2 stars out of 5
During the adolescences of today’s college students, Eminem was a mainstay in the world of popular music. His early antics as Slim Shady drew heat from nearly every human rights association in the United States. At the same time, the lewd nature of his early releases — along with his arrogance and overall shock value — made him an idol and a millionaire overnight.
After three massively successful albums and one of the more spectacular rags-to-riches stories in recent musical memory, the Detroit-based emcee settled down comfortably in 2005 as a behind-the-scenes, Diddy-esque hip-hop mogul extremely content with his past accomplishments and excited for a future filled with all of the accolades normally reserved for rap royalty.
From an outsider’s perspective, this would seem to be a heavenly retirement — one in which Eminem would be able to distance himself from the day-to-day grind of a contracted recording artist and, in essence, settle down. But as we all know, the antics of one Marshall Mathers are far from predictable. Even though it’s due time for Eminem’s resurgence, attempted comebacks, especially for musicians, are always extremely trying endeavors.
With Relapse, Eminem has illuminated what makes that second try so difficult.
On the album, we hear Eminem traveling back in time to find his musical roots. Instead of evolving as an artist, Eminem just gathers the elements of what catapulted him to superstardom in the first place. He employs hip-hop mastermind and elder statesman Dr. Dre to craft the beats and revisits old lyrical muses such as his mother, his drug-addled past and his passion for insulting other celebrities; essentially, he is writing music to fit the preexisting Em stereotypes.
Try as he might, the songs just don’t come across as sincere. They seem more like a contrived attempt to coalesce with today’s Top 40 music. His first single “Crack a Bottle” is a number-one hit that runs off of the notoriety of co-contributors Dr. Dre and 50 Cent. Eminem even dares to delve into the murky waters of Autotune on “Bagpipes From Baghdad.”
At the same time, he returns to his shock-and-awe roots on the berating ballad “My Mom” but fails mainly because he is now 36 years old and the type of humor that made him famous now sounds forced and out of place. He has matured — just as most artists do — but now longs for the guise of immaturity.
The album’s silver lining is its production. Dr. Dre is masterful as he lays the immaculate groundwork for what turns out to be Eminem’s annoying flow. Dre can concoct the perfect beat for any rhythmic situation with the fervor of someone who has recently hit their creative peak, even though he has been producing for over 25 years.
The production is stellar, but in the end, Em’s unrealized desire to recreate his past leaves us longing for the Slim Shady of old.