“Welcome to the CD,” Eminem deadpans on Bad Meets Evil’s first album. That short phrase says so much more; in a rap world at the mercy of Odd Future’s gnarled hands, Eminem feels like as much of a bygone format as the compact disc.
Marshall Bruce Mathers III recognizes this, having spent recent years spitting to convince each listener why he sold 10 million of those in the first place. For him, this includes exhuming the insanity of his pre-fame work. Bad Meets Evil is the sick kid Double Dutch with Detroit blue-collar rhymesayer Royce da 5’9″. It’s not their first release: “Nuttin’ to Do/Scary Movies,” the duo’s awesomely flippant street single, came out when Eminem was the shock rapper du jour.
Things have changed. They beefed for a few years, Royce struggled to attain the near-pop status he bid for with 2002’s Rock City, and Eminem got super-sized on pills and McDonald’s, resembling Elvis a little too closely. In 2011, Hell: The Sequel is an event for only the most faithful Stans. The so-called EP is closer to an album at nine songs (add two and make it a meal for the now-requisite deluxe edition), with the feel of Eminem’s extracurricular work where he’s free from making his next all-eyes-on-me statement—think 2006’s new product showcase The Re-Up or D12’s quirky second album, D12 World.
For better or worse, Hell: The Sequel continues Em’s recent dedication to both breathless lyrical flips (better) and putting faceless singers on limp-dick hooks crafted to lure the junior high crowd (worse). Still, the fact that pull-yourself-up crossover cheese is limited to one surprisingly deece song (the Bruno Mars-assisted “Lighters”) is everyone’s victory.
Here both rappers are more heinous than ever, and that’s saying something after Relapse‘s bloodthirsty blur of fantasy and reality. Hell is a ‘roided monster ready to max out: Em and Royce have never been more disgusting than on “A Kiss,” which could make the most depraved sex addict blink, and never more bugged- (drugged)-out than on “I’m On Everything,” where the perpetually flustered Mike Epps lists intoxicants for a rap equivalent of Queens of the Stone Age’s “Feel Good Hit of the Summer.”
Eminem’s the selling point—always has been—but what of Royce’s contributions? “I remember signing my first deal/Now I’m the second best, I can deal with that” is a rare touching moment in the middle of “Lighters,” whose radio cheese still can’t mask the genuine frustration of a thirtysomething man still considered a sidekick. He’s mad-dog hungry on “Welcome 2 Hell” and “Above the Law,” but elsewhere he lags with a zombified auto-rap (no-brow humor like “A chick wanted a hug/She was fat/I gave her dap, then I told her to scat” doesn’t exactly warrant an excited cadence, either).
Despite a fierce start, Hell runs out of fire quickly. Pointless posse cut “Loud Noises” (yes, there’s the Anchorman sample) is nothing but, with Slaughterhouse—Royce’s group including Crooked I, a rapper who has achieved the feat of being signed to both Death Row and Virgin Records and remaining a nobody—showing up to redefine the word “unremarkable.”
Nothing on Hell: The Sequel approaches the heathen chemistry of Bad Meets Evil’s older songs; it largely sounds like the two could have recorded their verses separately, an exception being the agile tag-team spelling bee in “I’m On Everything.” Every faggot, fuck and fellatio sounds forced, right down to Eminem’s new penchant for meticulously set up puns (your reaction to the oral sex/decapitation ultimatum preceding “if you don’t give me head, then I’m-a have to take it!” will be a familiar one by the end).
Eminem only produces one song here, leaving the dirty work to mainstays like Havoc and Mr. Porter. The surging grit of “Fast Lane” is ample red carpet for both performers’ fast-tongued raps, and Sly Jordan’s vocals on the refrain set him up as a worthy heir to Nate Dogg’s velvet throne. But musically, Hell is boring as hell. There’s no kooky first single for relief, just overcast horror movie imitations with all the excitement of a weekday Kmart visit (oh yeah, Eminem raps about that, too).
It’s all a big drag when it shouldn’t be, an unfortunate part of the late ’90s nostalgia wave (think Limp Bizkit’s upcoming Gold Cobra or the current Backstreet Boys tour). Things ain’t like they used to be for either Eminem or Royce, with both rappers long past their prime. A decade ago, this could have been a respectable Marshall Mathers LP victory lap; today, the formulaic evil on Hell: The Sequel just sounds bad.
Bad Meets Evil – Hell: The Sequel Tracklist:
- “Welcome 2 Hell”
- “Fast Lane”
- “The Reunion”
- “Above The Law”
- “I’m On Everything”
- “A Kiss”
- “Take From Me”
- “Loud Noises”
- “Living Proof” (Bonus)
- “Echo” (Bonus)