Gleeful. An unlikely first word to describe an Eminem project after so many years in the game and all of the career lows, but it is quite fitting. ‘Hell: The Sequel’ is a new collaboration with Royce da 5’9″ – former Bad Meets Evil partner (as well as one time enemy) and now again record label signee – and is the most vibrant creation either of them have come up with in what seems like ages. Strap in and get ready because the rhymes are hot and this is a ride brimming with kinetic energy.
Eminem’s proper solo albums seem increasingly like a “State of the Union” address. All of the colorful metaphors and silliness aside, he lets us know where he was in his mental state and what was going on in his personal life. Encore was the sound of man completely wasted on drugs, floundering in his own strange world. After laying low for a long time he re-emerged to mix results. Throughout the past two albums the man has struggled to reclaim his place in rap. If even half of Relapse and Recovery is to be believed it’s been a very uphill struggle. But ever since Drake’s “Forever” Eminem has made it crystal clear that he’s back, more focused than ever before, and is not going to stop.
With all of that off his chest, this release sees him and Royce just kicking backing, having fun and spitting rapid-fire flows. It’s the sort of loose style that is usually associated with rap battles or freestyle, but with the precision of veterans. The way he connects words and phrases on this release is impressive to say the least, not to mention what a pleasure it is to have Royce da 5’9” back on the map. Rising out of the ashes of poorly received solo efforts, he collaborated with Eminem on a trio of tracks (“Writer’s Block,” “Living Proof” and “Echo”) that created quite a buzz in the hip hop community and culminated with his appearance with Jay-Z and Eminem on their stadium tour to which he received much adulation. Not many can stand toe to toe with Eminem and not be put shame (let’s be honest, Em raps circles around Drake, Lil Wayne, and Kanye badly in “Forever”) but Royce holds his own throughout the release throwing verses almost as pointed and quick as Slim Shady himself. They have an excellent chemistry and Royce plays Em’s foil far better than someone like 50 Cent can. While Em seems at ease, Royce has an axe to grind and some demons to release and on tracks like “Take From Me” he makes it clear that he’s fought hard to get here and intends to make the most of it.
Opener “Welcome To Hell” sets the stage with dizzying spitfire verses and no hook, acting as primer in the linguistic gymnastics they maintain throughout the album. It may be more or less just an introduction, but it holds up on its own merit as a solid track. Adrenaline-fueled single “Fastlane,” is fun if not typical anthem-like radio material, and “The Reunion” is a fairly long story of the misogynistic misadventures of each rapper as women tell them to stop acting like the characters in their songs. If the harsh words about women can be taken with a grain of salt it’s an entertaining song that sees Eminem being self-aware of how poorly received Relapse was by some, as well as displaying another unique talent of his that not many other rappers can claim: he’s one of the few in the game that can actually sing his own hook when he needs to. “Above The Law” has a fantastic hook sang by Claret Jai and plenty of fist-pumping potential, “I’m On Everything” discusses substance use in an enjoyable if tongue-in-cheek manner and “A Kiss” further outlines their misogynistic adventures with the fairer sex. Things get a little more serious for a moment on “Lighters”, as they discuss their hard-won battle to get where they are today and how much they love what they do, which is all the more sugar-coated by Bruno Mars’ vocals on the chorus. The standard edition of the release ends in a rousing showcase of Shady Record’s newly signed rap group Slaughterhouse, of which Royce is a member. It’s another fast-paced track, and is a great way to cap off the album. For those willing to shell out a couple bucks more there’s a deluxe edition containing two of the previously mentioned Internet tracks, “Echo” and “Living Proof.” Both are excellent tracks so if you can spare a couple extra dollars it’s worth it to upgrade.
Unfortunately, this album has a sizable Achilles’ heel – and that is the beats. There’s nothing wrong with them per say, but they all seem a little too generic. Not a single one stands out and instead seems to be there mainly just to facilitate Em and Royce’s rhymes. They serve their purpose and nothing more. It would have been great to have at least one good Dr. Dre beat here, but considering his and Royce’s falling out in years past, it is expected – though still disappointing – that he would be absent from this project.
Is this release littered with the same abrasive and acerbic bouts of homophobia and misogyny that plague every one of Eminem’s releases? Of course. He doesn’t stray far from his proven formula and for some that might be a turnoff, especially in light of the backlash Tyler, The Creator has received for the very same content. It is a valid point and certainly one with merit, but if you are willing to look past some of these problematic topics and offensive verbiage one will find two MCs at the top of their game spitting some of the best flows of their career.
By Jarad MatulaBad Meets Evil – Hell: The Sequel (EP) [Deluxe] by Interscope Records