It's been about a good 4 or 5 years since I've bought a rap CD. So roughly about the same amount of time since Em's last solo album. These days if I listen to any rap at all, it's mostly old school stuff: Tribe Called Quest, KRS-1 and stuff like that. I was a big NWA fan, and completely absorbed The Chronic when it was released. Consequently, Dr. Dre was my segway into Eminem.
When Eminem first emerged I was kind of neutral about him. Honest, I was. I certainly took notice of his over-the-top lyrics, but when you come from the era of NWA, 2 Live Crew and the GetoBoys; you realize that his kind of explicit content in rap is anything but novel. In fact, I might argue that the GetoBoys were even more over-the-top then Em.
It wasn't until a few months ago that I began having any real conviction about Eminem. The new wave of rap seems to favor the Southern style, that was mostly panned in the late 80s and early 90s. Apparently every dog does have his day, but I've been waiting for that day to pass for quite some time. I loathe Southern hip-hop. So when I heard that Eminem was returning I welcomed it. Hopefully, he can redirect where the music is going, I thought. Wishful thinking, of course. The landscape of hip-hop is dramatically different, and so is Eminem for that matter. He's practically one of the elder statesmen, which he and Dre both attest to. The title "Ol' Times Sake" echoes just how long they've been around.
I approached the new Relapse album hoping to get the sonic equivalent of the floodgates bursting open, drowing the sinners of the genre, and purging the lands for a new beginning. Talk about lofty expectations. That can happen on the introduction of an artist...but a re-introduction?
The fact is I do think Relapse is such an album. Even if Eminem has painted himself into a corner with his shocking content, his tongue twisting delivery is as twisted as its even been. Permanently knotted up even. But it's the production by Dr.Dre that I think has successfully pushed rap up a few notches. Specifically the song "We Made You." Only the drums have any of the DNA of a hip-hop track, the rest of the sound is more fitting of a parade. Given that Em is lambasting our celebrity obsessed culture, clown chords and parade production is the perfect fit for this song. But I fear that Dre's and Em's audience may lack the sophistication to appreciate what's being offered here. In fact, the hip hop audience in general seems perfectly content to run in place with the genre's remaining artists. Dre may run right past them, carrying Em with him, only to realize that they've gone so far up the road that they've rendered themselves isolated and stranded.
That's the worst possible scenario. Most likely the audience will zero in on the other tracks that are more conventional and more tailored to the aesthetes of the audience. People who want the "old Eminem" will find that on songs like "Bagpipes from Baghdad" and "3am". Those wanting the self-interogating Eminem will appreciate "My Mom" where he finally admits that he's no different than the woman he's so often criticized. And those wanting the mature, introspective Eminem will love "Beautiful," which is among my favorites here.
The flood gates may not open with Relapse, and after he's cleaned up with sales and the tide recedes, Southern rap may stubbornly remain on the shores. But it was nice to revisit the rap section of BestBuy again. I would say it was like a reunion, but honestly, the faces that occupied the racks were all strangers. Never seen or listened to these people. But over there, prominently displayed, was Eminem. I may have been neutral about him then, but it sure is good to see him back to his old antics now.