Over ten years ago, Eminem was putting out song after song calling out rappers for being past their prime. But now he is the age he mocked then, and after over a decade of his unique combination of shock raps, story raps, heartfelt rhymes, and more mainstream tracks, all eyes were on him to see what he'd still have to say. The album he delivered, "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" brings his career full circle not to his first underground album, mixtape, or even studio EP but his most personal one-- one that marked a turning point for the kind of artist he was going to be.
Before "The Marshall Mathers LP", Eminem made a name for himself for a partnership with Dr. Dre that produced slick lyrics and clever characters, but "The Marshall Mathers LP" took things to a whole other level. On that one, he self-analyzed, he self-criticized, and most importantly he shared himself and his struggles. As time went on and he kept creating, for his own albums or for collaborations on others', his words stayed rich with the weight of himself and his heart-- from his tumultuous childhood to marriage/divorce/remarriage/redivorce, to raising his daughters, to his politics, to losing his best friend, to his own battle with addiction. So much of Eminem's early work, like any art really, was fueled by anger and pain-- at his mother, his childhood bullies, his wife/ex-wife, the then-president, even himself. But what happens when that anger and pain fades away? The man may be healed, but the artist may then may grasp for things to say.
"The Marshall Mathers LP 2" is certainly a throwback in style to Eminem's influences as well as early works. Some tracks have cheeky lyric references directly to songs past (like "So Far"s "someone got all elaborate and stuck a head from a fuckin’ dead cat in my mailbox/went to Burger King, they spit on my onion rings/I think my karma is catchin' up with me"), while others' beats invoke memories of earlier ones ("Asshole" featuring Skylar Grey is reminiscent of "My 1st Single" off "Encore" and even "Survival" featuring Liz Rodrigues brings to mind "Soldier" off "The Eminem Show"), and he even provides a follow up to his Parking Lot Skit and considers fall-out from his "Stan" experience. Always a perfectionist, some of these could be Eminem's way of taking a second stab at something he feels still needs a tweak all of these years and after publication later. But what he rarely does here is check back in on most of those all-important and oddly career-defining relationships.
The one notable exception, obviously, is his mother whose health has declined in recent years. On the soulful and emotional "Headlights", he digs deeper than he ever has to admit to some regrets at how far things got between them while simultaneously admitting that he still loves her simply because she's his mother. It's the perfect exhibit of growth and maturity and is only one marker of such a move to softer tracks that the Eminem of five or ten years ago would have mocked-- and actually did at times mock (like on the Everlast diss "I Remember"). A similar side comes out in "Stronger Than I Was" in which he spends much of the track actually singing about an unnamed woman who ruined him-- and in the bonus track "Beautiful Pain" featuring Sia. He even willingly offers a comparison reference to Everlast on "Baby". He seems to get the irony of his situation, and he seems to have made peace with it, too.
Eminem turned his pen inward on his last two albums in order to rip himself apart the way he had become famous for doing to others. For any artist such self-analyzation and simple repetition of working through issues on the page, in the booth, in a painting, whatever, wherever, is a therapeutic process. Though Eminem attempts to continue the process here, those moments are fewer and farther between than usual, relegated to a couple of select tracks with a handful of other lyrics scattered around. The bottom line seems to be that while he is still not perfect, he has matured; he has worked through so many things; and he has moved on. It shouldn't be a surprise then that this album has been marketed with the tag line of going home "one more time." Over a decade ago, Eminem schooled the industry on what hip hop could be, but along the way he had some major lessons to learn himself, and now he has graduated. If this is his swan song, it should be considered a success-- simply because of what it means that he got from where he was to where he is now.