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?
It’s time for the third part of my Relapse review. Except… it’s not. Relapse 2 was completely canned, and in its place is Recovery. This is a completely different record, just as Relapse seemed to be kicking off a new series and bringing Eminem out of Encore‘s slump. How did it fare?
Dude, Shady, if you’re not on the drugs anymore… could I get some?
You don’t need drugs to listen to Slim Shady. The second I think about Recovery, I feel like I’m on Morphine, Vicodin, Zanax, Valium and vodka all at once. I don’t mean it’s relaxing, I mean I feel dead.
Leading to its last month release, Recovery was touted as the second coming. This was going to be another Marshal Mathers LP, the Stillmatic to the MMLP’s Ill. My expectations were high, and I was sure it was going to be better than the enjoyable Relapse. This feeling was only amplified by the first single, “Not Afraid”, where Em spit serious emotion, powerful raps and well-placed singing over a bumping bass instrumental. It wasn’t the best single of 2010- I gave that honor to T.I.’s “I’m Back”- but it was solid.
Then I copped the record, and hit play. What the fuck was this? Right off the bat we get more Eminem singing (never his forte), repetitive lines that could have been lifted from any of Mathers’s least imaginative tracks, and an annoying hook on a track that made me depressed just listening to it. Let’s skip it. Maybe Recovery will really kick in on “Talking To Myself”.
Another annoying hook. More singing, and Eminem himself has said that he can’t sing. Listening to this track, maybe neither can this guy Kobe. The verses are okay, but they’re nothing special, other than that this former Mixtape Master claims that he would have gotten his ass handed to him by a publicity whore who can’t write a Hot 16 (which might have been true if this was the record he was dissing on) while berating himself for contemplating disses at a time when “you can’t even write a decent punchline even”. I guess that explains why there’s not a single diss on this record; the radio single “The Warning”, easily better than most songs on this album, doesn’t even make it into the bonus tracks.
The album seems to just keep getting worse. The hook to “On Fire” is sung by some guy with no effort who doesn’t sound like he even gives a shit about this record and is just reading what Eminem scribbled on a piece of paper and handed to him. It might not help that this is Slim himself. To sum up “On Fire”, Shady says, “I just put a bullshit hook between two verses and you mistook it for a song.” Finally, somebody agrees with my opinion of this record! Wait a second…
“Won’t Back Down” is a mixed bag. There are times when I listen to this song and I enjoy it in its entirety. Most of the time, however, I see Shady spitting a high-power track that has nothing to do with the title and Pink singing her equivalent of the “On Fire” hook. Remember Pink, the singer who used to sing Mary J. Blige karaoke, lists 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G. as two of her influences, and used to sing angry, powerful tracks about how she was tired of being compared to damned Britney Spears or that she’s not here for your entertainment? Yeah, haters eat a dick, Pink is alright for a pop star. Here, she sounds like Em gave her his drugs as she sings about how she won’t back down. Like “On Fire”, and like many of the tracks of this album, Eminem’s lyrics are not horrible. He’s certainly on top of his game when it comes to lyrics and delivery, there’s just nothing to it. Even that could be forgiven, though, if not for the rest of the album.
Created by a mishmash of producers, Recovery has no consistency to its beats when they are good, though the bad ones bare some resemblance to one another. Every track with someone singing on it seems to have the issues I’ve mentioned so far. It’s not always poor delivery; just look at “Love The Way You Lie”. Rihanna could put an effort into it, sure, she sung her lyrics, but compare her delivery on a feature like “Run This Town” to “Love The Way You Lie”. This isn’t Hip Hop, this is the worst type of romantic pop song- a song encouraging the perpetuation of abusive relationships!
That has to be my biggest problem with this album, and that’s my complaint from a subjective Point of View, as a fan of Eminem and a Hip Hop Head. Eminem is a rapper. Eminem is a great rapper. Recovery. Is. Not. Hip. Hop. There. I said it. I don’t know what it is, but Infinite, this shit is not.
“W.T.P.” (short for “White Trash Party”) is another Eminem dance song- the one where you’re not supposed to pay too much attention to the words. It has its place, it’s not horrible, and it’s to be expected. Not my taste, but I wouldn’t mark it down just for that. Moving on.
“Going Through Changes”, if you ignore the completely un-enjoyable (sung, again) hook and the uninteresting beat, is probably the most content-filled track on this album. This hits hard, but only if you listen to it- it’s not entertaining, it’s not for the club or for bopping your head. “When I’m Gone” or “Mockingbird” fans should appreciate this- it details the troubles surrounding Mathers’s drug addiction and the loss of his best friend and group member MC Proof.
“Not Afraid” is the best track on the main count of the album. Is this a surprise? This is the single that’s represented Recovery on radio stations across the nation for months. It has a catchy beat, a catchy hook (though again, Eminem just won’t stop singing! I thought when people who don’t sing can’t stop singing, they’re supposed to be happy!)
What else can I say about “Not Afraid”? It’s badass, but it’s also humble and honest. It’s “Going Through Changes”, but better, with the focus on lyrical supremacy from the rest of the album mixed in. The message matches the title, as compared to “Won’t Back Down”, which has a similar message in the title but fails to deliver in the verses.
Do I have criticism of “Not Afraid”? Sure. The same criticism I have of every track on this album about his drug addiction and Proof on this record. It doesn’t belong here- Relapse was for that. I have trouble facing tracks about how he’s still recovering when he just put a great CD with the message that he’s ovfer and back to normal. The only way I can rationalize it is the stages of grief. Relapse was apparently the Denial Stage. As far as I can tell, by the time we get from the start of Relapse to the end of Recovery, we’ve passed through Anger and Bargaining, to Depression. That leaves only Acceptance, which we’ll hopefully meet in the third album in the series- Regret? Recrimination?
After “Not Afraid”, we get the next best track. “Seduction”, a track about Eminem doing what the title suggests, is not really a rap song either, to me, and I could certainly nit-pick a few lines (such as “They call me Fire Marshal”), but if the whole CD was this good, this consistent in its quality, Recovery would easily rate a four and a half to five mics.
Holy shit; that was Track 10. There are seventeen tracks on the body of this album, plus two bonus tracks. We’re only halfway through this. God damn this is a long CD, and I’m not offering that as a positive assessment in this case.
When “No Love” starts, I have to admit something. I love “What Is Love”. Why? Because I love YTMND. So when I heard Lil Wayne rapping speaking with a “What Is Love” sample, I was pissed. This track is like a cross between “Forever” and “Drop the World”. Weezy spits a mostly annoying verse, too slow to listen to but with some creative lines that gives me pause before I can completely dismiss him, and Eminem slowly crescendoes. By the time his verse really gets going I’ve mostly given this song up, but then Eminem really spits fire. I can’t help but crack up every time I hear the line “Where the fuck is Kanye when you need him?/ Snatch the mic from ’em, bitch I’ma let you finish in a minute”.
Lil Wayne is way too at home on this track, though. Before Recovery, I could never have imagined a down-tempo collaboration with these two rappers sampling Haddaway. But Wayne fits in better than Em does on some tracks…
I get it now. This isn’t Relapse 2. This is Rebirth 2! It’s a spinoff of Wayne’s rock album, with Eminem spitting over his own soft rock beats. No wonder this CD aggravates the shit out of me!
“Space Bound” and “25 to Life” are essentially every song that Eminem has ever written about his ex-wife Kim, without Kim, without the sadistic comedy. Listening to these tracks, I can’t help but think that the misogynism of Slim Shady is really Marshal’s own, and that he portrays a really shitty relationship with the women in his life. I could spend all day speculating on this, but there would be no point, although “25 to Life” does end with an overture to the rap game itself- “Fuck you Hip Hop, I’m leaving you!”
I’m not gonna lie, by the time I get to “Cinderella Man”, “So Bad” and “Untitled”, I’ve given up. Neither of these tracks are horrible. Neither of these tracks are awesome. “Cinderella Man” has a good beat, a bit of a message, and not bad verses, while “Untitled” is another “near-diss” tracks that doesn’t hurt anything but is just extraneous. The one thing these tracks all have in common is that, listening to the entire album on end, I get to the singing hooks and I just can’t stand them. I remember the first time I heard “Cinderella Man”, skimming the record, barely listening but checking what was good, I remember “Cinderella Man” stood out as one of the best tracks here. It’s okay, it really is. But after sitting here and trying to piece together the entire album, I start to hear that voice singing “Cinderella Man, Cinderella Man” and I want to put a fucking bullet in my brain. “Almost Famous” isn’t too far off of these- the beat is all it has going for it.
“You’re Never Over”, on the other hand, is essentially “Going Through Changes” again. It doesn’t have that singer, and it focuses more exclusively on the impact of Proof. What really gets me about these two tracks is that Proof was Eminem’s best friend, and a huge influence on his work, and Eminem has proven time and again that he’s a talented rapper and song maker. Yet the impression I get here is Em sitting in the lab with writer’s block, no fucking clue what to say, and just going into the booth and spitting whatever came to mind. None of these holds a candle to “The Good Die Young”, and I think Eminem would agree with me when I say that is the biggest crime this album could commit.
After listening to every track on this album three or more times, seventeen tracks, no skits, no real album building, not much more song building, huddled in the dark with my third bowl of ice cream because I need the comfort food to keep this album from sinking me into the same deep depression that Eminem seems to have recorded much of it in, I just don’t have the heart to review the iTunes exclusive tracks. Slaughterhouse is the only rap feature on this album, despite his asking “Where’s D-12 at?”, and every single member kills on “Session One”. Never mind that it’s just awesome seeing Em and Royce on a track again for the first time in close to a decade.
Recovery is a bunch of records put together, not an album in the traditional Eminem sense, which features him venting his emotions with writer’s block. This is free association writing, and nothing more. The lyrics are skillful, the flow is masterful, but the content ranges from foolish to non-existent save the few exceptions I noted. The singing in general is a bane on this novel’s existence, and I could count the number of tracks with productions that aren’t completely weak with half a hand. Recovery would have been good mixtape fare, putting the verses in random tracks with real beats, but the song creation here was a failed experiment. If I wasn’t a die hard fan of Eminem, I would never have listened to this album, and save for a few songs, I hope never to again. That’s real Street Knowledge. 2 and a half mics, No Gimmicks. Bitch.
R.I.P. Big Proof
- If Eminem is Proud to Be Sober… Then Anyone Can Be! (psychologytoday.com)
- Nick Cannon Releases A Diss Track For Eminem (pinkisthenewblog.com)
- How Eminem Stayed Relevant (And Why it Can Save Your Blog) (copyblogger.com)
- Eminem Says He Now Hears Problems With “Relapse” (current.com)