That boarded-up Detroit house at 19946 Dresden on the cover of Eminem’s “The Marshall Mathers LP2” says a lot about what lurks inside. Other than Em deploying his gift for high-velocity elocution, a skill that remains one of the great wonders of modern hip-hop, this is a property in decline. Naming this as the official sequel to Eminem’s best album sets up expectations — it’s a gamble that must be backed up with the goods, but ultimately it says that our man of 8 Mile Road has not taken any important artistic turns in over a dozen years.
Based on “Berserk,” a booming first single powered by Ad-Rock style-copping Billy Squier sample chopping, there was reasonable expectation of delivery. But productions from Alex Da Kid, DJ Khalil, Jeff Bhasker and executive producer Rick Rubin cannot mitigate the moldy references to “the ugly Kardashian,” the Smurfs, Ludacris, “Ren & Stimpy,” “The ‘L’ Word,” the Unabomber, Newsweek magazine, Tori Spelling and Lorena Bobbitt or the sad point when “Rhyme or Reason” starts to sound like a middle school class clown trying to “Weird Al” a Zombies classic. Of course, listeners are expected to revel in the technical prowess, but Eminem is talking fast and saying nothing. Only references to the likes of George Zimmerman prove that he’s been paying attention to news in the past decade or so, but that’s fish in a barrel.
His extended raps over radio warhorses work unusually well on “So Far …,” which uses Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” as a surprisingly fun bed for rhymes, but Eminem cannot decide if he’s singing (yes, singing) a love letter to his crumbling Detroit or just complaining a little more about his fans and “these kids with their cameras with cell phones.” This plays more like “Gran Torino” than the next great chapter in hip-hop — it’s like Eminem wants us all to get off his lawn. Guest appearances by the returning Rihanna (providing the soaring chorus on “Monster”), Sia and Kendrick Lamar (on the otherwise slack Wayne Fontana-sampling “Love Game”) just point out that it takes a lot to prop up that house these days.
— George Lang