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Eminem – Relapse

May 15, 2009

Eminem’s career path has been an interesting one to follow: after bursting onto the hip-hop scene in 1999 and surprising the world with his shock value tactics and ability to rhyme, he had cemented himself as one of the best and most talented emcees ever by the time 8 Mile came out in late 2002. For whatever reason, starting in 2003, Slim Shady just suddenly stopped caring about his craft and we watched his skills rapidly decline, ultimately resulting in an incredibly disappointing album called Encore in 2004. Then… he just disappeared off the face of the earth and the very few appearances he did make (The Re-Up) showed that he was still just a shell of his former self. Thankfully, that disappearance has given the hip-hop community enough time away from Marshall to have some of us optimistic enough to be thinking that Relapse could be a return to form.

The first couple of tracks leaked from Relapse were cause for concern, however. “Crack A Bottle” is a pop-rap track that has Eminem rhyming nonsense over a candy ass beat, forgettable guest appearances from Dr. Dre and 50 Cent, and an incredibly corny, albeit catchy, hook. If that song wasn’t enough reason to sound off the alarm bells, Em decided to follow it up with “We Made You,” which is arguably one of the worst songs ever made. The rapping is actually much better here, but the hook is some painful shit to listen to and Eminem is using what online hip-hop forums have affectionately dubbed his “Osama Bin Shady” voice. Eminem once again attacks random pop singers and B-list celebrities and shows that artistic growth was not on his list of concerns during his hiatus. “Old Time’s Sake” leaked early also and is right on par with the first two tracks. Dre sounds terrible once again and while Eminem sounds kinda dope over the beat, the lyrics on the song are boring and forgettable.

Fortunately, the rest of Relapse is much better. The first thing that Eminem makes clear on this album is that, vocally, he is still one of the best rappers in the game from a technical standpoint. “Bagpipes From Baghdad” is a terrible song with juvenile lyrics and cheap shots at Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon, but the rapping is so good on it that I can’t stop myself from playing it: “Nothing will stop me from molesting you, titty-fucking you ’til your breast nipple flesh tickles my testicles.” Words can’t describe how dope it sounds when he says that. I doubt anyone wanted to hear another song about Debbie Mathers, yet “My Mom” finds Eminem placing blame on his mother’s drug habits for causing his own Vicodin addiction. Despite the content being incredibly tired at this point in Em’s career, the lyrics and delivery make it a very enjoyable song anyways. Just look at the way this guy is putting syllables together in these lines: “‘Mrs. Mathers, I think your son has been huffing Ether/ either that, or the motherfucker’s been puffing reefer’/ but all this huffing and puffing wasn’t what it was either/ it was neither, I was buzzin’, but it wasn’t what she thought.” Again, dude just tears the track to shreds.

I think listeners will come away slightly disappointed after the first couple times they listen to Relapse all the way through. While it’s evident that Eminem hasn’t matured much as a musician since 2002 and that he may never release a sure-fire hip-hop classic, Relapse is at least a scathingly dark album. Between “3 A.M.,” “Same Song & Dance,” and “Stay Wide Awake,” Eminem shows that he may actually be a little nuttier than we all thought he was–if that’s even possible. He’s gone from saying “raping his own mother” in comical fashion to describing his fantasies of murdering Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears in extreme detail while abandoning the tongue-in-cheek tone of voice that used to make his outlandish behavior acceptable; he’s legitimately scary on this album. “I said, yeah baby, do that dance… it’s the last dance you’ll ever get the chance to do/ girl, shake that ass, you ain’t ever gonna break that glass, the windshield’s too strong for you.”. Yikes. I’ve heard this album described as “American Psycho on wax” and I think that’s a fitting description. With “Kim,” Em had the excuse of saying it was his way of handling his emotions and with “Kill You,” we all knew he was just joking around… but when Eminem gets asked about the inspiration behind this trio of songs on Relapse, I don’t think he’s going to have any excuses this time. It’s like he says on “Medicine Ball”: “Man, they don’t understand, I’m just a sick man.”

So where does Relapse leave Eminem in the scope of the hip-hop world? It’s not his best album, by any means, but it’s infinitely better than Encore and certainly a step in the right direction. On Encore and all of his appearances during his hiatus, Eminem just sounded like a soulless shell of his former self. I can say with confidence that the man has found his passion for music again. How he still managed to make a song as bad as “We Made You” I don’t understand, but Relapse as a whole, is a return to form for Slim Shady. Don’t expect artistic growth here or a huge change in focus as far as content is concerned. Simply put, Relapse is a reminder that Eminem is not to be fucked with on the microphone and that the man still has it. Let’s all hope Relapse 2 is even better.

Grade: 7 out of 10 (Must Own)

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