After kicking off the year with the surprise release of his eleventh studio LP, Music to Be Murdered By, Eminem is ending this universally shakey year the same way. Released as a deluxe version of the LP, Side B is a 16-track expansion that delivers familiar territory with some pops of Em at his sharpest.
As always, he remains incredibly self-aware — whether verbalizing common and obvious criticisms à la Eight Mile B-Rabbit vs. Papa Doc while flexing a 2020 rap flow on “Book Of Rhymes” or reiterating his Rap God title on the White Gold featured “Zeus.” The latter, aside from an ominous warning to Drake, Future and Migos that fans will one day turn on them, too, includes a rubber bullet shot at Snoop, who publicly snubbed the rapper on his personal greatest rappers of all-time list (“Snoop doggin’ me, man, dogg, you was like a God to me, nah, not really, I had “dog” backwards, but I’m starting to think, all these people takin’ shots at me.”)
But his patented method of repurposing perceived slights into rap-fuel seems a little weathered. As if … we’ve heard the story before?
In the song “Higher,” Em spits, “Every time I think I hit my ceiling, I go higher than I’ve ever fuckin’ been.” While musically that may have been a worthy argument in the past, he more so has reached a high altitude and mashed the cruise control button for the duration of the flight.
None of Marshall Mathers’ career runback is a new exciting territory by any stretch. The theme of murdering women on record (see the dry-running “Black Magic” for example), or the almost ironically titled “Tone Deaf,” which is a whole lot of his thematic shticks of late wrapped up in one track.
That doesn’t mean Side B isn’t without its charm; there are some shiny moments worthy of praise. One such moment being when D.A. Got That Dope and Guaranteed Millions lace “Killer” with a breezy West Coast bop that Em slides across with the poise of a gold-medal-winning figure skater.
A host of nostalgia dripping from “Discombobulated,” the Side B closer that sounds like Relapse era Em over a beat that could pass for a leftover from 50 Cent’s Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ sessions. He even references Fif’s iconic and long-running beef with Ja Rule — tossing a (featherweight) jab in the crooning MC’s direction (“Ja’ll actually spit a bar/That’s not from a Dr. Seuss book).
Then there is “Favorite Bitch” featuring Ty Dolla $ign — a contemporary spin on the concept first made famous by Common on his seminal single “I Used To Love H.E.R..”
Here, we hear the veteran spitter briefly contemplating the thought of letting go of his “bitch” (Hip Hop) while reminiscing on their long and sometimes strained relationship as the culture has evolved, adapted and moved on in some respects.
The album hits peaks with the timely “Gnat,” laden with coronavirus references, an MGK swipe and possibly the most current production on the tracklist and his collaboration with his mentor Dr. Dre, “Guns Blazing.” Seemingly a continuation of MTBMB‘s “In Too Deep,” Em describes in detail the fall out with an unknown woman named Michelle — sending pockets of Reddit sleuths into a frenzy.
While some of his punchlines may border on cringe-worthy dad jokes, and some of his concepts feel less than fresh rehashes of other things already made, he manages to keep hunger intact, even if slightly unfocused as a whole. But, Em has proven himself commercially cancel-proof, regardless of what detractors (journalistic or otherwise) may think of his output in recent years.
“They ain’t never gonna get rid of the fight in the dog,” a defiant Eminem raps on “Gnat,” perhaps best summarizing his current outlook on the game he helped transform so much. Side B is not Eminem at his absolute best, but it’s substantial in the larger context of Hip Hop — and sure to keep Stans satisfied. Unfortunately for those praying on his (musical) downfall, you’ll have to keep holding your breath.