Bishop Briggs Brings Her Monstrous Voice To Sad Girl Anthems

Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" (Deluxe Edition) ***

Naming his new album as a sequel to what many would say was his career-defining set was a shrewd move on Eminem's part. It's a move made as if to immediately evoke an idea that this is one of his "classic" records. And, yes in the case of the clever, Beastie Boys-sampling, old-school send-up, "Berzerk," Mr. Mathers obviously has "the classics" on his mind.

After the utter-ugliness of 2009's "Relapse," Eminem issued the far superior, "Recovery" a year later. This album is thankfully closer to that album than the former, although Eminem's ugly side does show itself quite a few times, most notably in the much talked about "Rap God," where he throws around numerous homophobic slurs. Em may say that he's "not referring to homosexuals" all he wants, and point to all his gay friends and collaborators, but people obviously are still going to be offended. This is 2013 and he's been warned about this before, so his insistence to continue the practice is unquestionably an attempt to bait people and to get attention.

Such slurs are all over the record on the whole. He's smart enough to know he's pushing people's buttons. While the track has questionable taste as always, and it begins on a rocky note, it ends with some of his most rapid-fire lyricism to date. Even people who have issues with his content are hard-pressed to say that he doesn't possess technical skill. It's that imbalance that can make Eminem a frustrating artist.

In "Bad Guy," he even recalls "Stan" by having himself killed by a fan named "Matthew Mitchell," who is apparently Stan's brother. He raps both sides of the conversation, essentially talking to himself in the trunk of a car. He points out the fact that they have the "same initials." Either Eminem is trying to build his own Superman/Bizarro myth or this is a manifestation of some sort of self-hatred.

At 41, having a successful career, it seems like the man should be having more fun, but he comes off as utterly tormented. He can't be still this worked up and this angry -- can he? Of course the other perception is that this is "Slim Shady," the character and not Marshall. Again, identity issues and the notion of battling one's self. And of course, there are also still issues of misogyny, as exhibited in the tirade on "So Much Better." Whether this is a character or not, this persona is getting tired and calculated. It seems like he's angry now because he knows that's what people expect of him.

He's at his best when he is his most introspective and less vitriolic. His Rihanna-assisted track " The Monster" is a career highlight, recalling the two's last meeting on "Love The Way You Lie." The reason why it works is because it marries Eminem's drive, flow and energy with a beautiful pop-sense. This is a personal rhyme about his history, like "Lose Yourself." These authentic moments are so much more rewarding than the bravado-laden battle-raps where he usually uses his considerable lyrical skills to go in the darkest directions possible. This honest, candid side is on display as well on "Legacy."

Elsewhere, there's an almost new-found sense of breeziness here on "Rhyme Or Reason" where he samples The Zombies' classic "Time Of The Season." This is a very sample-heavy record, recalling hip-hop classics of the past. "Berzerk" samples Billy Squier, "So Far…" samples Joe Walsh. This sample-heavy old-school hip-hop approach can be attributed to Rick Rubin's involvement. He produced a lot of the tracks and co-executive-produced the record with Dr. Dre. Placing Eminem over his well-crafted sample-based beats, Rubin has forced out Eminem's more playful side. This is something that you wouldn't find on Dre's darkly minimalist "G-Funk"-influenced beats. In spite of his successful forays into other styles, hip-hop is still Rubin's best field. After all, as a part of Def Jam Recordings during the early years, he and Russell Simmons helped initially define the genre.

On "Love Game," rapper Kendrick Lamar joins Eminem over a sample of Wayne Fontana's "Game Of Love." Of course, that song was used to better effect in 1991 on De La Soul's track, "My Brother Is A Basehead." But then again, that De La track was a Prince Paul production, and he's a true artist when it comes to sampling. In any case, "Love Game" ends up being a highlight nonetheless because it again plays to Eminem's goofier side. And Lamar's rapid-fire assault shows why he is one of the most talked about newer figures in the rap game.

Guests are all over the place throughout the record. Fun.'s Nate Ruess appears on Eminem's song about his mother, "Headlights," Sia lends her distinctive voice to "Beautiful Pain" and Skylar Grey a friend and frequent collaborator appears in various places, including "Survival" and "A__hole."

It should be noted that in response to all the homophobic remarks on the record, Sia is donating what she earns from this collaboration to the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

As troubling as this record is, in Eminem's discography, this may be one of his least controversial and most well-balanced records. At this point, you know what you are getting when you get one of his records. There are still plenty of surprises.

If he shocks for the attention, he needs to stop. If he wants real "Rap God" status, he needs to drop the persona more often. At this point, the forced anger is too easy. Pushing people's buttons is too simple. After all these years, he has proven that he's got the lyrical skill but needs to move on. Believe it or not, "The Marshall Mathers LP 2," like its predecessor, "Recovery," makes baby-steps towards a brighter future. Nagging ghosts from the past still remain, however, which may not be quite the intension of the backwards-looking title. As much as this album recalls Eminem's classics and classic hip-hop in general, it also brings up some of his worst tendencies. Nevertheless, it definitely is a loaded listen which will promote discussion.

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