In a day and age where the most talented emcees continue to drop disappointing albums, it's hard to put faith in any hip-hop artist. This year alone, we've heard questionable albums from people that had the potential to drop classic material. Far too often, an artist is faced with two choices. He can try something new, and risk failure by disappointing his original fans. Or he can stay stagnant, "giving the people what they want," and risk failure by getting played out. Eminem walks that line, by touching on new topics while still adding the wild antics that got him where he is. It's comforting to hear an artist that hasn't given in to industry standards, and despite added success, still keeps his core audience in mind when recording. Young Marshall has a habit of causing controversy, and attracting an audience that normally doesn't listen to a hip-hop, but he's still one of the most consistent artists in today's rap industry.
Aside from his signature multi-syllabic rhyme pattern, Eminem has improved in every aspect of emceeing. He's more comfortable with his voice, and tries a variety of deliveries and cadences that were absent on The Slim Shady LP. His flow is now up to par, and he actually sounds like a rapper instead of someone with good lyrics trying to rap. The robotic and often awkward rhythm that plagued his previous work is now gone, and he sounds more natural against the beats. Speaking of beats, another way this album has stepped up from its predecessor is the production. The dark melodies compliment Eminem's song content, and set the mood for Em to create his magic. Even his first single has advanced from annoying and infectious ("My Name Is") to catchy and entertaining ("The Real Slim Shady").
Few people would refer to Eminem as a "conscious emcee," but his music has more meaning and underlying messages than the average rap album. "Who Knew" takes a cynical approach to addressing the influence of music on deviant behavior. Em takes a stab at people who use artists for scapegoats, by mentioning other mediums where children are exposed to vulgarity, and that ultimately your children should turn out fine if you do your job as a parent. One of the album's masterpieces, "Stan," is an innovative tale about an obsessed fan. It's an incredible narrative and will stand out as one of the best songs of 2000. Another classic track is "KIM," a pre-quel to the unforgettable "Just the Two of Us (Bonnie and Clyde)." Here, Eminem illustrates the fictional murder of his baby's mother, in graphic detail. Both songs are excellent examples of Eminem's ability to not only come up with a good concept, but to execute it well.
Slim's crazy, but not stupid. While he's never let the word "nigga" ease past his lips on record, there's apparently a quota on how many times it must be used on a rap CD. In order to compensate for it's absence on the rest of the album, Dre, Snoop, Xzibit, and Nate Dogg met the full requirements on "Bitch Please 2." This is an updated remix, featuring an amusing Snoop Dogg impression from Em, and The X man reminding everyone that he's one of the most underrated artists in hip hop. Unfortunately, all of the album's collaborations are not as impressive. Bizarre, a member of D-12 (Dirty Dozen), appears on two tracks, adding a unique mix of uninspired shock-value and a goofy flow. He must have been the one black guy that stood up for Eminem as a child. That's the only logical explanation I can see for his presence here.
Overall, this album has too many gems to name. "Marshall Mathers," "Criminal," and the previously mentioned "KIM" and "Stan" will all stay in constant rotation. The biggest problem with this CD has absolutely nothing to do with the songs. The politics surrounding Slim's popularity has caused many people to deny his music the credit it deserves. Small-minded hip-hoppers ignore Eminem's talent, to distance themselves from the band-waggoner's that listen to him for the wrong reasons. Ironically, they insult the pop fans for letting crowd census influence their opinion, while they themselves use crowd census to determine what not to listen to. It's their loss though; this album is truly amazing.