The Marhsall Mathers LP 2, Eminem’s eighth studio album and his first in over three years, can and will be looked at as a big coming out party – a milestone in his career that has him exploring ideas and emotions that he dared not touch in previous projects. It has very few features, and aside from Rick Rubin, an understated lineup of producers. Clearly he wanted to be the star of his own show. And rightfully so. He’s owned up to all the off-color remarks he’s made throughout the years, and a sequel to his most successful album is his way of punctuating his controversial career. Eminem is mainstream rap’s original bad boy. But is remembering a fading legacy enough to celebrate his latest venture?

The temptation is to say that he’s grown and that this is what hip-hop looks like at 40. And truth is he has grown. He steps out of his comfort zone a number of times, even taking a moment to apologize to his mother (“Headlights“), but maturity alone is not a reason to celebrate an album. Eminem may have grown as a man and a father and a son, but not as a lyricist. If anything he’s regressed. He’s still bound to the same motifs as before, and the beautifully crafted stories of yesteryear like “Stan” and “Guilty Conscience,” are now replaced by meandering rants. Eminem is the type of lyricist who thrives off of conflict, a better counterpuncher than a lead striker, but now that he’s been out of the game for so long he’s trying to find tension where there is none. So the only person he has to attack is himself. There are apologies, and moments of self-deprecation written all over this, more so than in years past.

All that equates to a giant, steaming pile of uninspiring contradictions. For all the mess he’s talked about the hype machine, he’s finally admitting that he was an integral part of it (“The Monster“), shrugging his shoulders saying, “yeah, yeah, you got me.” So yes, the album is a truthful statement, a revealing portrait, and the Real Slim Shady has stood up, but it only makes him look like an even bigger ass than before when he was poking fun at pop stars – essentially doing rap’s dirty work. It’s a last ditch effort to stay relevant, and proof that hate and shock rap will only take you so far. This is a mature outing for old Slim, but it’s just about two or three years too late for it to resonate with fans of a higher lyrical acumen.

Bad Guy

Resentment is a bitter pill that’ll siphon every ounce of understanding from a beating heart. And for Eminem it’s been a MO that’s defined, and shamelessly characterized his style for far too long. In this epic yet surprisingly revealing rant he exorcises those demons in favor of greener pastures: [LISTEN]

"Bad Guy"

Rhyme or Reason

In a not so creative flip of “Time of the Season,” via hip-hop’s most eclectic drifter Rick Rubin, a suddenly inspired bad boy takes it upon himself to try and save rap. It’s an admirable attempt in that it hints at progress, but it quickly buckles under the weight of some all too familiar motifs: [LISTEN]

"Rhyme or Reason"

So Much Better

Turning a Jay-Z standard into a reason to commit mass murder, misogyny takes on new meaning in this barbarous lyrical diatribe. Attached to this anti-love letter is a healthy pinch of anthrax, a dense lump of cow manure, and a sticky booger – all the tools Dennis the Menace needs to vent: [LISTEN]

"So Much Better"

Survival

Desperate for inspiration, Detroit’s bastard child returns to an all too familiar theme – aimless confrontation. Without it, all that’s left are formulaic guitar licks, lifeless samples, and predictable drum breaks, all of which equate to a feeble rehash of rock/rap fusion. It’s 2002 all over again: [LISTEN]

"Survival"

Legacy

A recycled version of “Stan,” right down to the background rain and semi-engaging hook. It’s comical how similar the two are, the only difference being that the former had a more inventive plot line. It’s regression in its purest form, relying on past triumphs to define future endeavors: [LISTEN]

"Legacy"

Asshole

This is what rap looks like when you’re 40 – self-loathing and a little long winded. It’s apt that the title is what it is, and perhaps telling of how hip-hop’s biggest brat has finally accepted his role. The gnashing beat hints at modernization, but the lyrics are too geriatric to keep pace: [LISTEN]

"Asshole"

Berzerk

As a single this Rick Rubin brainchild stands out as an amusing homage, but as a chapter in a longer narrative it’s an example of how a star is slowly losing its luster, looking for inspiration in the most predictable places. When an MC starts rapping about the old school, the end is not far behind: [LISTEN]

"Berzerk"

Rap God

This pompous, self-absorbed battle cry is all bark and no bite. It’s the old peek-a-boo technique because some fighters are only effective when they’re throwing counters. He’s coincidentally pulling a Mayweather and picking fights with lesser opponents in order to keep a flawless record: [LISTEN]

"Rap God"

Brainless

The Norman Bates of rap submits to mother yet again. There’s just no escaping her omnipresence, and what was once a source of inspiration is now a giant crutch hindering progress. There’s an appropriate creep factor to the beat, but even that’s a miss – a little more Exorcist than Psycho: [LISTEN]

"Brainless"

Stronger Than I Was

If stating the obvious makes a person stronger, than yes a milestone has been met. Yet what is supposed to be a revelatory moment, the softer side to a hardened lyricist, actually comes off as a giant queef – vaginal flatulence set to a minimal beat. The melodrama is too hypocritical to bear: [LISTEN]

"Stronger Than I Was"

The Monster

Rihanna acts as muse, and details ‘The Real Slim Shady‘s newfound friendship with the monster under his bed, which is really just an admission that he’s accepted his role in the hype machine. It’s honest, but in a very real and depressing way – a charlatan’s song fortified by the queen herself: [LISTEN]

"The Monster"

So Far…

While an aging lyricist is slowly setting himself up to be the next DMX, a legendary producer is quickly becoming the next Puff Daddy - shamelessly flipping Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good.” Fortunately it loosens the restraints just enough to allow for some refreshing self-deprecation: [LISTEN]

"So Far..."

Love Game

What better way to shame your ex than to list all the people she’s gone down on? And yeah sure, people blow people, but the way it’s presented makes her look like Superhead‘s greatest protégé. It shouldn’t be taken too seriously, though, after all, it’s played out over a poor flip of “Game of Love:” [LISTEN]

"Love Game"

Headlights

A glorified after school special unfolds over a wispy, synth-infused beat, officially announcing the death of Eminem and the rebirth of Marshall Mathers. He’s a world renowned pop-star now and to think, without the crumby childhood it may never have happened. Kudos for trying to get past the hate: [LISTEN]

"Headlights"

Evil Twin

Rapping over an industrial, synth laden beat, is reminiscent of early 2000s Def Jux. It’s enough to get the lyrical juices flowing again, but not enough to save the album. Hopefully it’s a teaser that’ll set the wheels in motion for another quick run of albums, mixtapes and cameos: [LISTEN]

"Evil Twin"