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Eminem - Topic

Relapse: Refill Play

Eminem's expansion of his 2009 comeback Relapse is cleverly titled Refill, playing off the prescription pill artwork of the original album while offering precisely what it promises: another seven songs in the same vein as the original. Generally, these songs retain much of the carnivalesque horror show vibe of Relapse -- when Slim Shady raps about "Buffalo Bill" it's not about the Wild West, it's the Silence of the Lambs -- but the vibe is looser, helped in part by an increased Jamaican influence but largely deriving from Eminem's re-entry to the world. Unlike the bulk of Relapse, Refill doesn't sound like the work of a hip-hop Daniel Plainview -- a mad genius locked in his mansion, forever stewing over his long-held obsessions -- but sounds like an artist re-engaging with the world, trying new phrasing, opening up his music. Rather than a finished statement, this is experimentation, pointing the way toward what he'll do next time around, but there's one considerable exception: the new single "Forever," which has verses by Drake, Lil' Wayne, and Kanye West, and is none too coincidentally the one track in the entirety of Eminem's 2009 comeback that feels utterly modern. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

The Marshall Mathers LP 2 Play

After centering himself with the confessional 2010 release Recovery, Eminem entered his forties while watching his beloved city of Detroit literally go bankrupt. The cover here displays this descent with an updated picture of the rapper's teenage home, first featured on the MM LP of 2000 but now boarded up, and yet this 8 Mile child cares much more about the present than the past, as this vicious, infectious, hilarious triumph is no nostalgia trip, just the 2013 version of Marshall the experienced maverick on a tear, dealing with the current state of events and kicking up dust with his trademark maniac attack while effortlessly juggling his over-40 wisdom with stuff you'd slap a teenager for saying. Key cut "Rap God" is the quintessential track as it blasts out homophobic cut-downs and other inexcusable lyrics, because Marshall's the "Dale Earnhardt of the trailer park," but "I still rap like I'm on my Pharoahe Monch grind," and suddenly his Stan Lee-like origin story begins to take shape. Marshall is a super villain so familiar with hate and depression, he's powered by all shades of anger. Be it pissing off the neighbors (rocking the house with a some Beastie Boys and Billy Squier samples on the Rick Rubin-produced party starter "Bezerk") or being threatened by critics (and his biggest ever, too, as "Bad Guy" revisits the MM LP character "Stan" via his revenge-obsessed brother Matthew), it all feeds into his super nova, and it’s a unique spectacle when it explodes. It does so gloriously on the stately arena rap anthem "Survival," which injects the listener with martial beats and a pre-game pep talk worth hearing. "Asshole" takes the decidedly low road to destruction, slapping girls "off the mechanical bull, at a tractor pull" while using controversy to make the front page, then offering the idea that he's "white America's mirror, so don't feel awkward or weird," because there's no sense in leaving the sewer if you don't crawl out enlightened. Love it or hate it, nourishing his same old murder fantasies is what drives Eminem to make the vital music found here, and yet there's room for polished and clever frivolity on the album. The grand "Love Game" with Kendrick Lamar whips a Wayne Fontana "Game of Love"-sample into a thrilling swagger cut, while "So Far…" re-edits Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good" so the Madden and MP3 generation can also understand the sweet irony of mansions filled with Kool-Aid-stained couches. Silly, manipulated voices and all, "The Monster" with Rihanna offers insight with its "I get along with the voices inside my head" attitude, then "Headlights" ups the game and offers mom an apology, referencing his earlier hit "Cleaning Out My Closet" and explaining it as an angry and irresponsible moment. Funny thing is, most of the best moments on MM LP2 are just as angry, and just as irresponsible, but like "Closet," this is the tortured soul and self-reliance ninja known as Eminem at his very best. ~ David Jeffries, Rovi

Eminem Presents: The Re-Up Play

Seemed like drama was always something Eminem craved, but in the year leading up to The Re-Up, the drama was heavy, a really, really bad kind of heavy. He checked himself into rehab, got remarried for a few months to the infamous Kim before that went south, then his best man and best friend Proof is murdered in a bizarre and depressing incident that made all the gangster talk that came previously extra chilling. A mixtape that was originally planned to be released on the underground circuit, The Re-Up has plenty of that serious heat that influenced Eminem to go aboveground with the release. There's the surging remix of 50 Cent's "Ski Mask Way," the excellent all-star single "You Don't Know," a couple clever redo's of Akon's "Smack That" single with various members of the Shady family, and "There He Is" with newcomer Bobby Creekwater living up to his hype over a rich Alchemist beat. Tacked onto the end is Eminem's shining moment, "No Apologies," which speaks to his frozen heart, then lashes out at critics. The man's lyrical dexterity is on display for the soul-searching closer, there's no doubt about that, but the target is questionable, since it didn't really seem like Em was getting a critical drubbing in 2006. A diversion maybe? Could be, since he's sidestepping a whole lot of the other issues here. While Proof gets his due with the intro to his unreleased track "Trapped," this is hardly his memorial, plus his D12 brothers Bizarre and Kuniva are in no hurry to lay off the gun talk with their visceral and knowingly irresponsible "Murder." The quick marriage/divorce and rehab are barely noted, either, and while Em has every right to keep whatever he wants private, longtime fans looking for that usual candor are in for a shock. Instead of using the mixtape format as an up-to-the-minute dispatch from the soul, Em has decided to bring the Shady empire back into focus with The Re-Up. 50 Cent and his G-Unit crew are brought back into the Shady scene when it seemed they just about outgrew it, and with Creekwater, Cashis, and Stat Quo all anxious to become "rookie of the year," the Shady spotlight is validated. Once the Eminem hardcore accept that this is more about the whole talented and hungry crew than the man with a devastating year on his hands, they'll co-sign. ~ David Jeffries, Rovi

The Eminem Show Play

It's all about the title. First time around, Eminem established his alter ego, Slim Shady -- the character who deliberately shocked and offended millions, turning Eminem into a star. Second time at bat, he turned out The Marshall Mathers LP, delving deeper into his past while revealing complexity as an artist and a personality that helped bring him an even greater audience and much, much more controversy. Third time around, it's The Eminem Show -- a title that signals that Eminem's public persona is front and center, for the very first time. And it is, as he spends much of the album commenting on the media circus that dominated on his life ever since the release of Marshall Mathers. This, of course, encompasses many, many familiar subjects -- his troubled childhood; his hatred of his parents; his turbulent relationship with his ex-wife, Kim (including the notorious incident when he assaulted a guy who allegedly kissed her -- the event that led to their divorce); his love of his daughter, Hailie; and, of course, all the controversy he generated, notably the furor over his alleged homophobia and his scolding from Lynne Cheney, which leads to furious criticism about the hypocrisy of America and its government. All this is married to a production very similar to that of its predecessor -- spare, funky, fluid, and vibrant, punctuated with a couple of ballads along the way. So, that means The Eminem Show is essentially a holding pattern, but it's a glorious one -- one that proves Eminem is the gold standard in pop music in 2002, delivering stylish, catchy, dense, funny, political music that rarely panders (apart from a power ballad "Dream On" rewrite on "Sing for the Moment" and maybe the sex rap "Drips," that is). Even if there is little new ground broken, the presentation is exceptional -- Dre never sounds better as a producer than when Eminem pushes him forward (witness the stunning oddity "Square Dance," a left-field classic with an ominous waltz beat) and, with three albums under his belt, Eminem has proven himself to be one of the all-time classic MCs, surprising as much with his delivery as with what he says. Plus, the undercurrent of political anger -- not just attacking Lynne Cheney, but raising questions about the Bush administration -- gives depth to his typical topics, adding a new, spirited dimension to his shock tactics as notable as the deep sentimental streak he reveals on his odes to his daughter. Perhaps the album runs a little too long at 20 songs and 80 minutes and would have flowed better if trimmed by 25 minutes, but that's a typical complaint about modern hip-hop records. Fact is, it still delivers more great music than most of its peers in rock or rap, and is further proof that Eminem is an artist of considerable range and dimension. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

The Slim Shady LP Play

Given his subsequent superstardom, culminating in no less than an Academy Award, it may be easy to overlook exactly how demonized Eminem was once his mainstream debut album, The Slim Shady LP, grabbed the attention of pop music upon its release in 1999. Then, it wasn't clear to every listener that Eminem was, as they say, an unreliable narrator, somebody who slung satire, lies, uncomfortable truths, and lacerating insights with vigor and venom, blurring the line between reality and parody, all seemingly without effort. The Slim Shady LP bristles with this tension, since it's never always clear when Marshall Mathers is joking and when he's dead serious. This was unsettling in 1999, when nobody knew his back-story, and years later, when his personal turmoil is public knowledge, it still can be unsettling, because his words and delivery are that powerful. Of course, nowhere is this more true than on "97 Bonnie and Clyde," a notorious track where he imagines killing his wife and then disposing of the body with his baby daughter in tow. There have been more violent songs in rap, but few more disturbing, and it's not because of what it describes, it's how he describes it -- how the perfectly modulated phrasing enhances the horror and black humor of his words. Eminem's supreme gifts are an expansive vocabulary and vivid imagination, which he unleashes with wicked humor and unsparing anger in equal measure. The production -- masterminded by Dr. Dre but also helmed in large doses by Marky and Jeff Bass, along with Marshall himself -- mirrors his rhymes, with their spare, intricately layered arrangements enhancing his narratives, which are always at the forefront. As well they should be -- there are few rappers as wildly gifted verbally as Eminem. At a time when many rappers were stuck in the stultifying swamp of gangsta clichés, Eminem broke through the hardcore murk by abandoning the genre's familiar themes and flaunting a style with more verbal muscle and imagination than any of his contemporaries. Years later, as the shock has faded, it's those lyrical skills and the subtle mastery of the music that still resonate, and they're what make The Slim Shady LP one of the great debuts in both hip-hop and modern pop music. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Encore Play

Eminem took a hiatus after the release of his first motion picture, 8 Mile, in late 2002, but it never seemed like he went away. Part of that is the nature of celebrity culture, where every star cycles through gossip columns regardless of whether they have a project in the stores or theaters, and part of it is that Marshall Mathers kept busy, producing records by his protégés D12, Obie Trice, and 50 Cent -- all hit albums -- with the latter turning into the biggest new hip-hop star of 2003. All this activity tended to obscure the fact that Eminem hadn't released a full-length album of new material since The Eminem Show in early summer 2002, and that two and a half years separated that album and its highly anticipated sequel, Encore. As the title suggests, Encore is a companion piece to The Eminem Show the way that The Marshall Mathers LP mirrored The Slim Shady LP, offering a different spin on familiar subjects. Where his first two records dealt primarily with personas and characters, his second two records deal with what those personas have wrought, which tends to be intrinsically less interesting than the characters themselves, since it's dissecting the aftermath instead of causing the drama. On The Eminem Show that kind of self-analysis was perfectly acceptable, since Eminem was on the top of his game as both a lyricist and rapper; his insights were vibrant and his music was urgent. Musically, Show didn't innovate, but it didn't need to: Eminem and his mentor, Dr. Dre, had achieved cruising altitude, and even if they weren't offering much that was new, the music sounded fresh and alive. Here, the music is spartan, built on simple unadorned beats and keyboard loops. Some songs use this sound to its advantage and a few others break free -- "Yellow Brick Road" is a tense, cinematic production, yet it fits the subject matter. Eminem has decided to chronicle what's happened to him over the past two years and refute every charge that's made it into the papers. This is quite a bit different than his earlier albums, when he embellished and exaggerated his life, when his relationship with his estranged wife Kim turned into an outlaw ballad, when his frenetic insults, cheap shots, and celeb baiting had a surreal, hilarious impact. Here, Eminem is plain-spoken and literal, intent on refuting every critic from Benzino at The Source to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who gets an entire song ("Ass Like That") devoted to him. While the album is a little long, it's worth a listen to hear the moments that work really well, whether it's full songs or flights of phrase. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

The Marshall Mathers LP Play

It's hard to know what to make of Eminem, even if you know that half of what he says is sincere and half is a put-on; the trick is realizing that there's truth in the joke, and vice versa. Many dismissed his considerable skills as a rapper and social satirist because the vulgarity and gross-out humor on The Slim Shady LP were too detailed for some to believe that it was anything but real. To Eminem's credit, he decided to exploit that confusion on his masterful second record, The Marshall Mathers LP. Eminem is all about blurring the distinction between reality and fiction, humor and horror, satire and documentary, so it makes perfect sense that The Marshall Mathers LP is no more or no less "real" than The Slim Shady LP. It is, however, a fairly brilliant expansion of his debut, turning his spare, menacing hip-hop into a hyper-surreal, wittily disturbing thrill ride. It's both funnier and darker than his debut, and Eminem's writing is so sharp and clever that the jokes cut as deeply as the explorations of his ruptured psyche. The production is nearly as evocative as the raps, with liquid basslines, stuttering rhythms, slight sound effects, and spacious soundscapes. There may not be overpowering hooks on every track, but the album works as a whole, always drawing the listener in. But, once you're in, Eminem doesn't care if you understand exactly where he's at, and he doesn't offer any apologies if you can't sort the fact from the fiction. As an artist, he's supposed to create his own world, and with this terrific second effort, he certainly has. It may be a world that is as infuriating as it is intriguing, but it is without question his own, which is far more than most of his peers are able to accomplish at the dawn of a new millennium. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Recovery Play

As late as April, the title of Eminem’s follow-up to Relapse was set to be titled Relapse 2, but the accumulating material for the release continued to stray farther away from the sound of Relapse. Realizing it wouldn’t make sense to treat his seventh studio album as a sequel -- from both lyrical and production standpoints -- Eminem dubbed it Recovery. Proving the veteran MC’s continued relevance, “Not Afraid,” the album's first single, entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number one. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

E. [Video/DVD] Play

Detroit rapper Eminem creates a lot of headlines along with his award-winning and controversial rap music. Transferring his hot-button lyrics to music videos didn't do much to soften the messages, but it did win him a Best Video of the Year award from MTV in 2000. E contains seven director's cut versions of some of Marshall Mathers' (Eminem's birth name) most popular songs. The songs are taken from The Marshall Mathers LP and The Slim Shady LP and include "Stan,") "The Way I Am," "The Real Slim Shady," "Role Model," "Guilty Conscience," "My Name Is," and "Just Don't Give a Fuck." -- Jessica Frost, Rovi
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