As a general rule, rap sequels aren’t sequels at all – they’re lazily conceived marketing ploys that fall into one of two categories: pathetic attempts to relive past glories, or successful attempts to relive past glories. Full credit to Eminem, then, for crafting a sequel that relates to its predecessor in more than just name.
More than 13 years after the release of the diamond-selling The Marshall Mathers LP, this follow-up takes old songs in new directions and new songs in old ones. ‘Bad Guy’ is a prime example of the former, adding a Dido-less chapter to ‘Stan’ in which Matthew, Stan’s little brother, seeks revenge. Elsewhere, Em edits past rhymes and steers old skits into ever-darker territory. For fans old enough to cherish the original MMLP, anachronisms like these are guaranteed highlights. But then there’s that latter category: new songs taken in old directions.
With the notable exception of Slim Shady, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 sees Em’s whole crew of incorrigible split-personas pile into the booth: cynically homophobic Eminem; adolescently angsty Eminem; angry, possibly mid-poo Eminem. These are the Ems behind Mathers’s mid-career slide into wackness, and they sound worse than ever in the context of a purported return to peak form.
But there are flashes of brilliance here, too. On ‘Rap God’, the 41-year-old cycles through styles – classic Eminem, Houston-inflected, faster-than-Fu-Schnickens – like a one-man playlist. And Kendrick Lamar’s verse on ‘Love Game’, elatedly rapped in the key of Em, forces Mathers to dig deep to play the role of master.
MMLP2 is a legitimate sequel – there are no gimmicks here. But like most sequels, it encounters another problem: it’s just not as good as the first one.