When news broke in August that Eminem had completed a new album, it arrived in a fashion nearly identical to the way Jay Z had announced his own record just two months earlier: in a tech-related TV commercial (Samsung for Jay Z, Beats headphones for Eminem) that aired during a much-watched special event (the NBA Finals, the MTV Video Music Awards.)
Both rappers, veterans of a joint 2010 stadium tour, even touted their involvement with Rick Rubin, the bearded super producer celebrated for his truth-teller vibe.
That’s about the extent of the similarities, though, between “Magna Carta Holy Grail” and “The Marshall Mathers LP 2,” due officially Tuesday after an unauthorized leak last week.
Where Jay Z’s album felt chilly and glazed-over—the work of a king in search of a specific mandate—Eminem’s scorches, spewing emotion as hot (and as damaging) as lava.
If anything, the record shares more with “Yeezus” by another of Jay Z’s recent touring partners, Kanye West, who like Eminem appears to view aging as a sharpening process.
But really “MMLP2” just demonstrates how singular a presence Eminem at 41 remains.
Though he’s unquestionably one of the form’s giants _ his last album, 2010’s quadruple-platinum “Recovery,” was that year’s biggest seller -he seems no less a hip-hop outlier today, in an age of sensitive smooth talkers such as Drake, than he did when he emerged amid the bling purveyors of the late ‘90s; his outsized feelings still set him apart.
Perhaps that’s why his primary reference point here is one of his own records, “The Marshall Mathers LP,” the 2000 disc (titled after his birth name) that solidified Eminem’s reputation as both a superstar and a serious artist.
The rapper has said the new album isn’t a sequel to the earlier set so much as a “revisitation” of its themes: his relationships with his mother and his ex-wife, for instance, and the toxic effects of celebrity.
Yet he hardly made an effort to avoid the throwback tag, with jokes about Monica Lewinsky and the Backstreet Boys as well as sizable samples of well-worn hits by the Zombies, Joe Walsh and Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders.
He seems more eager to take ownership of several openly confessional tracks, including “Headlights,” which proposes a detente with his mom, and “Stronger Than I Was,” an almost embarrassingly vulnerable piece of self-help testimony that Eminem produced himself.
But even in his rare clunky moments, Eminem burns with purpose on “MMLP2.”
Mikael Wood / Los Angeles Times