Release Date: May 19, 2009
Record label: Interscope
For 10 years now, Eminem has been pop music’s irascible answer to the Joker, juggling moments of genuine menace (2000’s brutal murder fantasy ”Kim”) with cartoonish capers (his brash 1999 debut smash ”My Name Is”) and occasional flashes of unlikely gravitas (the Oscar-winning one-man creation myth ”Lose Yourself”). On Relapse‘s jaunty first single, ”We Made You,” the 36-year-old rapper plays the role in Jack Nicholson’s broad-strokes style — a court jester clowning his way through cheeky provocations and two-dimensional disses. But the real Marshall Mathers seems to hew much closer to the version that Heath Ledger gave us: a deeply damaged nihilist who uses humor to mask a seething hurt.
Eminem placed himself in exile shortly after Encore wound down, a seclusion initially designed as creative down-time but which soon descended into darkness fueled by another failed marriage to his wife Kim and the death of his best friend Proof, culminating in years of drug addiction. Em none too subtly refers to that addiction with the title of Relapse, his first album in five years, but that relapse also refers to Marshall Mathers reviving Slim Shady and returning to rap. Relapse is designed to grab attention, to stand as evidence that Eminem remains a musical force and, of course, a provocateur spinning out violent fantasies and baiting celebrities, occasionally merging the two as when he needles one-time girlfriend Mariah Carey and her new husband Nick Cannon.
Eminem :: RelapseShady/Aftermath/InterscopeAuthor: Jesal 'Jay Soul' PadaniaGuess who's back. Back again. By now, you will be aware of the drugs, the weight gain, the marriage/divorce, the death of a best friend, the whole shebang... Everyone has been assaulted by a media blitz of epic proportions that very few artists could command, anywhere in the world.
After five years without a solo release, the media's favourite entertainment scapegoat is back with more gut-churning insight. Following fellow D12 member Proof's death, Eminem admitted to falling into an even deeper anti-depressant-fuelled spiral, and Relapse's lyrical content shows it. By Insane, the album's third track, he has taken you to hell and back.
Dignity isn't the first word that springs to mind when thinking of Eminem, but there was definitely something impressively graceful about the way he brought his career to an apparent conclusion in 2006. A smart man, he had evidently realised he was fast running out of things to say. There was something deeply enervating about his 2004 album Encore - the sound of a man whose provocations had once incurred the wrath of both the White House and the CIA reduced to making farting noises.
It’s probably safe to say we can give up now. If it were going to happen, Eminem’s long-awaited but as-yet-unrealised career-defining magnum opus surely would have arrived right now, at a juncture where the world’s premier white emcee is on the rebound from ‘exhaustion’ (drug problems) and a break from the game (rehabilitation), given further fire from the death of close pal Proof from D12. The high hopes were there: the most pissed off rhymer in history about to channel his anger consistently; just maybe he’d reprise the underground rhyme skills that made his name in days when you’d find Marshal Mathers' moniker on independent rap bastions such as Rawkus, instead of doling out fart gags and open goal celebrity bashing with worrying frequency.
Over the past 10 years, Eminem has grown increasingly paranoid and self-contemptuous; unfortunately, so have the rest of us. Think about why he became famous in the first place: skill and personality, yes, but also a willingness, perhaps a compulsion, to start shit. We watched, pleased by the outcome. It was joyous.
Despite all the negative things I am about to say about Relapse, there are two very important points that must be kept in mind. 1) From a technical standpoint, Eminem is the best rapper alive. Better than Lil Wayne, better than Jay-Z, better than any backpacker, underground, grime or regional act anywhere else in the world. His flow, delivery, internal rhymes and complex structure will always be more important that his content, and in these areas he is without rival.
You might think calling Eminem "divisive" in 2009 would give him too much credit. After all, nearly every piece of promotion that's led up to the release of Relapse has caused the internet to stop whatever it was doing and form a unified chorus exclaiming how washed up it made the guy look. But did you know that after "We Made You" hit the airwaves, major networks ran segments on whether Eminem's "controversial" new video went too far? Let's think big picture here: In some corners of the indie community, people quibble about whether Wavves are overhyped, even though 99% of America have absolutely no fucking clue who they are.
The fact is, at the ripe age of 28, I am no longer the primary marketing demographic in modern capitalist society. That demographic is kids in their late teens and early 20s because they possess a unique combination of disposable income and weakness to peer pressure that makes corporate interests salivate. Almost everyone feels the pressure at that age, the overwhelming desire to be cool.
Review Summary: It's about 10% as good as The Marshall Mathers LP, so how much did you enjoy that?Let’s cut to the chase; the big, massive problem with Relapse is that it isn’t The Marshall Mathers LP. People can bitch about how “Oh no, it’s not that, it’s that he isn’t INTO it anymore”. Same stuff, people. Eminem is about 9 years older, well into his 30’s, and if you think he is going to make a song like “Kim” or “Kill You” when he has a teenage kid and a fiscal empire to protect, well, you are pretty naive.