When Eminem shattered the mirror in the opening track of his underground 1997 debut “The Slim Shady EP”, he not only shattered his ego, unleashing the infamous id we know as Slim Shady, but he also shattered all expectations that came with being a “white rapper”. First, and most importantly, the white boy could rap. He didn’t just have the ability to string together complicated, multisyllabic, rhyme schemes; he also was able to craft cinematic visions amidst the layers of wordplay. Secondly, Em wasn’t some rich kid from the ‘burbs who thought Hip-Hop would be a cool hobby. He rap battled his way to notoriety, treating lyrics not as a means to an end, but as a lifeline to survival. Because of this Em earned tremendous respect from his peers, those who could throw down just as vicious and had been honed by the same hardcore Detroit rap scene. One of these peers was Royce da 5’9”, a rapper that was on par with Em’s lyrical quality and wittiness. So it was no surprise to see the two form up as the duo Bad Meets Evil and release a few tracks, including a self-titled track on Em’s major-label debut album, “The Slim Shady LP”.
Bad Meets Evil - “Bad Meets Evil”
It was an amazing introduction to Royce’s talent and largely legitimized by his association with the greatest (white) rapper of all time.
Then things went from Bad Meets Evil to worse.
Dr. Dre, who at this point was Em’s consigliere, dug what he heard from Royce and asked the up-and-comer to be his ghostwriter on the long-gestating “2001” album. Now, the first rule of ghostwriting is you don’t talk about ghostwriting. Something that Royce’s manager either hadn’t learned or, most likely, was so excited by his client’s collaboration with the legendary producer that he couldn’t help, but talk about it. Dre asked Royce to fire his manager before moving forward with more work and Royce said no. So, Dre severed his ties with the rapper, in effect severing Royce’s ties with Em. It would take over 10 years and the tragic of death of Em’s best friend and D12 bandmate, Proof, to have Bad meet Evil once again.
So here we are with Eminem, arguably the most successful and most popular rapper in history, and Royce da 5’9”, an underground star who’s maintained his reputation as a razor-sharp lyricist, with their first official album: “Hell: The Sequel”. Unfortunately, it’s this dichotomy of overground and underground that weighs down on the album’s potential. With each track that delivers the same hardcore punch as their previous collaborations there’s a poorly rendered Pop-Hop track to cancel it out.
“Fast Lane”, the lead single, is well-crafted enough to reintroduce the world to the duo from the D. Using a chorus that sounds like it was written for the late Nate Dogg along with a chest-rattling beat, the track gives the floor to Slim Shady and Nickel Nine to just spit raw braggadocio. It’s this kind of track with an unfettered premise, hard percussions and room to play that the album needs more of. You’re not listening to a Bad Meets Evil record for any huge concepts, you’re listening it to witness two great lyricists try top each other line for line. “Living Proof” is another great track that showcases Em and Royce playing lyrical tag team over a nervous bass line. It’s raw, pure and just fun to listen to. On the less successful tracks, it’s once they wedge in the R&B hook that the addictive energy between the two is overridden and left innate.
Bad Meets Evil - “Fast Lane”
The biggest violator of this obvious attempt at making radio-friendly songs is “Lighters” featuring the hot R&B star of the moment Bruno Mars. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Mars, but the song is a Frankenstein of a track that sounds like they literally stitched together two completely different songs. Does Eminem still need to make radio-friendly singles anyways? I would think the best aspect of this project for him is the ability to go back to his underground roots without catering to the lowest common denominator. This album would’ve sold with or without the R&B songs that take up half the EP.
I’m betting the most popular song on the album will be “I’m on Everything” with the chorus featuring a soundbite from comedian Mike Epps’ standup routine about being on “syrup, painkillers, cigarette, weed, Hennessy, vodka, I’m on everything”. It’s goofy and lets Bad Meets Evil get even goofier, just like their classic songs “Nuttin’ To Do” and “Scary Movies”.
Bad Meets Evil - “Scary Movie”
Bad Meets Evil - “Nuttin’ To Do”
Maybe it’s just my own nostalgia for the two rappers when they were on “everything” that I truly miss. Now they’re 10 years older, one’s sober, and both have tested their artistic bounds many times over. Here’s to hoping they venture back to their rap battle roots on the next outing. They could call it “Heaven: The Prequel”.