Modern day Eminem will always have the unfortunate (and perhaps impossible) task of trying to live up to the Eminem of the late 1990s through the early 2000s. From The Slim Shady LP to The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show, Em was untouchable. Not only did all three of those albums win the Grammy‘s ‘Rap Album of the Year’ award, but everyone at the time knew that this guy wasn’t going anywhere (and they were right). Although taking brief hiatuses throughout the years, Eminem has consistently dropped successful solo albums, four more since The Eminem Show in 2002. While the sales, and even some of the critical acclaim, has survived throughout the years, the issue of whether the quality of Eminem’s latter music is highly polarizing. In his 2010 album Recovery, Eminem even admitted his previous album was “ehhh…”. However many argued that Recovery and The Marshall Mathers LP 2 were not any better. Pitchfork gave Recovery a 2.8 out of 10, stating that “the more (Eminem) motors on about having reclaimed his passion for hip-hop and finally figured out who he is, the more draining the album becomes.” Entertainment Weekly gave Em’s previous album a C+ score, noting the obvious content changes in his music. “At this point, though, his ultimate obsessions are with his disappointing mother and absent father — and those, he uses to abuse himself.” Lately Eminem seems to be having an eternal battle, deciding the best route for his music. At times it seems like he is trying to go back to the ‘old Eminem’, through making a sequel to MMLP and forcing homophobic language and shock value insults towards women and celebrities, something Eminem made a career off of. However it also appears that he is trying to shed the coat of his controversial ‘Slim Shady’ persona, making mends with his mother and cleaning up his content at times, rapping “I’d rather make ‘Not Afraid 2’ than make another motherf*cking ‘We Made You”, which showed his preference over more emotionally mature tracks over the tracks with shock value and shots at pop culture. While ShadyXV is not a solo Eminem LP, it is certainly his project, of which he will be judged on. Producing many of the tracks, appearing on all but two of the album’s exclusive songs and being the head of Shady Records, ShadyXV is an Eminem album in many ways, we just didn’t know what kind of Eminem we would get.
If you find yourself playing the first half of Eminem’s catalog more than his past few albums, this compilation is not for you. Through the entire first half of ShadyXV (as the second disc is a best hits collection) Eminem recycles his flow, probably best known from his 2013 track ‘Berzerk’. The flow is extremely choppy, and while it may showcase his talent’s as an MC, it does not make for an enjoyable experience. His flow throughout the project makes his lyrics hard to follow and hearing him scream to the instrumental’s that aren’t tailored to this new style may cause headaches. Refusing to conform to norms of rap music can often be amazing and game changing… not here. Luckily, while the flow is constant in ShadyXV ‘s entire first disc, it is not too noticeable in certain tracks.
Eminem also flexed his production muscle throughout the album. While Eminem is capable of producing an enjoyable track, he is certainly not a rapper/producer nor does he have the talents of a Kanye West, J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T. or Tyler the Creator as his production is hit or miss. In the album’s opening and self-titled track, ‘ShadyXV’, comes Eminem’s worst production and the worst production on the album. The track samples Billy Squire’s ‘My Kinda Lover’ in the way that ‘Ice Ice Baby’ samples ‘Under Pressure’. Barely changing the beat, Eminem raps over a loop of a classic rock song (something that was highly overdone in MMLP2). Eminem even admits at the track’s closing, “know you really tired of me sampling Billy Squier, but classic rock acip rap is the genre.” Yes, we are tired of it, but no, it’s not. Staying with the hit-and-miss aspect of Eminem’s production, while his back-to-back tracks ‘Fine Line’ and ‘Twisted’ both crutch on the piano to make or break the beat, ‘Twisted’ makes its and ‘Fine Line’ breaks it.
One of the best produced track’s however is an Eminem produced track, ‘Vegas’. This Bad Meets Evil track has probably received the most attention in the past couple days, after its leak. In the track Eminem makes a rape joke towards ‘Fancy’ rapper Iggy Azalea. While this track is ‘old Eminem’ in its controversial content, its quality is watered down by Eminem choppy flow. The highlight of the album’s production comes from a team of producers with Just Blaze, Boi-1da, and The Maven Boys in ‘Psychopath Killer’. The beat is dark and ominous through its bass and keys, which compliments the song’s content perfectly.
When it comes to the two non-Eminem tracks on the album, both are pretty forgettable. These tracks include D12’s track ‘Bane’ and Yelawolf’s track ‘Down’. While neither of the track’s are horrible, they are both fillers in the 12-track album, which is unfortunate since there are roughly 66 tracks that did not make Disc 1’s final cut.
Another strong weakness of Eminem’s raps in this album is his inability to construct a song. Through his early career, he had a unique story telling ability which created true songs, as opposed to just random raps mixed with meaningless verses. In ‘Stan’, one of Eminem’s best songs to date, he tells a story of an obsessed fan through a series of letters. In 8 Mile’s ‘Lose Yourself’ Em paints a picture of a nervous and poverty ridden battle rapper with a passionate love for music who must seize his opportunities. In ‘Guilty Conscious’ Eminem personifies the bad voices we all hear when confronted with difficult situations, contrasted to the good voices through Dr. Dre, as he gives us different persons’ stories in each verse. In ‘Kim’, Eminem pushed boundaries of what is acceptable in music by telling a sick fantasy where he confront’s his cheating ex while having a twisted conversation with a crying Kim as he drives her to the woods for her ultimate death, playing the parts of both himself and Kim. Not only do we not see such brilliant song concepts in this album, but we haven’t for many years.
ShadyXV showcases Eminem’s lyricism at its high points, but mostly the album is made up of his random rhymes via his choppy flow. While his use of ‘f*ggot’ and shock value jabs at pop culture have gone nowhere (despite his moments of maturity in the past few albums), his ability to make a true quality song (irregardless of sales) is well in the past. If you are an Eminem stan (pun intended) then you will find a way to still enjoy ShadyXV. However, the album’s highlights come through just a few solid tracks, mainly ‘Psychopath Killer’, ‘Vegas’ and ‘Detroit Vs. Everybody’, unfortunately though the entire project comes as a huge reminder that Eminem’s best years as an artist are well behind him.