The entertainment industry- from Hollywood, to the television studios, to the music business- is in a sad state. It’s rare to see something new and worth your time these days. What happens when I put aside my 1980s and 90s Hip Hop to listen to some rap music of today?
Last week we sat down and discussed Eminem’s 2009 album Relapse. We listened to 20 tracks, following a story about rehab, relapse into drug use, and the resulting mayhem that caused. But Relapse was more than 20 tracks from the get-go; there were twenty published tracks, and two bonus tracks that only owners of the CD were intended to know about and look up. On top of that, seven months later and knowing he was going to miss his late 2009 deadline for Relapse 2 (later to be renamed Recovery), Eminem released Relapse: Refill, seven more tracks to fall under the grand umbrella of Relapse. What does that mean for us? Well, for starters, that’s nine tracks, all music, that I still need to cover to complete this review!
Let’s start off with the Relapse Bonus Tracks: “My Darling” and “Careful What You Wish For”. After an “I’m on top and this is how I do” establishing verse, “My Darling” continues the narrative of Relapse; in this case, Marshal and Shady have a conversation. No, this is not “T.I. Vs T.I.P.” from Trap Musik. In “My Darling”, Shady is depicted as a demon- Marshal sold his soul to him for a record deal. Marshal replies “but I already killed you,” referring once again to the song “When I’m Gone” from Curtain Calls. Dr Dre appears on the track, voicing the satirical opinion that “since you got off your drugs you’ve got a lot softer”, echoing public and critical opinion to Em’s post-Shady albums (Note that almost every track on Relapse was written and recorded by a sober Eminem). The track concludes that as long as Em is alive, Slim
Shady will be a part of him, whether he likes it or not.
On a different tip, “Careful What You Wish For,” Eminem approaches his criticism from a different angle, stating that every CD he’s put out was originally bashed before receiving its due praise, and Encore is no different. More on focus, Mathers recounts his history with fame, his reaction to it, and the situations that it has put him in.
Both of these tracks are about what one would expect from another Relapse track. “My Darling” involves Eminem talking, rapping and singing, as well as speaking the opposing side of a conversation by artificially deepening his voice. “Careful What You Wish For” is a more straight-forward rap track (although Em does sing the hook) of the sort that I personally look for on a record like this. The only thing these two really do for the album is to add two more standard quality, non-pop songs, giving it a more favorable balance in my eyes, but that’s about it.
As for Refill, it starts off with the hit single “Forever” from the More Than a Game soundtrack. This single was everywhere for months, and with good reason. I’m not sure what there is to say that hasn’t been said already, but in case there’s anybody out there who hasn’t heard it, I’ll give my thoughts. “Forever” focuses on upcoming rapper Drake, who sings the hook and raps the first verse. Both of these are catchy enough to make a lasting impression. Kanye West pretty much imitates Drake’s verse here, and as Drake’s style itself is basically an imitation of Lil Wayne’s, that doesn’t say much for Kanye. Wayne follows Kanye, and anybody who knows my taste won’t be surprised that I find Weezy’s verse the weakest on the track. Still, Wayne did have a memorable line in “life is like a fuckin’ roller coaster then it drops/ but what should I scream for? This is my theme park”, which puts him one over Yeezy. Eminem’s verse, of course, is the whole reason it’s on Refill, and the reason why I would listen to this track on repeat for most of the winter. “Forever” links Relapse with its mentions of Hannibal Lecter and Slim’s overdose, with the flow that singles have indicated we should expect on Recovery (note that at the time of writing this, only one single off Recovery has been recognized by Wikipedia, and I’ve heard two other songs that I can’t name off of HOT97), Eminem fans will be pleased to hear Eminem spout that “he could make them look like bozos; he’s wonderin’ if he should spit this slow/ fuck no”. Em kills on this track, no ifs, ands or buts about it.
“Hell Breaks Loose” is yet another- I say this knowing that I love these tracks- feature with Dr Dre. This has to be one of the fastest flows I’ve seen Dre with, and it’s nice to see him prove that he can stand right up there with his proteges. Of course, it’s just your standard party song, but at least it’s a good one. One thing Refill does not have that Relapse was riddled with is pop songs and references- sure, there are songs for the pop rap audience because it seems impossible to make a record these days without dancing songs, but that’s about the extent of it.
The Horrorcore, thankfully, continues into Refill with “Buffalo Bill”, in which Eminem takes on the role of Buffalo Bill from Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs. Yoda features on this track, and in general it’s about the same type of fare you’d expect from Relapse, along the same lines as “3 AM”, except with a bit more specific of a scenario. If anything, I would say it’s probably a bit more comedic than anything you’d expect from “3 AM” or “Stay Wide Awake”, but otherwise matches them perfectly. “Elevator”, on the other hand, is a different track entirely. If I had to compare the content to anything, it would be a blend between “Juicy” and “Reminder”, though I wouldn’t say it really stands up to either of them. This is another classic Eminem track- his lack of expectations of fame, the results of it, and the same type of pre-diss that you see in “My Darling”. This is generally the type of track Eminem talks about his wealth on- like Tupac or Nas, he’s not inclined to stand around and brag about his riches, but he’s not above being amazed at all he’s got out of the rap game or pointing out that it’s an advantage most of his adversaries don’t have (like when he talks about dropping his enemies down an unbelievably long elevator shaft located within his own house).
On a similar note, “Taking My Ball” (the second re-released track on Refill) is a random, yet classically Eminem, track that focuses more on lyrical creativity than any real substance (which I hear is all the craze these days). The basic premise (based on the hook) seems to be that he’ll keep making music even if he becomes an outcast in the Hip Hop community, and yet, nothing in the actual verses seems to support this. “Music Box” isn’t much different, other than a slight dip into the Horrorcore content, while “Drop the Bomb on ‘Em” is basically an entire track dedicated to the “pre-diss” that Shady seems to instinctually include in many of his tracks. By pre-diss, of course, I mean the often-criticized “bragging record”, the verse designed as a battle verse that could theoretically target anyone, but isn’t written with a particular target in mind. In small doses, these are usually very welcome, a sample of the rapper’s skill before he goes into less universal content. For an entire track to have this focus, however, requires some special work- for example, T.I.’s “I’m Talkin’ To You”. “Drop the Bomb on ‘Em” doesn’t quite live up to that- it just doesn’t feel like enough effort, like Eminem was trying to put across that same message without having the energy or the motivation to put out a seriously hard track. The result is something that gives fans nostalgic memories of Em’s real diss tracks, but lacks that special something of its own.
The general theme of the Bonus Tracks and Refill is the same: they’re Relapse, but a little bit more of it. While “Forever” sets a different tone and “Careful What You Wish For” deserved a spot on main track, there’s really not much on the extra tracks to distinguish them from the main Relapse. They really are a refill of the original album, a placeholder record designed to keep fans happy while they wait for the record we really wanted to buy. Is this a good or a bad thing? Well, I guess it depends on how much you liked Relapse.