Monday, November 18, 2013

The Best Tracks from The Marshall Mathers LP 2

Eminem is back with the Marshall Mathers LP 2. I ranked the tracks 15-1, check out the top songs in order and enjoy my thoughts on all them!

15. Stronger than I Was - A really weak, out of place effort to create a sense of sensitivity. It's a Kim song, but the exact opposite of the unforgettable one from the first Marshall Mathers (warning: if you've never listened to the first Kim, you're ready to have your sense of humanity berated for 6 minutes, probably don't listen. Like Dance with the Devil or just about anything in Breaking Bad. Oh my Lord, that Breaking Bad scene...). It's similarly long, drawn out, and lacking in actual rapping. But I'm no fan of soft Eminem. This is an automatic skip in my car.

14. Evil Twin - Eh. Bad way to end the CD. He's got this weird habit of picking some song with no theme, a ton of lyrics, and a mundane beat to close albums, Still Don't Give and the Untitled Track being perfect examples. Evil Twin isn't bad, just boring.

13. Legacy - This song could be so, so, so, so much better. A quick lesson: if it's not The-Dream singing the "eh" sound, or The-Dream writing the "eh" sound into the song, it's not going to sound good. Only The-Dream has mastered the proper use of the "eh" sound mid-song. Every rapper has command of their own quirky sound - no one drops "hAAW"s quite like Yeezy, nobody can "hwuh" like Ricky Roooozay, and we're all familiar with the "aWHa" noise. You don't mess with The-Dream's "eh". No one wins at that game, especially not Polina Goudieva, who even adds a remarkably close The-Dream impression to begin the song. But it's not the same. The chorus is waaaay too long; it's really not enjoyable at all. Like, it's almost 50 seconds long. That's a verse length. Eminem himself is pretty good on this song, which is reflective on his childhood. We get to see his vulnerability here, and how he grew into a wonderful MC. It's more mature than we'd have ever seen on the first edition of the MMLP, but it's ruined by a drawn out chorus and a strange, phoned-in production value on the verses. There's a lot of good stuff here, and the beat isn't bad, if a little boring, but I personally don't want to listen to that damn chorus. Also I do want to listen to The-Dream. That guy is the realest.

12. Rhyme or Reason - As boring as Eminem can get. There aren't many weak moments on this album, but if there was ever a place to nap, it's during these five minutes of a beat that sounds like a Pepsi having an orgasm and no memorable lyrics. So why is it the second song? I'm at a loss. It's the most simple song available, so maybe that's why. But you guys are smarter than that.

11. Survival - The worst of the four singles to the album, but still a strong single by most rappers' standards. I'd venture that Game would love to have a single this good. Seriously, what happened to that guy? Game used to be one of my favorites, but I have absolutely no idea what All That (Lady) is. I thought All That was a show on Nick. Now if Game had released THAT, then we're talking about a dope single!
Back to Survival. It's a clear follow up to Won't Back Down, which I hate so much that I refuse to link it. It's another promotional track for Call of Duty, it's got a chick singing a rousing hook (not to be confused with an arousing hook, which means something entirely different), and Eminem brings lots of emotion to the table. It's a good song! There's just better.

10. So Much Better - A relatively funny track, with quite a few amusing references to his woman's promiscuity. Of course it's typically macabre, as most Eminem songs are involving women. My favorite moment? "Well screw you, and I'll be the third person you screwed to-day/Oh, fourth: Dre, Drake, Lupe. Ew, touche". It's a definite flashback in tempo, topic and approach to the classic Bad Meets Evil banger The Reunion, but ultimately falls well short of Reunion's comedy and lyrical value. Still a decent listen.

9. Asshole - The perfect follow-up to Legacy, really, which precedes Asshole. Legacy talked about Eminem getting bullied; Asshole paints him as the bully. A quick drum beat keeps the song moving, and a humorous chorus by really Skylar White bridges the verses well. Wait, my bad, that's actually Skylar GREY on the chorus...I just figured on a song called "asshole" it must have been  Skylar White on the track. Eminem rips lyrically, has a semblance of a social conscious (one of several places where Em references the awkward double standard of his treatment of women and love of his daughter), and even throws in an Insane Clown Posse impersonation. It's one of my favorite tracks, but loses points because it's not titillating in any direction. You won't catch emotions from it, you can't study to it, you can't really slap it in your car...It's fun, but it's hard to find the right place for it. But hey, it brings us back to "My Name Is" in the bridge!

8. Berzerk - NOW THIS SHIT'S ABOUT TO KICK OFF, THIS PARTY LOOKS WACK!!! The medicine the doctor ordered at this point in the CD, as here, on track 8, Eminem tears off a series of excellent tracks. Listening through, Berzerk is a huge pick-me-up after Survival had really been the only moments of energy thus far. It's a great party track, Rick Rubin is spectacular on the production. It's nothing like what you'd expect from Eminem in terms of a single, but too much fun to ignore. You've definitely heard this one, and it's bound to be the second most commercially successful song on MMLP2, after The Monster. Rage on.

7. Brainless - Catchy hook, vicious lyrics, decent beat, and lots, LOTS, of anger. A quick look through Eminem's discography reveals a definite drop in anger through his career. On his first CD, the Slim Shady LP, he's anger but feels powerless. The original Marshall Mathers LP shows exploding, passionate anger moving in every direction; that was the peak of his heatedness. The Eminem Show actually is nearly as mad, but it's more of a focused frustration toward the media and somewhat at his past. Encore was silly, Relapse is essentially one long sociopathic fantasy, but lacks the emotion of the earlier albums, and Recovery attempts to redeem his angry career. But in the Marshall Mathers LP 2, Em digs deep and finds the old rage again. Brainless is a great example. He faces his old challenges and attacks them. The rhyme schemes are superb, Slim Shady the rapper really shines as he vents against the bullies that haunted his youth.

6. The Monster (Featuring Rihanna) - The rare enjoyable Rihanna appearance! And honestly, probably the only track you can easily sing along to. She excels, the beat and subject harken back to Airplanes, Pt 2. For one of the only times on the CD, Em slows his flow down, and you can actually catch most of what he's saying. Strange how his annunciation, once his greatest strength, is now below-average for a rapper. Heartbreaker points for the Russell Wilson shout out. And one of the few positive moments you'll find, so it's a nice inclusion, and will almost certainly be the biggest hit this collection produces.

5. Headlights (Featuring Nate Russ) - For me, this is the best of the serious songs. I personally prefer the goofy, black comedy that Eminem brings, but I can appreciate a slower, more meaningful track. Nate Russ' chorus is average, the beat is passable, but the feelings are SO DAMN RAW! Eminem, and this is no joke, EMINEM apologizes to his mom!!! Several times! In really heartfelt ways! This is the best moment of flow matching beat, it's obvious he's been working on this one for a while. The scene where his mom shows up in the driveway is particularly wrenching. Nate Russ is pretty good as well. Hella good track.

4. Bad Guy - Bad Guy really suffers from its placement as the first song on the album. Its unbearably slow start makes the album as a whole relatively uninviting when you first pop it in, and after 15 seconds you'll be wondering if you have the wrong CD, because Eminem always, ALWAYS comes out swinging his heaviest punches right off the bat. Think about it; in his history, he's led with the following songs: My Name Is, Kill You, White America, Evil Deeds, 3 AM, and Cold Wind Blows. Besides the forgettable Evil Deeds, these are canonical Eminem songs (You might disagree with me on Cold Wind Blows, but that goes down as one of my all-time favorite tracks). All of them except My Name Is represent the point of highest intensity on their respective CD. So what's up with Bad Guy, a soft, slow, sad song?
Well, it's a (very) slow burner, the intensity gradually rising. But by the time he reaches the third verse, this uphill climb becomes a four minute plateau. Through gradually more obviously hints, the vague distress Eminem has been describing finally turns out to be Matthew Mitchell (younger brother of Stan, who you may remember from the, um, aptly-titled, Stan), who finally can take his brother's revenge. It's the first of many direct references to the original Marshall Mathers LP, and once the story ends with their drowning at the 5 minute mark, the beat changes into an intense, classically-fueled crescendo as Matthew's voice becomes a dark emotion of all of Eminem's pain. Suddenly, we're in the middle of a masterpiece, and the most intense park of the CD! Though it suffers from poor placement in terms of feel, the meaning of the song makes it a beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy that gets you excited for more. Plus, the line "Eminem killed by M&M, Matthew Mitchell!" is a trip, and one of the standouts on the album. Unfortunately, it's followed by the underwhelming Rhyme or Reason. Ugh.

3. So Far... - Along with the rest of the top 7 or 8 tracks, really one for Eminem's career highlights. He muses on his fame, finds his inner Southern, and light-heartedly complains about his poor grasp of new technology. I think he has a point, though. He notes that "what the fuck I gotta do to hear the new song from Luda, be an expert at computers?" Come on Marshall. Luda doesn't make new songs. And if he is, you shouldn't be listening. There's a sad story of one of my favorite rappers losing his mojo...but that's a different story. This is Em in his comfort zone, making seemingly everything rhyme and being accessible again. You're listening to it, having as much fun hearing as he sounds like he did recording. And then, suddenly, at 2:59, after a line about kids snapping too many pictures on their "camera cell phones" (haven't heard that expression since 2003), this happens. (!)

Yeah, that was the back-to-back interpoling of I'm Back and The Real Slim Shady, both from the original CD. Awesome. Probably the greatest musical moment of 2013 (or 2000!).
And how about the stories? The tale of meeting chicks at a red light, the pooping anecdote, and best of all, the goofy interaction with a fan while he attempts to grocery shop with a nose bleed. This is the closest you'll get to old Eminem. It isn't graphic like So Much Better, it's ridiculous like My Name Is was. This would be the best song on almost any rapper's CD, but this isn't just any rapper. Just know that even those this is number three, it's a fantastic song.

2. Love Game (Featuring Kendrick Lamar) - I find this the most fun song to listen to on the MMLP2, even if Rap God is a better song. If you've ever wondered how your own personal struggles with love, hate, jealousy and infidelity could play out in a cartoon world where every character is both naive and sociopathic, then this should be your dream destination! Or if you're just curious about how Eminem understands his own glowing love (surprisingly innocent and dreamy) and why he always ends up so angry (his women don't respect exclusivity, it seems), or how Kendrick's second act with Sherane is bound to end up (poorly, taking advantage of Kendrick's heartthrob; if you're not already familiar with her poor conduct, you're really missing out on life), you'll find this wildly entertaining. And even if you aren't, you can probably still appreciate the well-honed rhyme schemes present, as well as Kendrick's salutary use of Eminem's flow! It comes off almost as a passing of the baton; the top rapper of one generation collaborating with the leader of the new wave. And by the way, Kendrick's the only other rapper on this album. Coincidence? I doubt it.
The lyricism is amazing here, as is the humor. Plus, you've got to love Em giving Kwame Brown a shout out, although he probably wasn't too happy about his girl messing around with him...The sample is upbeat and adds to the playfulness of the track. Again, my favorite song to listen to, even if it isn't quite the best.

1. Rap God - I was skeptical at first. Delving into the same deranged sonic landscape as Kanye's Yeezus and Cudi's Indicud seemed a dangerously bad decision for a rapper whose finest moments occur over catchy guitar riffs. But I should have known better. This is fucking EMINEM! Of course he can destroy a beat with electronic-fusion, regardless of the fact that it sounds like absolutely nothing in his entire catalog. The beat consistently morphs, the flow changes every few bars, he spits more lines than some rappers do in entire CDs, the rhyme scheme is completely unmatchable, the passion is evident throughout, the one-liners zing ("the only hall of fame I'll be inducted in is the alco-hall of fame on the wall of shame")...I don't know what else to say. Though he raps as thoroughly and intently as a king, he manages to still discuss his own state of being, and becomes a god of rap in the process. If you really need the evidence, listen to 4:26, when he rips for 20 seconds before altering the flow in a way only Eminem can do. He proves on Rap God that he is, above of, the master of yo-yoing flow and tempo. No other rapper could have pulled this off. Not one. It's not the best all-around song of his career, it lacks a conscious, he's been funnier, more absurd and more clever, he's got better hooks, he's rapped over more addictive instrumentals, and his song have had more interesting themes, but he's never had a lyrical accomplishment like this one. This is rap at its technical perfection.

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