Earlier this month, it was revealed that despite taking an approximate four year break-- complete with an almost overdose and secret stints in rehab-- Eminem was the highest selling artist of the past decade. Today he is back with a two-disc special edition album entitled "Refill." Though the artist admitted this is not the official "part two" of his May 2009 "Relapse" album, it is a new edition to the series. A basic re-release of that May sixth studio album, the second disc of "Refill" features seven brand new tracks (though most of them had already leaked online prior to press time).
When Eminem aka Slim Shady aka Marshall Mathers first burst onto the scene in the mid to late nineties, critics, parents, and the FCC were hard on him for his "misogynistic" lyrics and attitude toward women from his mother to his estranged ex-wife to virtual characters he created in skit and song alike. Eventually, though, everyone learned to back off-- in part because of how sweet he was with his daughter, Hailey Jade, but also due to the fact that he showcased he was much more than a "slice 'em up" lyricist. With his "Eminem Show" album, he seemed to virtually apologize to the women in his life, or at least attempt an explanation of his behavior toward them, on tracks like "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" and "Cleanin' Out My Closet." Fans and critics alike could feel his pain, and in many ways, it seemed as if Eminem the persona was shedding and Marshall the man was emerging. If anything, that album served almost as a cleanse, years before he would ever think he'd need a detox.
In the early 2000s, Eminem's brand of controversy instead quickly turned political, and in 2004 his "Mosh" became the youth revolt anthem for those against George W. Bush and his war-heavy policies. He was older, wiser, and seemingly more mature. One could clearly divide and define the serious tracks from the silly on his albums, such as "Encore," which featured both the aforementioned "Mosh" but also a few nonsensical tracks (like "Big Weenie").
When Eminem returned from his partially self-imposed hiatus just earlier this year, his "comeback" album, so to speak, was one large fever dream that served to depict the way demons in his head worked themselves out in his life, his career, and his family over the past few years. Ending the "Relapse" album with two sobering (no pun intended) "bonus" tracks ("My Darling" and "Careful What You Wish For") that featured the duality of his manhood seemed to hint at a glimpse of the artist we would see going forward. It seemed almost hopeful that the pensive, serious, thought-provoking Marshall would be ditching the characters-- the masks, the personas, the aliases, the fiction-- and sticking around for good this time.
However, just when it seems like this larger than life legend has been figured out, he drops another bomb. With his daughter entering her teenage years, Eminem opts to devote the majority of his seven original "Refill" tracks to songs that once again feature the torturous downfall of young women at the hands of Eminem's "Dark Passenger" persona. On "Music Box" he references "Dakota," who most assume is Dakota Fanning, and who, for most, is just cutting too close to home. The precision and the specifics with which he describes the would-be crimes are unsettling and uncomfortable, to say the least, and even the most hardcore Eminem fan will undoubtedly have a hard time bumping "Music Box" with the windows rolled down on the freeway.
On "Buffalo Bill," though, he adopts the Silence of the Lambs villain as an alter ego and utilizes the iconic film imagery in his verses. Listening to the latter song after the former may ease one's mind a bit about whether or not these are real fantasies the artist has or if he is just trying something creatively through his medium. However, being that the order is actually reversed on the album makes it instead feel as if you are listening to the escalation of a madman.
So what brought on the reversion? It is hard to tell. It could be the final break-up with his on-again-off-again wife Kim, the mother of Hailey Jade. It could be that his own mother, Debbie, seemed to manage to manipulate him earlier in the year regarding the severity of her illness. It is hard to tell if Eminem has cracked up, feels like he has something to prove, or is just trying to slaughter (again, no pun intended) the competition. His beats are on-point; his lyrics are sick in many definitions of the word (part of "Taking My Ball" sounds like it was inspired by The Trinity Killer); and his vocals are as fresh and sharp as the knife he claims to wield.
The one weak point of "Refill" would sadly be Dre's guest vocals on "Hell Breaks Loose," as he very plainly sounds like he's reading off a lyrics sheet-- lyrics that he very clearly didn't write for himself.
With "Relapse 2" still being promised as being on the horizon, it still remains to be seen just what else Eminem has up his sleeve. But with the game having changed so much in the last half of the past decade-- and with no sense that it's going to slow down now or in the next decade-- the writing is on the wall. Eminem has played the woman-hater before, and whether or not that's who he really is no longer even really matters. Just as they once "said [he] can't rap about bein' broke no more..." someone needs to tell him to stop sticking to the same old script here, too. After all, if all he's got is joints about ripping women up with chainsaws and jokes at Mariah Carey's expense (though even I have to admit "The Warning" was hot!) in his repertoire, then he really is yesterday-- or last decade--'s news. The laugh will unfortunately be on him because the industry won't be waiting around for "Relapse 2" the way once diehard fans (myself included) were waiting for the first installment.