[First posted 21/06/12]
The revelry chained to the return of Eminem into the music industry has passed its quick peak. Since it the em cee has bathed in an ironic glow – claiming to have rediscovered a focus, clarity and identity – but upon listening to the ceaseless flow of new material, it renders more to an identity crisis full of clumsiness, but with sketchy glimpses of unavoidable talent.
Royce da 5’9’’, though not as talented as another one of Eminem’s old adversaries, Canibus – had followed a similar careerist route of consistency, glimpsing commercial acclaim and consistent critical accreditation.
These two members of Bad Meets Evil have ironed over a long lasting feud to reignite a largely forgotten duo. The reasons appear nostalgic, filling in a project that did not materialise when it would have been most fruitful to do so(in the early 2000s). This was a mistake, as with Hell: The Sequel – a 9 track EP (or 11 with the Deluxe version), Eminem and Royce dance around their potentialities and intermittedly fuse to realise. Largely though, the EP displays the type of bald commercialism which destroys the glimpses of linguistic and musical integrity and creativity which are displayed.
The leading single from the EP, Fast Lane, is a clear example of this ambiguity. Royce bounces from rapping about stripping and assaulting police officers, to claiming superior intelligence, and his newfound Eminem-induced influx of currency; whilst Marshall recycles lazy Vanilla Ice shout outs coupled with blowjob ultimatums with the threat of decapitation. In other words, the lyrical approach is one that fails to stir any sort of emotion, as it is flat and emotionless. Despite this though, the flow the two show is intricate and stylistically superb. The speed is revved up and Royce impressively keeps up with and at times exceeds Eminem’s virtuosity in this area,
I’m livin’ the life of the infinite enemy down
My tenement, too many now
To send my serenity powers
Spin ‘em around.
…Chewed him up and spitted him out
Girl, giddy-up, now get, get down
He’s lookin’ around this club and it looks like people are havin’ a shit fit now
Here, little t-t-trailer trash, take a look who’s back in t-t-town.
Glimpses such as these pertain to giving the album an amount of artistic value which otherwise would not have existed. The pre-existent talent, that is, saves them. Moments such as these are replicated on opening track Welcome to Hell, Above the Law, and Echo (if listening to the Deluxe version).
The aforementioned bald commercialism was hinted at in Recovery with appearances by guests such as Pink, but for me there was more surprise at seeing a track featuring Bruno Mars – on the track Lighters, a listenable track which is something of an obvious hit.
The theme which is being attempted at here, is one of disappointment. Both Eminem and Royce are hugely talented artists who have in their wake a wealth of lyrically dexterous, intelligent material – which could balance smart hip-hop against the need to actually sell records, even if one succeeded much more than the other. (For those not accustomed to Royce, the best starting point is his DJ Premier produced track Boom.) This EP though, has the feel of being too hastily thrown together. It could have hugely benefitted from a more delayed and thought out writing process, and the furthering of concepts found in some of their earlier tracks – for example the eponymous track Bad Meets Evil from The Slim Shady LP.
In terms of production, Hell: The Sequel has its moments. Mr Porter/Kon Artist takes control of most of the tracks, and shows why he was chosen to be involved in the senior production team for Detox. (Though it must be noted that I’m On Everything is by a long shot the worst track on the EP, which Mr Porter produced. Its bland lyricism, which re-uses Relapse material shamelessly – is further worsened with a horrific chorus and hopeless beat. One can only attribute this to the rushed nature of the EP and one can only hope that this slipped under the radar onto the tracklist through an accident or bet.) Dr Dre still remains to prime producer when it comes to weaving tracks for Eminem’s voice, which may be why Royce comes out on top in many of the tracks on offer – as Marshall seems noticeably uncomfortable on some of the tracks in a way which is rarely the case with a Dre track.
With Relapse Eminem showed an explosive and new style, without substance. With Recovery he attempted to descend from this and attempt heavier substance, but failed stylistically and at times artistically. The pre-retirement Eminem, for the time being (if not forever), remains in remission. This collaboration is one which, if we are to decide ‘winners’, is won by Royce – but only just. We see the makings of a good album at times here, but this EP is not one that will cause waves in the industry, only ripples.