Guess who’s back? Slim Shady’s back. And so is Marshall Mathers, Eminem’s alter-ego yin to Shady’s sadistic, homicidal yang (a return to the autobiographical themes found on the first go-round, The Marshall Mathers LP, released in 2000). It’s not always clear which of these personas has commandeered the mic on The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Eminem’s eighth studio album. But this madcap, insanely talented yet outrageously obscene rapper belches out so much manic, profane and ominous rage here that trying to decipher which of his “characters” is actually spewing it at any given point is so far beside the point you can’t even see the point.
Eminem mentions the fact that his father abandoned their family, the after-effects of which still seem profoundly and tragically present. “So, yeah, Dad, let’s walk,” he raps on “Rhyme or Reason,” “Let’s have us a father and son talk/But I bet we probably wouldn’t get one block/Without me knocking your block off/This is all your fault/Maybe that’s why I’m so bananas.”
Equally illuminating and though-provoking is Eminem’s ragged relationship with his alcoholic, mentally ill mother. “Headlights” (where he’s joined by fun.’s Nate Ruess) finds him apologizing to her and telling her how much he loves her. “My mom probably got it the worst/The brunt of it/ … Did I take it too far?/ … But regardless I don’t hate you, ’cause Ma/You’re still beautiful to me, ’cause you’re my mom.” Eminem mentions his recognition of her deteriorating mental state, his lament that their ongoing relational estrangement means she’s not involved in her granddaughters’ lives, and that his brother, Nate, was taken from her by Social Services.
“Legacy” and “Brainless” detail Eminem’s violent abuse at the hands of bullies while growing up, describing how he found escape and solace in writing raps as a teen. “Stronger That I Was” offers more vulnerability as he laments his broken relationship with Kim Scott, to whom he’s been married to and divorced from twice: “I’d rather die than you not be by my side.”
“Monster” (with Rihanna) and “Rap God” ponder the possibility of listeners (who are as broken and alienated as Eminem is) somehow finding hope in his angry lyrics. On “A‑‑‑hole,” he admits that being a father of two daughters should influence what he writes: “Only women that I love are my daughters/And sometimes I rhyme and it sounds like I forget I’m a father, and I push it farther.” But …
Unfortunately, being a dad isn’t enough motivation for him to restrain his raw raps. He continues: “So Father forgive me if I forget to draw the line/It’s apparent I shouldn’t have been a parent, I’ll never grow up/So to h‑‑‑ with your parents, and m‑‑‑‑‑f‑‑‑ing Father Time.” In similar territory, “Rhyme or Reason” rejects the notion that Eminem should be held responsible for his material’s influence on fans. “With great power comes absolutely no responsibility for content,” he spits. Elsewhere on that song, he says bluntly, “I hate every f‑‑‑ing thing.” And it should be noted that f- and s-words turn up on virtually every track here, as well as multiple demeaning uses of “gay” and “f-ggot,” and frequent uses of “b‑‑ch” and “ho” to describe women.
“Bad Guy” involves all manner of violent imagery, including the lines, “Mind is saying, ‘Let it go, f‑‑‑ this’/Heart is saying, ‘I will once I bury this b‑‑ch alive/Hide the shovel, and then drive off in the sunset.'” Someone’s then knocked out with chloroform and stuffed into a trunk—right before an accident that has the car in question hurtling off a bridge and killing both the kidnapper and his victim.
“So Much Better” chillingly tells a lady, “My life would be so much better if you dropped dead (I hate you)/I was laying in bed last night thinking/ … ‘Wouldn’t s‑‑‑ just be a lot easier if you dropped dead/I would feel so (so) much (much) better (better, better, better)/ … I hope you hear this song and go into cardiac arrest.” On “Love Game,” Em fantasizes about yanking his much-hated squeeze from a moving car and killing her: “I body slam her onto the cement, until the concrete gave and created a sinkhole/Bury this stink ho in it, then paid to have the street repaved.” Multiple references to oral sex turn up on that track as well. And, elsewhere, we hear crude or obscene interjections about sexual anatomy, menstruation and giving an overly enthusiastic fan in a McDonald’s bathroom an autograph on used toilet paper.
A self-professed “Rap God,” Eminem brazenly proclaims, “Censor you like that one line I said/On ‘I’m Back’ from the Mathers LP/One where I tried to say I take seven kids from Columbine/Put ’em all in a line/Add an AK-47, a revolver and a nine/See if I get away with it now.” Jesus and Carrie Underwood both get mocked in that song as well, as Eminem jokes, “I’m drunk, so Satan take the wheel,” and concludes, “Don’t be a retard, be a king/Think not/Why be a king when you can be a god?”
As for whether Marshall Mathers and Slim Shady really constitute separate personalities, the album concludes with the “Evil Twin” line, “‘Cause we really are the same, b‑‑ch.”
Empathy-eliciting details of Eminem’s hard-luck life story notwithstanding, it’s pretty difficult to hold onto much sympathy when a 41-year-old father of two says to his critics, “If you don’t like me, then f‑‑‑ you” and brags, “I came to the world at a time when it was in need of a villain/An a‑‑hole, that role I think I succeeded in fulfilling.”
He also spits, “Here’s what they want from me/They’re asking me to eliminate some of the woman hate/But if you take into consideration the bitter hatred that I had/Then you may be a little patient and more sympathetic to the situation/And understand the discrimination.”
Understand? Is that even possible when he follows up that twisted plea with this sick double entendre about brutalizing women? “But if I can’t batter the women/How the f‑‑‑ am I supposed to bake them a cake?”
Eminem raps that his latest offers a “tragic portrait of an artist tortured,” a portrait that’s “blacker and darker than anything imaginable.” And those are a scant few of his rhymes that actually bear repeating.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.