March 2, 2011

Simultaneously effective and everything I feared would happen, the first collaboration between the new Shady roster capitalizes on the crew’s strengths and exposes their weaknesses. First the good: these guys are good at rapping and their entire raison d’ etre is to let you know that they are GOOD AT RAPPING. Their worldviews were forged in a rap world that no longer exists. Lyricism will always be a factor, but it’s no longer an excuse.  Vicious bars can’t forgive sloppy songwriting. Clever punchlines can’t mask dull cadences—at least, if your goal is to earn exposure outside of the hermetic blog bubble.  And Slaughterhouse and Em are well aware of that. Hence, their XXL profile read like a paean to the virtues of lyricism — a testament to their own insecurities and myopic desire to get 16 year olds to memorize Crooked I verses. Not going to happen — at least not on a widescale level.

This is where Eminem enters. One of the last major 90s stars with a huge non-Internet fanbase (see also, Jay-Z and uh…), Eminem is one of the last artists capable of getting people to buy CD’s. No matter what kind of 12-step swill Shady hurls to the world, hordes of breathless fan-boys (men?) will rush to Wal-Mart to cop it, even if Rihanna and Pink are plaguing the record. With that hurdle taken care of, it frees him up to make a play for the Internet rap nerd crowd. Those of us who once believed Canibus was going to be the truth, were momentarily dazzled by Big L Papoose, and once scoured Napster for Em’s Stretch Armstrong freestyle. So for sentimentality’s sake, “Shady 2.0” is impressive, more party trick than party jam. The sort of thing that goes hard but goes nowhere. A hard workout on a stationary bike.

Shady and Slaughterhouse huff and they puff through their lines. They’re focused and their punchlines are tight (“clutching uzis/while watching I Love Lucy/with Gary Busey”), but tightness doesn’t necessarily make for good music. This feels like watching a bunch of roided up sluggers play Home Run Derby. Compression rap. Everyone trying to hit the ball as far as they can, but it isn’t baseball. It feels forced — the sort of constriction that leads to slumps. Which is the concern for Yelawolf, who steals the show handily, but lamentably conforms to the Shady aesthetic: Dungeons & Dragons growl, empty tough guy threats, and an absence of levity or playfulness. The intangibles that ought to separate them from someone like Tech Nyne are largely nonexistent. This is just extreme competence, revealing the flaws of Slaughterhouse and Emimem. 15 years deep in their careers, they still write awful hooks, lacking the restraint to let the track breathe nor the versatility to effectively handle it themselves.

Not to say that this is a failure. “Shady 2.0 Boys” doesn’t set out to be a classic, merely to be a hypodermic injection, a mission statement for a return to raw rhyming. But they’d have been better served taking tips from Wolf. The self-deprecation, narrative skill, the willingness to experiment. This is supposed to be the newest version, but it feels like a blast from the past. And no one above 30 should ever refer to themselves as a boy.

MP3: Eminem, Slaughterhouse & Yelawolf-“Shady 2.0”

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