don’t see the point in getting a good singer to be on your song if you aren’t going to give them anything interesting to do. 4/5
•Berzerk: This song is an attempt to pay homage old-school rap, with a very Beastie Boys-esque beat and feel. The problem is, it’s not old-school rap, and it’s not the Beastie Boys, and it just doesn’t work. Eminem messes around with record-scratching effects and other trade-marks of a time long past, but this doesn’t really do anything to improve a generally boring and uninteresting song. The sample of Billy Squier’s “The Stroke” doesn’t really do much to improve things because it is watered down and drowned out by all of the other effects and vocals happening around it. The song just feels disjointed and full of too many ideas, and the lyrics aren’t engaging enough to distract from this. 2/5
•Rap God: A six-minute barrage of rapid-fire lyrics and absolutely no breaks or choruses, this song is impressive. Lyrically, this song is amazing and probably the best display of Eminem’s raw skills on the whole album. Eminem even spits 101 words in 16 seconds during one section, rapping “Uh, summa, lumma, dooma, lumma you assuming I’m a human/ What I gotta do to get it through to you I’m superhuman/ Innovative and I’m made of rubber/ So that anything you say is ricocheting off of me and it’ll glue to you/ I’m devastating, more than ever demonstrating/ How to give a motherf—in’ audience a feeling like it’s levitating/ Never fading, and I know the haters are forever waiting/ For the day that they can say I fell off, they’ll be celebrating/ Cause I know the way to get ’em motivated/ I make elevating music, you make elevator music.” Unfortunately, from a production standpoint, this couldn’t be further from The Marshall Mathers LP. This point in the album is where we are the furthest from the Eminem of 2000 and it becomes unclear why this is a sequel at all. Nothing about this song is reminiscent of “The Marshall Mathers LP” besides a few referential lyrics. Stylistically, it is new age Eminem. The beat is so repetitive and boring that it gets a little grating after a while. 3.5/5
•Brainless: The production of this song is refreshing after the awful beat of “Rap God,” and is once again more reminiscent of a classic Dre beat. Eminem is nostalgic and introspective within the lyrics of this track. Eminem reflects, “It’s like you grew up on drug street, from jump street/ But if I had just kept my head up my a–/ I could accomplish any task, practicing trash talking in a trance/ Locked in my room yeah, but I got some plans Momma.” The chorus is catchy and works well and the lyrics are great, but this is nothing new. There isn’t much that stands out about it, bad or good. 3.5/5
•Stronger Than I Was: Eminem sings a lot on this one. That’s not really a good thing. The lyrics are cheesy, and it seems out of character and out of place. I understand that it’s supposed to be a genuine and heartfelt ballad, but the weird beat ruins any chance of this, as well as the fact that Eminem isn’t exactly the most experienced at singing ballads. The great rap verse at the end makes up for this a little bit, but I would have rather just had three great rap verses. 2.5/5
•The Monster (Feat. Rihanna): I hate this song. Why? It’s another generic, bland, radio-friendly pop tune that doesn’t belong on this album. Eminem probably needed something good to sell as a single and decided that he would just repeat the success of his last collaboration with Rihanna, “Love The Way You Lie.” This song is boring, uninspired and has no shock value. This is everything that I hate about the Eminem of today in one neat little package. This could go right onto “Recovery” and nobody would notice the difference, and I truly feel like it has absolutely no place on this otherwise nostalgic and introspective record. To the casual listener it is catchy and fun, and it does contain a somewhat interesting message, but it never reaches the level of profundity or draws nearly enough uniqueness to keep me engaged. 1.5/5
•So Far…: Wow this track comes out of nowhere. I’ve never heard anything like it to be honest. It goes through a huge variety of transitions and styles with several distinct samples from Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good,” to a sample directly pulled from “The Real Slim Shady” from “The Marshall Mathers LP.” Somehow it all works wonderfully as the song remains entertaining and throws unexpected turns throughout. 4.5/5
•Love Game (Feat. Kendrick Lamar): This unique song samples “Game of Love” by Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders. Like I said earlier, I love it when rappers sample old classics, so this is another winner for me. Lamar is an up and coming rapper who has garnered a large following by dissing other rappers. It seems like a bandwagon move to have him featured on the album, but I will admit that he offers a solid verse that fits perfectly into the track. 4/5
•Headlights (Feat. Nate Ruess): While “Stronger Than I Was” didn’t work as a genuine and heartfelt track, this track triumphs as such. This is the most genuine and touching song on the album as Eminem talks directly to his mother, apologizing for all of the insulting and dated references to her such as the track “Cleaning Out My Closet” from his fourth album “The Eminem Show.” Nate Ruess from the band fun. offers a great chorus and verse because his voice and style perfectly compliment the atmosphere of the track. This is an emotional peak for the album and is my personal favorite track on “The Marshall Mathers LP 2.” 4.6/5
•Evil Twin: Eminem finishes off the album with another track that disses many celebrities and has many references to pop culture packed into every line. The lyrics are great, but once again the beat is repetitive and uninteresting. Rather than going out with a BANG, Eminem goes out with a bang. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid track, but it doesn’t stand out. By this point in the album, it’s easy to glaze over it because it just doesn’t engage the listener. I almost think it would have been better if Eminem had just ended the album with “Headlights,” or put this track before “Headlights,” because this song does not feel as emotionally conclusive or effective with this placement. 3/5
There are definitely many solid efforts on this album, and it holds a great deal of self-referential nostalgia towards Eminem’s career as a whole. That being said, it seems that Eminem has lost the fiery passion and rage that set him aside from all other rappers back when “The Marshall Mathers LP” first hit the scene.
The quality of the lyrics is still there, but the delivery somehow feels slightly hollow or disingenuous. That combined with the more “pop-oriented” production makes for a slightly forgettable album with solid highs and glaring lows.