Snap back to reality,
Oh, there goes quality.
Oh, what a malady.
Consistency matters. See
It isn’t that easy,
your crew can’t do so badly,
Em, this album is me-
And anything else is just fallacy.
Eminem’s recording career has been such an unequivocal success that he seemed prepared to become the rap game’s King Mathers, turning all projects into platinum with his unique, better-than-Midas touch. Marshall has also established himself as a producer and label executive, guiding the success of his group, D12, and his label, Shady Records. The soundtrack to 8 Mile, completely mediocre and the epitome of inconsistent, will not be a distinguishing accomplishment in any of his endeavors.
The album’s problems are those which afflict most soundtracks: Too much filler and too little effort. Songs from Boomkat, Young Zee, Obie Trice and D12 will remind listeners why these artists are not mentioned when discussing hip-hop’s finest. More unfortunate, though, is that seeing a roster of hip-hop’s elite – Nas, Jay-Z, Rakim, Gang Starr and Eminem – music fans will assume that the album is excellent since, when considering the lineup, they will only imagine the artists at their best; the fans will fantasize the way which a fantasy basketball owner must when putting Michael Jordan, Grant Hill, Anfernee Hardaway, Karl Malone and David Robinson on his team today. In theory, the product should be excellent, yet in reality, the results are underwhelming.
On “U Wanna Be Me”, Nas throws away even more studio time dissing Jay-Z, saying “you gotta call out my name to get some fans,” and he sounds bland, abstractly discussing the music industry and the streets. Additionally, the song’s piano riff sounds like rejected music from the Legend of Zelda. Jay-Z and his Roc-A-Fella disciple Freeway make a mediocre showing on “8 Miles and Running”, balancing the good – Jay’s last verse appropriately relating his own struggles to get put on – with the bad – a beat that is not interesting enough for rap fans and not candy enough for pop’s minions. Hopefully, this lacking performance owes to the gentlemen spending most of their time finishing their respective, pending solo releases.
In contrast to Nas’ apathetic work (was Eminem keeping him up?) and Jay-Z’s unremarkable track, Rakim and Gang Starr give their followers something about which to be excited. After his much-ballyhooed signing with Aftermath Records, Rakim has done little to satiate his fans’ thirst for new material – an appearance on Truth Hurts’ (!) “Addictive”. Yet his contribution to 8 Mile, “R.A.K.I.M.,” will remind people why news of a new album has elicited so much anticipation. Rakim’s extended absence from music saliency makes his song’s subtle energy – provided by a bubbling synthesizer and crunching drums – very exciting, the way that even a decent performance can seem exemplary when demand for something is so high. Those who revere his earlier work will feel as though they are hearing a dear friend’s voice for the first time in years. A similar assessment can be made of Gang Starr’s “Battle.” MC Guru’s distinctive, husky voice and DJ Premier’s mixing of horn riffs and bass strings will remind admirers that Gang Starr, indeed, “has got to be the sure shot.”
Yet the marquee attraction on 8 Mile is surely Eminem given that the album accompanies his debut as a feature-film actor. Accordingly, this record was a chance for Em and Shady Records’ stable of rappers to shine. Instead, their attempts are dull, and at times it seems as though the only thought put into the work was “people will like it so long as it says Eminem.” Marshall raps on five tracks, three of them solo joints. “Lose Yourself,” a ubiquitous presence in all of the film’s promotion, is a fine song. The sprinkled piano notes and heavy bass line make the track slightly ominous and lend it a certain urgency. This latter attribute is then embellished by the song’s beginning, a sonic asyndeton barreling towards crescendo without hesitation.
The subject matter in “Lose Yourself” is mostly the same as the other Eminem tracks, “8 Mile” and “Rabbit Run,” all dealing with Mathers’ impoverished upbringing and anguished attempts to gain even a modicum of success. However, despite the abundantly apparent emotion behind the words, the subjects become tired, as do the monotonous beats. After years of assassinating his mother’s character and talking about his squalid living conditions, Eminem will need to find other topics to explore on future works.
The tracks contributed by the rest of Shady Records’ artists don’t even match the decent-at-best level of Mathers’ solo work. Those who enjoy hackneyed, grizzly accounts of poverty and violence will like D12’s “Rap Game”, a slow song diminished by the vapid lyrics. Offerings from Young Zee and Obie Trice have beats that sound like they may have been rejected by Dr. Dre during the height of the mid-90s g-funk era. Additionally, the songs have an anger behind them which seems to be the motif that Shady Records has sought to cultivate.
Providing further credence to this theory are the gangsta tracks that feature 50 Cent, an emcee last heard absolutely tearing apart someone. On “Love Me,” 50 lights up R. Kelly, Ashanti, and Lauryn Hill (thank you). While his other offerings, “Wanksta” and “Places to Go,” are mostly unremarkable, the latter does have brilliant assonance in the first verse which provides it with a tight continuity. The song also addresses the dichotomy of hip-hop’s listenership, saying “Introduce me in the burbs, they gonna listen to my word / In the hood they feel my shit.”
The few good tracks and sporadic redeeming qualities save 8 Mile from being a total abomination. What could have been an appropriate complement to the film instead becomes the entire venture’s ironic shortcoming: a hip-hop movie starring rap’s most successful emcee is missing a quality rap soundtrack. Such albums rarely seem to attract the undivided attention of artists and 8 Mile serves as the latest proof. Eminem had one chance and he didn’t take it.