August 28, 2013

Max Bell prefers Clarence Carter to Billy Squier.

Eminem knows Recovery should be filed under pop, not hip-hop. So with “Berzerk,” Em claims he’s going to “take it back to straight hip-hop.” It’s a move in the right direction, but now that he’s as old as the genre itself he’s gone too far back. He’s on his middle aged, these-young-kids-don’t-know-real-music kick. It was probably inevitable, but it’s just unfortunate.

Juicy J, who’s almost as old as Em and has made music since ‘95, just dropped one of the best records of his career (they aren’t on the same level lyrically or artistically, and I’m not making that comparison, so chill). Say what you will, but you really can’t chalk “Berzerk” up to age. With this one, Em may have run out of ideas. Therefore, he’s gone back to what he never really touched on when he invaded the homes of every teenaged white kid in America in ‘99 — his influences.

In this light, the fact that Rick Rubin is behind the boards on “Berzerk” makes perfect sense. Em has made no secret of his love of early LL records, and the boombox is obviously in homage to Radio. And, as a white rapper, the brothers Beastie also undoubtedly influenced Em when he was in his teens. Em’s leaning on his influences, but many have done so before him and many will after.

Em’s always been a technically great rapper, and that doesn’t change on “Berzerk.” He’s still better than nearly every rapper in the world at twisting and contorting complex, multisyllabic internal rhymes. In the first verse, after a little bio, critic bashing, and a shout out to Kendrick, Em talks about bringing back “vintage Slim.” Which incarnation of himself is he talking about, what year does this “vintage Slim” exist in? It can’t be the Eminem of Infinite, and it can’t be the Em who made The Slim Shady LP. That Eminem would never half-sing the word “rag” (pronounced: “ra-haaag.”).

Given the K Fed reference on the hook, which probably only appeals to people who watch MTV for the articles, he must be talking about the Em on The Marshall Mathers LP, the Em who took shots at Fed’s ex, N’Sync, Christina Aguilera, and every other pop figure on his radar. But then there are rhymes like, “But I am tryin’ to find a way to get you alone: car note!” This is the kind of hashtag rap that smacks of a later, and unfortunately lesser Em.

Reaffirming the false, “vintage Slim” advertising in the first verse, the hook is insufferably pop, and major chunks of the song are cringe-worthy (see the blabbity balbbity gibberish from 1:35 to 1:45).  And though Em’s sampled rock well in the past (“Sing for the Moment” was great), even the kids in Billy Madison knew “The Stroke” is kinda corny.

But enough of the “Berzerk” bashing — the song has its merits, some signs that Em is still the Em of old. Lines like, “The art of the MCing mixed with da Vinci and MC Ren / And I don’t mean Stimpy’s friend, bitch” and “But I done did enough codeine to knock Future into tomorrow,” show he’s still as deft and quick witted with a pen as he’s always been. Or at least when he wants to be.

Above all, it’s really the packaging of nostalgia that’s the most disappointing thing about “Berzerk.” Em was never nostalgic to begin with. He was the guy who’d studied the old and became the new — he was the innovator.

Still, “Berzerk” isn’t as bad as most of Recovery. There’s also something to be said for the fact that Em didn’t wholly follow in LL’s footsteps and make a song like “Ratchet.” And though it will probably end up coming out of fraternity speakers, we’ll forget about this song fairly soon. It’s the typical Shady pop single, the “My Name Is,” the “The Real Slim Shady,” the “Without Me” (though I’d rather listen to those any day of the week). Let’s just hope to Dido and Devon Sawa that “Berzerk” isn’t indicative of the rest of The Marshall Mathers LP 2.

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