This is a line that comes within the first 30 seconds of “Bad Guy,” the self-indulgent, self-aware thesis statement of a track that opens Eminem’s latest album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2.
It’s worth noting that this lyric is a lie.
Openly joking about it within the same song—the obvious attempted cash grab on the nostalgia factor of those aching for “classic” Eminem, the man known as Marshall Mathers has crafted a “sequel” to his most successful album. And just like the latest Die Hard movie, MMLP2 defines unnecessary. It’s bloated, uninteresting, frustrating, and laughable at best. To put it bluntly, The Marshall Mather LP 2 is, without a doubt, one of the worst albums I have ever heard, and it has been an absolute chore to listen to it.
It’s hard for me now, at 30, to imagine that in 1999, I liked Eminem. A girl in my high school Spanish class got a copy of the Slim Shady LP for her birthday which I borrowed and taped, as this was long before the days of burning a CD. It was the kind of thing I only listened to with my Walkman, because it was just SOOOO shocking. I mean it’s even hard for me to imagine that I liked Eminem enough at this point that my friend Jory and I would rap the verses to “Guilty Conscience” in class when we had a substitute teacher that had checked out. It’s even harder for me to imagine that a year later, shortly after the Marshall Mathers LP was released, I actually went out and spent my hard earned money on it.
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/117853669″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
I remember not really liking the Marshall Mathers LP that much after I regrettably bought it—listening to it in my giant white mini-van when I would drive to and from school, there was something that was keeping me from connecting with it. That something, I realized, is Eminem’s penchant for being a caricature, a cartoon, if you will. Big budget cartoony beats courtesy of Dr. Dre, and in the case of MMLP2, Rick Rubin, who also was apparently behind the boards. Em’s overblown cartoony delivery of his lyrics never really resonated with me at age 17, and it still doesn’t today.
“I came to the world at a time when it was in need of a villain…”
This is the opening line to the aptly titled “Asshole.” And yes, we get it; you were so controversial for a time. But that time has come and gone. And much like a similarly “shocking” artist of yesteryear—Marilyn Manson—everyone has moved on.
The Eminem of 2013 needs us more than we need him, and the question that lingers over the course of MMLP2 is this: Who is Em’s intended audience? Is it the people who have grown up with his music over the last 15 years? Or is it the always present crop of junior high students that love controversy? No one in my age demographic should ever seriously be listening to Eminem. But to a 13 year old, nervously listening with their headphones on so their parents don’t find out what kind of filth is in their home, Eminem is probably a paradigm shifting artist.
Marshall Mathers, now over the hill, has created a mid-life crisis set to music. In “Bad Guy,” all of his various alter-egos and characters converge, and he’s kidnapped the brother of the character Stan (from the infamous song “Stan” on first MMLP), and then ends up dead. By the end of the song, clocking in at 7 minutes, you’ll wish you were the one who had died. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about MMLP2, except when it ends.
Eminem is the Jay Leno of rap music—both have a love of making incredibly timely Monica Lewinsky jokes. MMLP2 may as well have been written five or six years ago, given how incredibly out of date many of the references are—Britney Spears’s stint in rehab, Backstreet Boys, ‘Nsync. With lyrics like this, it’s like the halcyon days of “Total Request Live” never came to an end. Then there’s the Lorena Bobbitt joke that comes at the end of the album. Oh what’s that? 1992 called? It wants its forgotten pop culture references back… When he does decide to live in the present day, referencing present day pop stars or other rappers in the game, it feels incredibly forced. Hearing him say the name Kanye seems blasphemous almost.
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/117845869″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
Em also has a hard time not being incredibly self-aware. He references his own lyrics from previous songs on multiple occasions, leading me to wonder if he just sat and listened to his own Greatest Hits album for inspiration prior to recording this album.
In the mid-90’s reign of shiny suited hip-hop, critics complained that there were no new ideas. Puff Daddy and the Bad Boy Crew made a living off of taking old songs, sampling them, borrowing the refrain, and then making a new song out of it. This is a technique that eventually went away, or at least everybody just came to terms with it, and we all moved on with our lives. Eminiem, proving again that he’s living in the past, blatantly phones it in on “Rhyme and Reason,” a song that doesn’t so much borrow from The Zombies’s “Time of the Season,” or even use it as a point of departure; instead it just seems like he’s rapping over the song as it plays on the radio—
“What’s your name? (Shady)”
“Who’s your daddy? (I don’t give a fuck)”
“Is he rich like me? (Doubt it.)”
“Rhyme or Reason” is also one of the many unfortunate times on the album where Em decides he needs to sing. Now, look, I am not a singer at all—can’t hold a note. Can’t carry a tune. I know that about myself, and so I don’t try. So when people out there that aren’t “strong” singers make an attempt, I have to give them some credit for being brave enough to try. Eminem, believe it or not, is not a strong singer. He just yells. In fact, there’s a lot of yelling on MMLP2. Yelling when he raps. Yelling when he sings. Why is Em always yelling? Why, after 15 years, is he still so angry at the world? It’s a shtick that wore out its welcome ages ago. He yell/sings his way through the saccharine ballad “Stronger Than I Was,” and then he just yells during the confessional apology to his mother, “Headlights,” featuring that suspenders wearing, squishy faced mother-fucker from the band fun.
The album ends with a song called “Evil Twin,” where, among other things, Mathers makes an incredibly irrelevant Forgetting Sarah Marshalll reference, as well as a crude nod to the late Heath Ledger, before claiming that he and his evil twin hold the third and fourth spot on a list of the top MCs—right behind Tupac and Biggie.
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/117843443″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
It wouldn’t be an Eminem album without a bunch of rampant homophobia running throughout the album. One of the biggest controversies surround Mathers in the early days of his career was his excessive use of the word “faggot,” claiming that it wasn’t meant to be a hateful slur. Oh good heavens no. It was meant to “take away someone’s manhood.” It’s an insult you see—an insult to people who aren’t manly like he is. Homophobia is addressed very strangely towards the end of “Bad Guy”—“Slim, this is for him and Frank Ocean, Hope you can swim good! Now say you hate homos again.” It’s a bizarre juxtaposition—Frank Ocean, the openly bi-sexual R&B singer of the Odd Future collective, “ocean” connecting to swimming, and then the last bit there—“say you hate homos again.”
Well he does say that later on in the album. So this is just an odd contradiction that I do not understand.
It’s been fascinating to watch the commercial and critical downfall of Eminem over the last decade. For some strange reason, his third album, The Eminem Show, received a warm 9.1 out of 10 on P4K—back when the actual content of their reviews were jokes and people only looked at the numbers. In comparison, Em’s last album, Recovery, scored a whopping 2.8. Mainstream publications still seem to love him—his previous two albums earned four out of five stars from Rolling Stone—and man, they have their finger on the pulse of what’s hot. Sales wise, The Marshall Mathers LP sold 27 million copies worldwide—10 million in the US alone; to put that downfall into perspective, Recovery sold 10 million worldwide, and 4 million in the US.
So why does Eminem still exist? He has no new ideas, and yet, like Hollywood blockbuster sequels that continue to shit out the same idea over and over again, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is a thing that happened—money was spent to make this album happen; calories were burned while writing and recording it. Certainly there will be people that disagree with my opinion on this record—somehow Eminem still has a loyal fan base. People will spend their money in exchange for MMLP2. Somehow, there are people that will agree with Mathers when he calls himself a “Rap God.”
The final take away from The Marshall Mathers LP 2?
You shouldn’t worship false rap idols.
Kevin Krein is a Minnesota based writer, and has been operating the award winning music blog Anhedonic Headphones since January 2013. For nearly as long, he has been an occasional contributor to Bearded Gentlemen Music. From December 2013 until its the summer of 2017, he wrote “The Bearded Life” column for the Southern Minn Scene magazine, and from the summer of 2017, until the fall of 2018, wrote “The Column of Disquiet” for The Next Ten Words. His writing also regularly appears in The Wagazine and in River Valley Woman. At the beginning of 2019, he launched the all new Anhedonic Headphones podcast, which you may subscribe to in such legitimate outlets as iTunes and Google Play.
He is a vegan, a friend to all animals, and a huge jerk toward most people.