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[Aftermath / Interscope / Shady; 2010]

By ; June 18, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Remember Eminem? Well, of course you do – but what about the sick (in several meanings of the word), clever, and dominant presence he used to carry? The man’s first three albums ranked undeniably amongst the best records hip hop’s ever produced. Then 2004’s Encore came around, and in moments, Marshall Mathers crashed from subversive genius to a comedic caricature.

Then, he more or less disappeared for four years. We knew that Eminem’s best friend and former D12 bandmate Proof had been murdered, but not much else. There was talk of a new album every year, and those still faithful to Shady waited. 2009 hit and studio album number five, Relapse, finally dropped. While his rhymes were more on point than his previous misstep, the whole affair was grim, almost entirely focused on Em’s twisted side, largely devoid of his signature comical bloodlust.

Now it’s 2010, and somehow, “I told you so” just doesn’t quite say it. Recovery finds Eminem at the top of his game, roaring back to life. From the get-go he’s clearly hungry again, barraging the listener viciously on the Just Blaze-produced opener “Cold Wind Blows.” Shady as we knew him has been essentially MIA since 2002’s The Eminem Show, so herein lies the first time you’ve heard a powerful Slim spit from a more mature perspective. Perhaps more successfully than any other veteran artist in this genre of late (Kingdom Come, anyone?), Eminem is putting himself in both a relevant and domineering position in rap.

He confronts his slump quickly on “Talking to Myself”: “The last two albums didn’t count / Encore I was on drugs, Relapse I was flushin’ ’em out,” announcing to fans new and old, “The new me’s back to the old me,” and even apologizes for his last few efforts. He allows some insight into his depression, bluntly rapping about thoughts he had about dissing Lil Wayne and Kanye West out of jealousy. He then goes on to offer them props. It may be hard for music snobs, but it’s time to take Eminem seriously again. Front to back, Recovery voraciously showcases Em’s level of pure lyrical ability.

“On Fire” offers one of the disc’s strongest beats, produced by D12’s Kon Artis. Another of the record’s strengths is Marshall’s newfound trust in an expanded producer list – there’s only one Dre track and everyone from Just Blaze to Boi-1da to Havoc offer up beats. Next up is “Won’t Back Down,” which despite a slightly jarring beat and the odd presence of Pink, offers up Slim at his Shadiest, flowing with angry speed. DJ Khalil, the track’s producer, has a significant presence – he claims the most tracks from a single producer with four – and while one may wish that Blaze had filled a few of his spots, most of his contributions are strong.

The remainder of the album takes you through different thoughts: Kid Cudi collaborator Emile drops in to produce the intense, Ozzy-sampling “Going Through Changes,” on which Eminem confronts those years spent away from the game: “Fuckin’ drug dealers hang around me like yes men / and they gonna do whatever I says when – I says it / it’s in their best interest to protect their investment / and I just lost my fuckin best friend, so fuck it I guess then.” “Seduction” finds a more confident Eminem than we may ever have heard: “She’s on my dick cuz I spit better than you / what do you expect her to do?,” is a far cry from “Superman.” For the track, Boi-1da offers up a gliding backbeat contained by a persistent drum roll, hypnotizing the listener. It’s a highlight, back-to-back with the epic, Just Blaze-produced, Haddaway-sampling, Lil Wayne-featuring “No Love.” Wayne excitedly plays hypeman on Em’s verse, and after “Forever” and “Drop the World,” it’s safe to say the two are making a play to establish themselves as the game’s rulers together.

Other highlights include “Cinderella Man,” which is nearly “Til I Collapse 2010.” Following it is “25 to Life” on which Em uses his past with Kim to mislead the listener – it’s about a cruel relationship with hip hop, “I Used to Love H.E.R.” with an edge. “Almost Famous” finds Slim revisiting the days when he was truly Shady, prior to success. The song is so vicious that I can’t even bring myself to spoil any lyrics for you. It also raises a point: Shady’s grown up. While poor Michael J. Fox seems to have picked up the slack for Christopher Reeve, much of the sillier, sicker Shady seems to have come and gone. It’s a breath of fresh air after Relapse. Finally, on the album’s last collab, “Love the Way You Lie” Eminem makes use of Rihanna by emplacing her a song in uncomfortably close proximity to the Chris Brown issue. Last on the album is “Here We Go,” the Havoc track, a classic Mobb Deep vibe with a modern sensibility.

That’s what this album does; it’s 100% a record living and breathing in the now. All this isn’t to say it’s flawless: “W.T.P.” is an entertaining enough party song, but no more, the chorus on “You’re Never Over” sounds like some bizarre Beach Boys emulation, and his attempts to fit with the strange chorus of “Space Bound” leads to the line, “You’re a supernova.” Thing is, none of it really matters when put against the sheer scale of his return to glory. The man can rhyme his way out of anything – all three of the aforementioned tracks’ potential missteps are salvaged by his wordplay.

If any sanity remains in this damaged hip hop climate, this record will turn up the heat in a big way. If Drake’s Thank Me Later is global warming, then Recovery is the salvage plan. It’s certainly going to create quite a bit of noise. A lot of it is probably going to come from something simple: Eminem is back to making sick records again. The crater he’d created in the game that was just beginning to mend is going to have to reopen.


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