By Matthew Ismael Ruiz
Sequels tend to get awkward. On the Marshall Mathers LP 2, a 41-year-old Eminem does his best to recreate the characters and mystique of the classic Marshall Mathers LP that scared America’s suburbanite squares and cemented his pop stardom. In striving to recreate the magic of the turn-of-the-millenium diamond-certified release, we find the bottle-blonde Detroit MC retreading the same themes he tackled in his 20s. There’s the bullies that tortured him and shaped his personality, the media obsession that made him a superstar, and his relationship with his mother—with whom he finally appears to have come to terms. He spends much of the record reflecting on the period in his life where he was at the height of his fame, notoriety, and sales. But as Em looks at his career through the rearview, many of the innumerable pop culture references he drops seem stale, and the immaturity on display when he calls things “gay” and people “faggots” is much harder to excuse from a middle-aged adult with children.
Whether we should judge a grown man for behaving childishly on record is up for debate; what is not are Em’s skills. His technical ability is world-class—on “Rap God” alone works through enough rapping styles to power several lesser MCs’ entire careers. He effortlessly works in various poetic device into his lyrics, using enjambment, double meanings and witty metaphors to color the rhymes he spits as he inhabits different characters and delivery styles with ease. His aggressive tones, extremely diverse flows, verbal dexterity, and breath control make him one of the most technically gifted MCs to ever rock a mic. He can work in and out of the pocket at any speed, but he’s most himself when wildly exclaiming with punctuated syllables.
But an MC needs more than just skills. Many a talented battle rapper has failed when trying to make art that perseveres, something that lasts. A hot line might get a chuckle or two, but the best of the best MCs craft timeless verses worth repeating. And Em has written many over the years, from schizophrenic nightmares (“Guilty Conscience”) on his albums, to outshining legendary MCs on their own classics, and bizarre concept one-offs. So while his latest LP has as many hits as it does misses, we chose to inspect five of its illest verses, which showcase that even if he may not have much to say these days, he still says it better than most everyone else.
5. “Rap God”
But for me to rap like a computer must be in my genes
I got a laptop in my back pocket
My pen’ll go off when I half-cock it
Got a fat knot from that rap profit
Made a living and a killing off it
Ever since Bill Clinton was still in office
With Monica Lewinsky feeling on his
nut-sack I’m an MC still as honest
But as rude and as indecent as all hell
Syllables, killaholic (kill em all with)
This flippity-dippity hippity hip-hop
You don’t really wanna get into a pissing match with this rappity rap
Packing a Mac in the back of the Ac, backpack rap crap, yap, yap, yackity-yak
And at the exact same time
I attempt these lyrical acrobat stunts while I’m practicing that
I’ll still be able to break a motherf***in’ table
Over the back of a couple of f******s and crack it in half
Only realized it was ironic I was signed to Aftermath after the fact
How could I not blow, all I do is drop F-bombs, feel my wrath of attack
Rappers are having a rough time period, here’s a maxi pad
It’s actually disastrously bad for the wack
While I’m masterfully constructing this masterpiece
This warm up verse for the marathon that is “Rap God” doesn’t have the single’s best line (“You’re pointless as Rapunzel with f***in’ cornrows”) or couplet (“I’m out my ramen noodle, we have nothing in common, poodle/I’m a doberman, pinch yourself in the arm and pay homage, pupil”), but it avoids its worst off-tangent homophobic pratfalls. Tight, aggressive, and brimming with “rage and youthful exuberance,” Em rides outside the pocket with colorful wordplay (genes/jeans, living/killing) before stepping on the gas. His rapid-fire delivery as he shouts out Big Pun, one of hip-hop’s all-time great practitioners of tongue-twisting acrobatics, is made even more impressive when he stops on a dime and slips into the pocket to perfectly enunciate the multi-syllabic boast that closes out the verse.