Remember 2003, when Eminem produced “Moment of Clarity” for Jay-Z’s The Black Album? It was a sparse, bass-heavy track with a few keys and synths, and perfectly showcased Em’s skills as a budding producer. In hindsight, two ironic points emerge from that offering. It took seven years of fighting through personal tragedy and drug addiction for Em to find his own moment of clarity. And, having found it, beats like the one he supplied Jay-Z are conspicuously absent. Neither of these are necessarily negatives. They just make for one confusingly excellent listen.
Recovery opens with “Cold Wind Blows,” which is arguably the closest Eminem comes to Slim Shady / Marshall Mathers LP territory in nearly a decade. The snares and bass are aggressive, and match with Eminem bars that are as technically precise and shocking as they’ve ever been. Halfway through the track, after hearing him rhyme, “Motherfucker, I'll show you pussy footin' / I'll kick a bitch in the cunt till it makes her queef / And sounds like a fuckin' whoopee cushion / Who the fuck is you pushin'?” it’s obvious that Shady’s back. Sort of.
Even on songs such as “W.T.P.” and “On Fire,” where he’s either bored or taking the usual juvenile jabs at Mariah Carey, Brooke Hogan and Michael J. Fox, he still excels at putting the actual pattern of his bars together better than almost anyone. He rhymes about rhyming. He rhymes about how well he rhymes, and he rhymes about bragging about how well he rhymes, because, well, he can. It proves how drastically his outlook has changed over the past year, since on “Talking 2 Myself,” Em admits he almost dissed Kanye West and Lil Wayne for the hell of it, rhyming, “Hatred was flowing through my veins / On the verge of going insane / I almost made a song dissing Lil Wayne / It's like I was jealous of him because of the attention he was getting / I felt horrible about myself / He was spittin' and I wasn't / Anyone who was buzzin' back then could have got it almost went at Kanye too / Thank God I didn't do it / I would of had my ass handed to me...”
On 2009’s Relapse, listeners called Eminem out for his trite subject matter delivered in what sounded like a faux Swedish accent. Recovery is a response devoid of both flaws. Eminem and his issues serve as the subject matter for the majority of the album, and he’s blatantly honest about both topics. This isn’t the currently trendy, half-emo, “I’m so sad” fare. Em gets introspective on levels previously reached by the likes of Scarface and DMX at their lowest points. Additionally, he recounts his entry into the Rap game (“Almost Famous”), and pushes himself into unfamiliar territory with “Love The Way You Lie” and “Won’t Back Down.”
It’s not that being introspective or talking about domestic issues or personal loss is new for Eminem, but rather the way he tackles all of the above on Recovery. This is the most experimental production he has rhymed over since the Infinite days. At times it’s big and anthemic like “Lose Yourself,” yet still lacks the punch Dr. Dre and The Bass Brothers have provided for so many years. After hearing Just Blaze sample Haddaway’s “What Is Love,” on the Lil Wayne-assisted “No Love,” a visit from either would be a welcomed improvement. And honestly, that type of production—or at least getting used to consistently hearing Eminem rhyme over it—is the album's only flaw.
The current shift in Hip Hop’s landscape finds listeners rewarding artists for experimentation, even when it occasionally goes awry by “Golden Era” standards. You don’t have to look any further than Kanye West’s Auto-Tuned 808’s & Heartbreak, B.o.B.’s Pop/Rock-influenced Adventures of Bobby Ray or Jay-Z’s hipster-infused Blueprint 3. Eminem’s decision to pair himself with the likes of P!nk and Rihanna or to croon (albeit off-key) about his fallen friend, Proof on “You’re Never Over” seems representative of that shift. Em adapted with the times, and even during his musical missteps, he’s pushing himself to experiment. After all, it’s not 2003 anymore.