Eminem's 'The Marshall Mathers LP 2': What the Critics Are Saying
The hip-hop artist stirs controversy with his new two-disc album.
"It's not necessarily a sequel," Eminem said of his new album in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, "as much as it is a revisitation." Thirteen years after the highly acclaimed original landed on shelves, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, out Nov. 5, arrives at a time of turbulent industry transformations.
Characterizing the rapper's latest installment has proved particularly difficult for critics, but that is likely a reflection of the album's thematic range. The two-disc album balances old styles with new perspectives, drawing inspiration from The Beastie Boys and featuring contemporary artists like Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar.
The Marshall Mathers LP 2 has garnered mostly favorable reviews, but the album continues to rouse controversy in this week's What the Critics are Saying:
"Eminem's demons are as present on The Marshall Mathers LP 2 as they were on its 2000 predecessor," Billboard's Erika Ramirez writes. But after more than a decade, "they have mutated from being his prey to now being his muse." The rapper's core themes – "revenge, resentment and heartbreak" – come out in force on the new album "as heavy-breathing voices which adhere to Em, fueling impassioned, and at times crudely comical, lyricism, which he spits at a rapid speed and through alternating tonality."
Rolling Stone's Jon Dolan gave the album four out of five stars, but offered a critical response to the rapper who, he notes, "could use a publicity stunt." In spite of controversy, however, the album is also about "reclaiming a certain freewheeling buoyance, about pissing off the world from a more open, less cynical place." Eminem has touted hefty emotional baggage throughout his career, and Dolan jokes that "he'll probably still be able to give us pause when he's rhyming about retirement ventures through dentures and cleaning out the colostomy bag he wears up inside his saggy drawers."
With a fresh slate of industry talent already competing on the charts, Eminem's latest installment has to bring more than edgy lyrics to the table if he hopes to reclaim his throne. The L.A. Times' Mikael Wood feels The Marshall Mathers LP 2 does just that. "Where Jay Z's album felt chilly and glazed-over – the work of a king in search of a specific mandate – Eminem's scorches, spewing emotion as hot (and as damaging) as lava." And while the album's "layers of nostalgia" may prevent Eminem from starting anew, he "sounds more alive – angrier, yet more fully present – than he has in years."
The Marshall Mathers LP 2 "encapsulates all that was good, bad and just plain tasteless about hip-hop's middle-age prankster 13 years ago," says the Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot, who credited the album two out of four stars. "It revives some of his worst traits as a would-be provocateur," Kot writes, but in the wordplay-happy rap world, "Eminem still crunches together syllables, silliness and storytelling flights of ridiculousness with acrobatic skill."
The Boston Globe's Sarah Rodman describes the sequel as "more intense than the original, as the Detroit rapper explodes like an M-80, radiating anger, humor, and vulnerability often within the space of a single couplet." Rodman acknowledges the influence of co-producers Dr. Dre and Rick Rubin whom, she says, "work their respective brands of magic, crafting a sonic landscape wherein Eminem can hilariously yet masterfully rap like Yoda while reworking a Zombies classic one minutes and immerse himself into a sinister revenge fantasy the next."