Hip-hop has always had an obsession with artists creating alter-egos to pour into their music. It’s the main reason so many rappers have stage names (and why Kanye West never has). The violent, nasty side of Marshall Mathers (aka Slim Shady aka Eminem) is back in The Marshall Mathers LP 2.
Unfortunately, so is the misogyny and homophobia. Over the course of 19 tracks Eminem spits some masterful lyrics. So it’s a shame when he resorts to violent ranting against women and ‘gay boys’. At its best the wordplay is wickedly witty “Got ‘em on the fence whether to picket / But quick to get it impaled when I tell ‘em to stick it” (‘Berzerk’). But for every gem, there’s a lyric like this: “I body slam her onto the cement, until the concrete gave and created a sinkhole / Bury this stink ho in it, then paid to have the street re-paved” (‘Love Game’).
It’s violent to the point of ridiculousness. Maybe that’s the point. Violent misogyny and homophobia have always played a part in the macho posturing of mainstream rap music. It’s something that isn’t questioned nearly enough. Whether the level Eminem takes it to might be satirical is up for debate. Regardless, the barrage of hatred that pours out of almost every song is impossible to ignore. The ‘shock factor’ violence doesn’t help the album one bit. If anything it holds it back.
‘Rap God’ is the beautiful, twisted masterpiece that shows just what Eminem was shooting for on this sequel. Stating that he’s been making a killing “ever since Bill Clinton was still in office”, he takes a self-referential look back at his reign. He disses everyone under the sun and satirises his critics, sarcastically spouting the “it’s not hip-hop, it’s pop” cliché. It’s a jaw dropping track that is kept fresh by embracing trap, but in that respect it’s alone.
Most of the album feels dated, and that means that many of the punches fail to land. The sampling of Billy Squier’s ‘The Stroke’ leaves ‘Berzerk’ hanging in limbo between 80s rock and Eminem’s brand of rap, which is still rooted in the 00s. ‘So Much Better’ is straight out of the first ‘Mathers LP’ and ‘The Monster’ returns to the pop sound of 2010’s ‘Recovery’ (which isn’t helped by the presence of Rihanna). It’s as if Eminem is rummaging through his own career trying to find a comfortable spot to progress from and failing to settle on one particular sound.
Every song is crammed with satire and wordplay, but the misogyny and homophobia leave a bitter taste. He mixes up his flow with ease and shoots through lyrics faster than a speeding bullet, but there’s no sign of anything that we haven’t seen before. His witty substance and sharp delivery are enough to embarrass most mainstream rappers, but that only makes all the violent rambling so much more pointless. It’s obvious that Eminem is struggling to recapture his rebellious side. For every positive, there’s something dragging it down.
A haywire sequel, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’ often feels like a midlife crisis. The ugly misogyny and homophobia are hard to swallow and much of the material is badly dated. The good comes from Eminem’s sheer force as a rapper, but it isn’t enough to stop most of the songs creaking. A 41 year old man trying to recapture his youth was always going to be a hit-and-miss affair, and it shows more than anything that Eminem has struggled to develop as an artist over the 13 years since the first ‘Mathers LP’ was released.