Matt On Music: Is There Still Hope For Eminem?

Eminem performs during the release party of his new album “Relapse” at the Motor City Casino in Detroit, Michigan, on Tuesday, May 19, 2009. (Kimberly P. Mitchell/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

When did Eminem just lose it? Music critics mostly said that 2004’s “Encore,” which I personally loved, had a significant drop in quality that has continued well into his comeback. Some claim that he never lost it at all, and others say he never even had it.

Some say that it was his comeback, with 2009’s “Relapse,” where he began to lose his power. Or maybe 2010’s “Recovery,” which seemed like a very awkward attempt to take a step back and recover, if you will, from the negative reception of “Relapse” which was an attempt to come back from his hiatus with a bang, and yet it barely made a pop. It was “The Slim Shady LP” without subtlety, and it proved just how important subtlety is to Eminem’s music.

Likewise, the follow-up “Recovery” was a self-conscious “Marshall Mathers LP,” just as personal, but lacked depth and personality, seeming more like an after school special than a hip-hop record.

In 2011, bad meets evil with his duo with Royce da 5’9”—released “Hell: The Sequel.” Besides the dreadful hit “Lighters,” it was better than the past two releases. To be fair, it still wasn’t great, yet it was intense and shockingly subtle but never seemed sensationalistic. With that better material, Eminem could actually release another great album.

So, the recent announcement that his next album titled “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” is coming out in November 2013 has definitely got me thinking. The title is brilliant. Whether he intended it or not, it creates an excuse to compare his older and newer work, and to ask questions: Is it a legitimate sequel to “The Marshall Mathers LP,” or is it just a title? And most importantly, is there still hope for Eminem?

If you need to generate excitement for a musical release, making it a sequel to the artist’s most famous work is definitely a way to do it. The most anticipated albums of next year are Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run 2,” Van Morrison’s “Moondance: Part II” and Paul McCartney’s “Return of Sgt. Pepper.”

The first single, “Berzerk,” encouraged me to lower my expectations a bit. A tribute to old-school hip-hop that has been compared to the Beastie Boys, “Berzerk” seems like an experiment to see how upbeat a song can get while still remaining exponentially dull. On the chorus, Eminem showcases his singing voice, which is as awful as ever, and the track’s Kevin Federline reference is irrelevant. At least the celebrity shout-outs in “The Real Slim Shady” were relevant when that song was released.

Back to the main question at hand: is there still hope for Eminem? And, despite all that I’ve said, my answer is yes. He has gone almost 10 years without a great album; the ones he’s released since his hiatus aren’t very good at all and the first single from the new album isn’t particularly memorable, but I still think he has the ability to put out a good release.

The main reason for this is that he’s responsible for one of my five favorite songs of this short decade, “Roman’s Revenge” from Nicki Minaj’s “Pinky Friday” album. Of course it’s technically Nicki Minaj’s song and Eminem is just a featuring credit. Still, it is my favorite song Minaj has ever done, and it’s certainly not her best performance, so it has to be because of him. Em’s performance is intense, angry and brutal in the way his older Slim Shady songs were.

It makes me bite my nails every time I hear it. The homophobia and sexism are as problematic as ever, but they prove that he is an artist that is ruled by his hatred. Without his hatred, he has no power so, against my better judgment and morals, I root for Eminem to be an awful person—or, at least, play an awful person—for the sake of the music.

His appearance on Drake’s “Forever” was also very strong, which makes me wonder why Eminem is so loose on other people’s songs and yet so uncomfortable on his own. If he can bring the energy he has in his guest appearances over to his own songs, “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” might actually live up to its name.

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