Eminem seems like he’s heading in the opposite direction of most artists. Instead of growing and evolving, he’s actually regressing, which, given the title of the album, may well be deliberate. But if it is, he’s screwed. Because while Relapse will probably do boffo sales with the club crew, with high schoolers looking to shock their parents, and with frat boys who think that date rape makes a good punchline, it’s a terrible, terrible album. Yes, everything you might have heard or read is present — it’s his attempt at a sort of “horror rap,” for lack of a better term. It’s supposed to be twisted and disturbing and blah blah blah.
You want to know what it really is? It’s fucking boring. Seriously, the production on Relapse is one of the most tired, listless efforts I’ve heard that didn’t involve a band featured mainly on MySpace. Dr. Dre served as the executive producer, and frankly, his name is sullied just by association (let alone the mediocre track he’s featured on). And let me tell you, there’s nothing more difficult to fight your way through than a boring album that’s 20 tracks long. Of course, much of it is filler, skit tracks featuring Eminem pretending to be a serial killer kidnapping and torturing women, phone pranks, voice mail messages, and other puerile nonsense. I listen to a lot of hip hop, and I can honestly say this is one of the worst releases of the decade.
At first, I thought that maybe I’d outgrown Eminem’s shtick, and that was why I disliked this album so much. But after going back and listening to his surprisingly good Marshall Mathers LP, I realized that it’s not me, it’s him. Eminem is playing the role of the petulant child, mistaking gross-out jokes, drug and sex references, homophobia (shame on you in particular, Dre) and shameful misogyny for interesting or intelligent content. Eminem has always straddled, and sometimes crossed the line, but this time instead of seeming like just some of the messed up thoughts that scramble across his brainpan, it’s all to deliberate, all too conscious. He’s trying to make a concept album — something that speaks to child drug use (through experimenting and through medicating) and the potential monsters it can make us, but that connection is tenuous at best, and attention-grabbing raving at worst.
The first non-skit track, “3AM,” is the perfect example of this confluence of dull production and weak lyrical style. It’s a simple, stripped beat with little variation and it’s certainly not helped by his high pitched, wheedling tone that’s incongruous with his attempt at channeling the mind of a killer, especially when he spouts off lines like “Surfing every channel / Until I find Hannah Montana / Then I reach for the aloe and lanalin.” Is that supposed to be funny? Risque? Although, most frustrating is his continued misquoting of The Silence of the Lambs. Get it right, Slim.
I had somewhat higher hopes for the Dre-assisted tracks, but was ultimately disappointed. “Old Times Sake” sounds like just that — Dre basically mailing it in for old time’s sake. There’s no real heart to the song, and Dre’s lyrics, replete with charming lines like “Choking a bitch to smacking her face” and “As for competition, faggot there ain’t none” are just as bad, if not actually worse, than Eminem’s. Musically, it’s the same boring, repetitive beats with a couple of samples tossed around for color, but nothing new or even interesting. Their second collaboration, “Crack a Bottle,” which also features 50 Cent (aka the Most Boring Rapper Alive), has essentially the same production — lumbering beats, occasional keys, and some background noise. Content-wise, it’s the same shit — sex, bitches, violence.
I’m usually able to find at least one decent track on most albums I review — not so here. If anything, I can list ones that are worse than the ones I’ve mentioned so far. “Insane,” with repeated lyrics about pedophilia and child rape (played for a laugh, because child abuse is so fucking funny) is just as bad as his gags about assaulting women. It’s all just so awful. Not because it’s offensive (though it is) or because the album is bad (though it’s that too), but because clearly Eminem is trying so hard to get a reaction, and despite all of the violence, crudity, misogyny and hate, the only reactions I really had were exasperation and annoyance. I’m annoyed at his clear attempts to try to become relevant again by trying to raise people’s hackles, and I’m exasperated because it’s probably going to work.
And that’s the worst part. Because one of the constant struggles of hip hop fans has been having to constantly defend the music. It’s truly a fantastic genre, but this is the crap that people associate with it. This will do nothing less than set the genre back, giving people the impression that this is the norm. Make no mistake — this record will sell. I don’t know that it’ll keep it’s current #2 spot on the charts, but it’ll definitely make money from the kids. It’ll get the usual outrage from the pearl-clutching establishment, and I’ll be hoarse from screaming about the actual good hip hop out there. That’s the saddest part — all of the work of artists like Atmosphere, The Coup, and Lupe Fiasco will take a back seat to this worthless album. So thanks, Slim. Not only have you made a horrendous record, but you’ve actually made my job harder. Jerk.
TK writes about music for Pajiba. He likes dogs, raising the dead, and tacos. You can email him here.