New Music Review: Bad Meets Evil; ‘Hell: The Sequel’ (LISTEN)
Now this is a relapse. Just one year after Eminem embraced sobriety on the Grammy-nominated Recovery, he ditches the 12-step warrior gimmick and regresses into machete-waving psycho mode alongside rapper Royce Da 5’9’’ as the supergroup Bad Meets Evil (named after a song the two did on Em’s 1999 debut) on an album called Hell: The Sequel.
Eminem tried this once before, on 2009’s Relapse, where he attempted to combine his improved skills and life perspective with the good old bloodlust of his late ‘90s-early ‘00s breakthroughs. Depending whom you ask, it did or didn’t work (Eminem himself has disowned the record). In any case, nobody wants a self-conscious serial killer; even Dexter can be a drag sometimes. So Em moved on and made Recovery, a somber album of morning-after pathos, and got a shitload of Grammy nominations and a duet about domestic abuse out of it.
He’s arguably better at being a grown-up than he ever was at killing folks, so Hell: The Sequel shouldn’t really exist. But still, give the guy credit for tenacity, and for finally getting his retro jollies off the right way: by removing the self-reflection but employing his improved rhyming style. By the time he’s gotten to plundering a few cities and sodomizing some unsuspecting celebrities (Nicki Minaj, you have been warned) you can tell he’s up to a polished version of his old tricks.
His lack of rust at the murder game is surprising. It helps, for one, that Eminem doesn’t shoulder the serial-killer load all by his own. With the capable Royce backing him up, he has both an equally charismatic foil and something of a safety net to stop him from completely falling back into old, outgrown tendencies of on-record psychosis. Trading rhymes back and forth, with dizzying flows and whiplash-inducing verses (Em is better by a hair), the two play their parts like a Bizarro version of OutKast, slinging merry rhymes and leaving a trail of bodies in their wake.
The short length, though, is the best thing about the album. At a brisk nine songs and 40 minutes, Hell: The Sequel feels a bit more like a one-off, goofy side project, like a quickie version of the D12 albums but without those records’ dragging heaviness; cuts like “Welcome 2 Hell” and “I’m On Everything” (the best song here) feel off-the-cuff and effortless, and the album winds to a close (with the appropriately bombastic “Loud Noises”) just as Em and Royce’s shtick begins to wear thin.
If this sounds like a step backward, well, conceptually, it is. This album is nowhere as deep as Recovery (or Relapse, for that matter), but it’s a pleasant surprise that nobody asked for; a true sequel to 2000’s murderous Marshall Mathers LP, delivered eleven years later with the help of a sidekick. Even so, there’s growth here to be found. The inspirational “Lighters” features a wailing hook by Bruno Mars. Ten years ago, a singer like that would have been the first to get a tetherball pole shoved up his ass on an Eminem record. Now here he is, arm in arm with Slim Shady and his accomplice, singing the chorus to their song. Progress is progress, right?
LISTEN: Bad Meets Evil ft. Mike Epps; ‘I’m On Everything’:
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