REVIEW BATTLE: Eminem – Relapse

Review Battles are when two or more of our writers review the same record. This way you get more viewpoints on the same material. Feel free to comment and say who you agree with.

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Artist: Eminem
Album: Relapse
Genre: Hip Hop/Rap
Label: Shady/Aftermath

Round 1: James Shotwell – Editor

It’s been far too long since Marshall Mathers, aka Slim Shady, aka Eminem has graced the music scene. Leaving on what I considered to be a less than great note with Encore and a Greatest Hits record, I have long said Eminem needed to make at least one more album to let us know he didn’t fall off the level of greatness he was at. Well, years have past and we’re finally given the new [and first of two that will be released this year – tentatively] Eminem record, Relapse.

Let’s get this out of the way first and foremost. Yes, the ridiculous accent/voice you hear Em using on the current radio singles is on the majority of the album and yes, I find it quite annoying. However, it is meant to convey the character of Slim Shady and follow him through the story of Relapse.

Things start off in classic Em style with a skit to set up the record. This isn’t another, “Public Service Announcement,” but rather a set up to the story which seems to be Em battling staying clean after leaving rehab and being haunted by demons. This is the first of multiple skits on the record that all serve to carry on the record and succeed at being entertaining. Steve Berman and Paul Rosenberg once again appear to call out Em on his absurdity and the time that has lapsed since the last record. berman steals the show with an over the top skit, but Paul does his part. Also, the set up to “Tonya” is about as creepy as a skit on an album like this could possibly be.

Next up, the beats. Wow, Dre and Em seriously pulled out all the stops on this record. I remember there was a period where you knew every beat Em touched due to the simplistic string arrangements that he commonly used, but here we have elaborate mixtures of different elements with various accents and such to create some of the most intricate beats I’ve ever heard. The game has definitely been stepped up, but it’s not like they didn’t have plenty of time to perfect them. Notably, “3am” has crazy accent use and flurried instruments while “Beautiful” takes “Sing For The Moment”‘s style of mixing music with rap to the next level by using a more recent track from Queen whose guitat part is completely irresistible.

It’s not all great though as “clap” tracks are used on nearly every track and after awhile you just get tired of such a clear metronome hidden within the song. Also, “We Made You” is such a stereotypical beat for an Em song. It’s elaborate with the horns and such, but it’s a very simple pace and seems like something we’ll see on about every mixtape in the near future. Dre and Em work best on those beats only they can work [such as “Underground” which is in 5/8 time] and that’s just not one. At all.

Finally, we come to Em’s bread and butter – the lyrics. Eminem has built his career on his intricate wordplay and in your face metaphors as well as, of course, use of profanity. As has basically always been the case to me, Em is best when he’s angry or at least provoked. “3am,” a nightmare track about battling his demons, paints a brutally vivid scene, as does the celebrity massacring “Same Song and Dance” which references Lindsay Lohan, Ms. Spears, and more. In addition, the absolutely absurd tracks with someone heartfelt stories behind them [aka “My Mom” and “Insane”] may come across as funny at first, but then, after a few listens, strikes you as genius. It’s in spots like these we see that Em hasn’t lost it and that’s exactly what he needed to prove with this record.

The true cream of the crop lies in “Beautiful” and “Underground.” “Beautiful” deals bluntly with Em’s battles with drugs and the decision to rap once again. It’s Em being an open book as only he could. “Underground,” on the other hand, is the angst laden Eminem we’ve been hoping to see throughout the recor.d his metaphors and references are all over the place and his voice seems laced with fire. I can’t even define how it makes me feel to hear this Em again. It’s great.

On the downside, “Crack A Bottle,” “We Made You,” “Must Be The Ganja,” as well as a few others is just too much of what we’ve heard before. In the case of “Crack A Bottle” it’s too much of what everyone else does and “We Made You” is just too cliche of a lead song for an Em album. We get it, you can rip celebs, but do you need to lead that way with each release?

Relapse isn’t everything I wanted it to be, but it’s 100x better than the rap game without Eminem in it. The pen and creative mind are sharper than ever, but need a bit of refining to truly reclaim that pedestal in the game Em once stood upon. Hopefully Relapse 2 will give us just that, but until then this will work just fine.

Score: 7.5/10

Round 2: Brandon – hip hop writer

“…and there was no in between. You either loved it or hate it. Every CD critics gave it a three and then three years later they’d go back and re-rate it and call The Slim Shady LP the greatest. The Marshal Mathers was a classic. The Eminem Show was fantastic, but Encore just didn’t have the caliber to match it. I guess enough time just ain’t passed yet. A couple more years that shit’ll be Illmatic…”

– Eminem, “Careful What You Wish For”

But isn’t that the truth? Some of the greatest arts were never fully appreciated until many years or centuries passed after its conception or even more critical, after the artist’s demise. We’ve seen it all too many times in art, literature, and most importantly music.

Eminem’s Encore release probably brought the most disappointment to any fan after a large campaign filled with hype, political movement, and promise—a trend that has been adopted by many rap artists in the past couple of years. Many fans had to ask themselves if Eminem just gave up or if he had actually lacked the drive to make another serious album. Encore was filled with many fruity beats, mischief crooned hooks, and questonanable song content and concepts. But who knows…maybe in thirty years we’ll look back at Encore and hear the actual messages Eminem conveyed in his tracks and accept the album as his expression of American culture from the viewpoint of 2004.

Relapse raises the same eyebrows and disappointment to casual fans as Encore did, but will forever be depicted as a needed advancement in the progression of the hip-hop art form to serious listeners.

Think about it…what are people ACTUALLY dissing about Relapse? His Arabian-psycho-path-like accent delivery? His silly beats? The corny radio single songs mandated by Interscope? Get out of here! Eminem still stands at the top—of rappers currently alive—in the categories of lyricism, flow, content and respectability.

To be quite honest, I thought that this album would never be made. The passing of DeSean “Big Proof” Holton, Eminem’s best friend and crewmate, weighed too much on Marshall’s shoulders. We’ve only heard a handful of mixtape tracks from Eminem in the past three years since the hip-hop community lost Proof on April 11th, 2006. For those unaware, Big Proof is more responsible for the evolution of Eminem’s talents than Dr. Dre is. We’re talking about the Bert and Ernie of hip-hop here! If your best friend died…wouldn’t you disappear from society, fortune and fame to reflect on the aspects of life that matter most to you? You can hear the passion and pain in Em’s tracks as he shows his remorse toward Proof throughout the album.

If you are yet to hear Relapse or have already formed a negative opinion toward the album after your first listen, please do following: throw on the record and look past Eminem’s delivery and commercialism.

Tracks like, “My Mom”, “Stay Wide Awake”, “Mr. Mathers”, “Déjà vu”, and “Underground” are serious comeback tracks for Eminem. I consider them the glue that keeps the composure of the album together and fluent for just the casual fan. Any one of those songs will trump even the best radio single track on another rapper’s album, but will have much replay value for the serious Eminem fans out there.

Of course the quality of the album is nothing less than amazing. All of the song features were done in house from the likes of 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, and Ken Kaniff. The beat production was delivered to us just as expected and was all top of the line. Dr. Dre produced the entire album with the exception of one song that was produced by Eminem. A “relapse” of Eminem’s usual album formula proves to be a success on the Relapse album as it has for his past releases.

So where do we go from Relapse? Obviously to Relapse 2! Up next to bat for Eminem is the second installment to his Relapse series that is scheduled to release later in 2009. Don’t put it past Eminem to push back Relapse 2 into early 2010 or to ultimately not have it released at all. History has a passion to repeat itself and I can already forecast that one of these events will come true.

Until then, I leave you with some words—hopefully of inspiration—to think about in the next couple of months to come. With every hip-hop release that you hear, compare it to Relapse and see where it ranks against other albums that you hold close to your heart. It is our fault that we are subjected to material that is lacking and we still continue to buy all of this worthless music. Support an artist like Eminem who tells us like it is and who doesn’t let his fans buy into the bullshit, so to speak, that these other rap artists are selling us. If you hear a new rap album dropping and have heard bad reviews, don’t buy it. Hurt the industry where it matters most…in the pockets of the “suits.” I promise if we keep sticking “it” to the industry, great music will be given to us!

Score: 8.5/10

Written By: Brandon “Venamis” Folsom

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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