Before we delve into what an insanely talented, insanely creative and just plain f**king insane artist Eminem is, let’s take a moment to fully appreciate the man. In an industry bursting with rags to riches stories, Marshall Mathers is the unlikeliest hero of them all. A skinny white kid from Detriot’s god-neglected 8 Mile, Eminem has (controversially) become the greatest rapper alive, an obscene genius who used his horrific past as fuel for his music. Hip-hop artists aren’t supposed to be tortured souls, they’re supposed to swagger, floss and stunt. But Eminem conquered hip-hop by …
DJBooth Album Review
At the same time America was hooked on Eminem’s music and the controversy that enveloped him, Slim Shady was hooked on pills, an addiction that landed him in rehab and resulted in a four-year absence. Now Eminem has re-emerged to release the perfectly titled Relapse, an almost impossibly dark album he lobs at hip-hop like a hand grenade. Relapse reunites Em with his mentor Dr. Dre , but the album’s production is largely drowned out by Eminem’s frighteningly intense rhyming, resulting in a work that’s more of an event than an album. Eminem didn’t make Relapse for us, he made it for himself as a therapy, a catharsis, an antidote.
To call Relapse a horrorcore album would be a gross over-simplification, but it’s a good place to start. The majority of Relapse is a cinematic affair so brutal it makes Saw look like High School Musical, starting with 3 AM, a psychotic stream of consciousness that I simultaneously never want to hear again and put on repeat. After all, who else could drop a line like “My cousin/I wrapped him in Christmas lights/pushed him into the stinkin tub” and effortlessly make “cousin” and “tub” rhyme? Still, 3 AM is far from the album’s most gruesome track, an honor that would have to go to schizophrenic Stay Wide Awake or the rape fantasy Same Old Song and Dance. I’m not saying Eminem is actually as violent as Relapse suggests, I’m just saying Nick Cannon should be worried.
If Relapse was nothing but 3 AMs radio programmers wouldn’t touch it, a reality that’s obviously not lost on Eminem (or his label bosses). Accordingly, the album takes a few stabs at radio success, all of them uninspired at best and manufactured at worst. Crack a Bottle is a full-fledged Aftermath reunion that’s also the album’s only track that could be remotely described as “club.” Bottle’s success has more to do with 50 Cent’s guest appearance and Dre’s dope double-duty on the mic/beat than Eminem’s relatively meager contribution – in fact, the track succeeds almost in spite of him. Similarly forced is the celebrity hit-piece We Made You. Now I can’t front, I laughed at We Made You's video like everyone else, but ultimately it’s a half-hearted attempt by Emimen to stir up some controversy, as if he’s cursed to remake the nearly decade-old My Name Is over and over again. In an album full of wanton violence these tracks are the real evils; necessary evils, but evils none-the-less.
What saves Relapse is its intensely personal look into Eminen’s pill-fueled collapse and subsequent sobriety. Only a rapper as fearless as Marshall could let us this close, and Relapse is at its best when it lets us listen to Em’s raw nerves. For my money Deja Vu is the album’s standout, a reflection on his overdose that name drops pharmaceuticals like Soulja Boy name drops Gucci. Underneath all the punch lines Eminem is a storyteller at heart, and the story Deja Vu tells is captivating. More disturbing is Insane, a frantic track that paints a painfully vivid picture of physical and sexual abuse. Some other writers seem to be intimidated by the overwhelming force of Eminem’s vision, but the truth is Relapse will not go down as one of his better albums. He’s at his best when he walks the razor thin line between control and recklessness, and on Relapse he crosses that line one too many times, making the album engrossing but too erratic to be a classic. Relapse is the album Eminem had to make in order to continue to make albums, and if that’s what it took to get one of the best rappers in history back behind the mic, then hip-hop fans should embrace Relapse. Welcome back Marshall.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 05/13/09
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Smack That" (2006)
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