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Commentary: Eminem needs to recover old style

Courtesy of MCT

My goal after listening to the debut album from The Throne, the rap “supergroup” featuring Jay-Z and Kanye West, was to compare it to Bad Meets Evil, the duo comprised of Eminem and Royce da 5’9″. The comparisons are common, but ultimately unfair, I realized. Eminem is a full blown superstar, and Royce is an able Motor City motor-mouth, but it doesn’t add up to Jay-Z and Kanye, a duo Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Vince Young might describe as a “dream team.”

What the two albums really made me think about was how differently Jay-Z and Eminem are carrying out their careers at the moment. Neither is at their creative high point right now, but only Eminem has gotten, dare I say, boring.

Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint 3” was not “The Blueprint.” But Eminem’s most recent albums, “Relapse” and “Recovery,” were more noticeably different, and not because of skill but because of style. Eminem faced down his demons, battles with drugs and alcohol, and ultimately released two memoir albums. Most recognizable was his tribute to domestic in-fighting, “Love The Way You Lie.” “Recovery” would be his third album nominated for Album of The Year at the Grammys (not just rap album, but album).

I sincerely congratulate Eminem for conquering alcoholism. But “Recovery” as album of the year? No way. What’s sad is that it was his first album to be in serious contention. “The Marshall Mathers LP,” still his masterstroke, was nominated as an obligatory nod to the buying public, never meant to contend with family friendly fare like Steely Dan’s “Two Against Nature,” the eventual winner in 2001.

It’s because people like a comeback story. They make movies about guys who overcome adversity and get back to the top. They make movies about the stuff Eminem packed “Relapse” and “Recovery” with. The rapper came out of rehab and decided that he wanted to live up to those expectations. He wanted to rise out the gutter as the people’s champ, and that meant ditching his old ways of celebrity bashing and shock inducing. He needs to realize that he’s just not that guy.

The difference between he and Jay is another nature/nurture story. Both were born without fathers into relative poverty. Jay-Z’s mother, Gloria Carter, was doting, and the rapper pays many a tribute to her. Eminem’s mother, Debbie Mathers, was caught up in drugs and held a distaste for her son, leading to diss tracks like “Cleanin’ Out My Closet.” Jay-Z details in his book “Decoded” how when he began moving drugs at a young age, he learned never to sample the goods. Jay ended up the consummate professional, and Eminem was left in a perfect position to fall into substance abuse. Jay-Z has approached rap in the same way, whereas Eminem was a loose cannon, blowing holes into the fabric of American culture.

With vitriol like his, Em was frequently full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Blasting Mariah Carey was fun and humorous, but lacked real meaning. When he hits the nail on the head however, his ability is downright devastating.

There’s “Stan,” a well-structured and heartbreaking look into the mind of someone mentally disturbed. There’s “Lose Yourself,” the adrenaline shot that became one of the last decade’s biggest songs and a locker room classic. And, my personal favorite, “White America,” in which Eminem combines his intelligence and primal rage into one big fist to the face of popular culture. These tracks are the best of Eminem. And deep down, it seems Eminem agrees.

I saw Eminem last week at Lollapalooza and was a little disappointed. Writer Greg Kot from the Chicago Tribune summed up my thoughts almost dead on.

Eminem was “…one of the most notorious figures in pop culture, and also one of the most popular,” he wrote. “Now, post-rehab he has become just as successful, but you’re left wondering whether he’s enjoying it.”

Eminem took a verse or two out of a multitude of his hit singles in an attempt to squeeze them all into an hour-and-a-half set. For the first hour, he did not seem to be enjoying it. But when he added the extra nasal factor to his voice and he launched into “My Name Is” and “The Real Slim Shady,” he sounded like the Em of old and the crowd ate it up.

I think his reunion of Bad Meets Evil is a good start. Granted, I don’t think it was an especially great album, but it let him clear his head and revisit his offensive alter ego Slim. Regardless of the relative bubblegum pop that is “Lighters,” there are more than enough crude references to things like Nikki Minaj’s anatomy to prove that the brash and immature Eminem is still there.

Eminem set out to prove that he has matured, and I’m satisfied. He’s not going to fall off the wagon and he has demonstrated countless times that he wants to be a better father to his child than he had. That’s about as much mature as a man needs to be. Now he should kick back and let the crass kid inside out in the recording studio.

My advice is for Eminem to stop being whatever we say he is, and start being whatever he wants to be.

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