Eminem Presents the Re-Up
minem’s been quiet since 2004’s Encore. He’s retreated into a sullen shell, and the few times he’s popped up on the media radar, the news has been bleak. He checked himself into rehab for an addiction to pain pills; he remarried—and divorced—his twice-ex-wife Kim; his best friend, Proof of D12, was shot and killed outside a club in Detroit. It seemed he’d entered a personal tailspin, and there was no promise he would ever rap again. (The disheartening spectacle of Encore called into question whether we would want him to anyway. On excruciating songs like “Ass Like That” and “Just Lose It,” he came off like an aging, bitter clown grimacing through his makeup as he performed humiliating routines that were beneath him. The self-negation was gruesome.)
So here comes a new “official mixtape,” which is major-label speak for “holiday season filler,” and it makes for an oddly inauspicious, fence-straddling “return” for one of the world’s biggest stars. The CD is mostly given over to new Aftermath signees like Ca$his, an emphatic Midwestern rapper who spits words contemptuously, and Bobby Creekwater, a Southerner with a laid-back drawl so deep and generous you almost picture him lounging on a lakeside dock, dipping his toes in the water. Eminem pops up on a verse here and there, complementing an on-fire Obie Trice on “We’re Back” and rhyming alongside 50 Cent on two songs, but for the most part he’s a phantom presence. Obie Trice and Ca$his call him out on “We Ride for Shady.” Atlanta rapper Stat Quo, possibly curious about the status of his forever-delayed album Statlanta, is particularly industrious about dropping his boss’s name. On “There He Is,” Bobby Creekwater even dubs himself “the return of Shady.”
While Bobby’s work here assures that he isn’t the second coming, it’s clear that the real Slim Shady hasn’t returned either. On his few appearances on “The Re-Up,” Em sounds completely lost, grasping for a new subject for his roving mind, or even for a reason to keep rapping. His most telling lyric is on “Public Enemy #1”: “I stand before you in the booth a walking dead man / Blank stare, deadpan.” It’s the sound of an artist trying to make hay out of his own writer’s block. On “We’re Back,” he pores over his past accomplishments and frets about his current place in rap: “Not even the same league as Jay-Z, Nas, Pac, Biggie or maybe / They name me somewhere on the bottom right after AZ or say he / Ripped that Biggie verse or that Jay-Z / ‘Yo his verses are crazy on that “Renegade,” / But I ain’t never bought no whole CD of Shady.’ ”
Some of what made him the most compelling MC in 2000 is still evident; he still elaborates obsessively, which can result in long tails of verse that escalate deliriously into absurdity: “You might see me talkin’ /You might see me walkin’ / You might see me walking a dead Rottweiler dog with its head chopped off / And a spiked collar / Hollerin’ at him cuz the son of a bitch won’t quit barkin’.” On this album, though, his endless detail is just tiresome, like the droning addenda clauses at the bottom of a contract. He used to rap with startling clarity: “Serial killer hiding murder material in a cereal box on top of your stereo.” Now, his lines are bogged down in qualifications and clarifications: “Thick as his skin is / Or as short as his wick is / The trick is to be able to walk as big as his dick is / Sick as his music is / Or was / Still is / Whatever.” It’s the sound of someone expending a tremendous amount of energy to say very little.
At the end of the album, Em finally offers one full new song, “No Apologies.” Over a maudlin loop that recalls the weeping background piano music for a daytime soap, he rhymes, “This song isn’t for you, it’s for me /A true MC / It’s what he’ll do just to see / If he still has it.” The nauseating display of empty self-congratulation is worthy of Liza Minelli, and shows that Eminem has sunk so deeply into the lonely mansion of his mind that the outside world may actually cease to exist. On the chorus, he yells, “Naw, suckas, I’m not sorry,” but it’s not clear who he’s talking to, if he’s talking to anyone, or what he’s not apologizing for. He can still string words together in a fascinating way, but the only two emotions Em seems interested in conveying are bottomless self-pity and narcissism, endless variations on “Leave me alone.” Or as he puts it: “Hands on my head / Touch knees to elbows / I’m hunched over, emotionless / Flow’s over / These cold shoulders are both frozen / You don’t know me.” Save it for Oprah.