Eminem, in the past, was one of my favorite rappers. Remember when he slayed Jay-Z on Renegade–spitting better than Hova on Jay’s own album? Remember his classic appearance on the MTV Video Awards? Does he still have it?
Eminem’s albums and singles since The Eminem show have felt luke warm and uninspired–the kind of music that should have come earlier in his career, not later. But it’s tough for a rapper to age. Hip hop is about immediacy. Hunger. Youth. Jay-Z and Eminem, both, in their albums released this year mention famous artists. Jay namechecks Basquiat while Marshall Mathers talks about Picasso. Both of these artists have aged, and gotten rich. Very, very rich. They’ve also changed the rap game, permanently and for the better, as a result of their catalogs. And for both of them, their age shows. On songs like “Berzerk” and “Bad Guy,” Em seems to be trying too hard to recapture how shocking he used to be, and as a result he just sounds desperate. And at times he seems to be telling us what a rebel he is, and as a listener that only makes me think: “Why does he need to remind us?” Show, don’t tell, Shady.
But the album does have its moments. On “Rap God” and “Legacy” Eminem gets back to the kind of honest, self-revelation that made him so brilliant in the first place–discussing his own status as an older, wiser, powerful rap mogul. And the moments that shine, we can see the brilliance he still has. “Survival,” the “Call of Duty” song, isn’t bad but isn’t great. It’s kind of like “Elevators” or “Ass Like That.” It’s clearly a single, and you can hear the money it took to produce. But it’s good. Not great, but good.
On the whole, I’d say half this album is as good as anything Em’s done before and the rest is mostly decent.