[Shady Records / Interscope; 2011]

Bad Meets Evil – the name itself bears a certain weight. For hip hop heads, prior to the official (it’d been rumored for months) announcement of the resumption of the partnership between Royce “Bad” da 5’9” and Slim “Evil” Shady, the moniker harkened back to a better time. Songs could chart without a pop chorus, Eminem was on the rise and – by all appearances – so was his ally and fellow Detroit native Royce. Their subsequent falling out is history that the two have been only too happy to recount, whether on the mic or in the hot seat.

As this record strives to prove, it doesn’t matter. They’re back together now, and as the fable goes, were just so excited they recorded an album-length EP. Every aspect of this thing’s existence is designed to lull genuine rap fans, right down to its title. It’s a strange beast: by remaining devoted to their longtime name they knowingly sacrifice the sales boost of a “Eminem &…” cover. Add to this their reasoning for recording an EP rather than LP: to avoid the pressure of an Eminem CD and allow them to return “real rap” to the mainstream. That’s quite a lofty claim. Simultaneously and inevitably, the effort began being compared to Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne. It’s a bit ironic, seeing as the two projects couldn’t be much more different. Watch the Throne is a carefully calculated project with hundreds of man hours devoted to its perfection, arguably crafted as a crutch for a sagging Jay-Z; a prestige project with his greatest protégé.

Hell: The Sequel, on the other hand, was hurried to release as quickly as it is claimed (and genuinely seems) to have been recorded. There’s certainly something to be said for a creation process freed of obsession, but when the two say they just picked 11 beats and jumped on them, they mean it. You get exactly what you’d expect from two extremely talented MCs messing around: some heavy hitters and some relative duds. Also, despite its appearance as a return to raw rap, this as much an album designed to market Eminem’s new posse as it is anything else. In case you didn’t know, Royce is a member of Slaughterhouse, the new rap clique on Shady Records sans Yelawolf, and if you didn’t, you certainly will if you pop this in, they appear on “Loud Noises.”

Any leader tries to get his guys out there, and Eminem’s no different. However, the tact by which he attempts to achieve this – the Bruno Mars featuring “Lighters” – is a strange one. By all rights, it’s not a terrible song; the beat is decent and the two MCs do their “thanks haters” verses justice, but the chorus sounds more fit for the Mulan soundtrack than a Bad Meets Evil album. It’s simply out of place on an EP otherwise obsessed with maiming and sex. Following “Love the Way You Lie,” Eminem’s logic seems to have been, that it’s better to get good lyrics in a pop structure on the radio, rather than nothing at all. That’s all well and good, but at least Rihanna had the connection to abuse, what’s Bruno doing in Hell? In this day and age, a pop single is understandable, but if one is claiming to be striving to bring it all back, well, when’s it time?

This random interpolation aside, the rest of the material sticks to territory reasonable for Bad and Evil to be occupying. As was aforementioned, they essentially picked beats out of a hat, so a decent amount of what appears here comes from in-house: D12’s Mr. Porter – an able beatsmith in his own right – handles the majority of the production, and a few Recovery collaborators return. Just as with their prior collaboration, Eminem working with Mobb Deep’s Havoc is exciting, and his dense, thudding operatic starter “Welcome 2 Hell” is among the album’s standout material, with the two MCs brutally hurling as many one-liners as they can in under three minutes. It’s one hell of an intro (no pun intended), and followed by the bombastic single “Fastlane,” the EP starts off at an incredible stride. Next up is fan favorite “The Reunion,” boasting an Eminem back on his Eminem Show flow, spending the entirety of his two verses driving and berating the poor girl riding shotgun. Another highlight consists of the Bangladesh-produced “The Kiss,” whose trippy bell-based beat taps into an Eminem unheard for some time; he even takes the time to put Lady GaGa and Bieber on roast.

Be sure to grab the deluxe, leaks caused two of the project’s best tunes to be shifted to afterthoughts. Don’t miss them, the insistent drums and wailing chorus of the fully-mastered “Echo” behind two razor-sharp verses are among the effort’s most satisfying moments.

The rest is hit and miss; “I’m On Everything” is both silly and sloppy, “Above the Law” boasts rapid-fire verses, yet its simplistic beat makes it ultimately forgettable. That’s this effort’s greatest flaw: it’s a well made EP brought to life by two of the greatest MCs currently working, and gets instant extra credit for shedding some light on the perpetually underrated Royce da 5’9”. Nonetheless it ultimately plays like a grand mixtape: MCs showing off their A-game over some basic beats, all recorded and wrapped up in a matter of days. Nothin’ wrong with that and you’re sure to be thrilled for a few listens, but as for this lasting alongside the thought-out efforts of other artists, it’s unlikely. The lyricism is impressive, and it’s easy to get lost in it, but – some very noteworthy highlights aside – once that wears off, it’s unlikely you’ll return to Hell all that often.

Grade: 73%