Think TNT knows drama? They got
nothing on Marshall Mathers, whose
life in the year leading up to the release of this album saw more ups and downs
than all the rollercoaster’s in all the Six
Flags theme parks put together. The
platinum-haired provocateur checked himself into rehab, reunited with infamous
ex-wife Kim, broke up with her
shortly thereafter, and lost his best friend Proof in a nightclub shooting that proved that sometimes gangsta
bravado can go a little too far (remember the video for “Like Toy Soldiers,” in
which the D12 MC was depicted being
rushed to the hospital after getting shot?).

Returning to the game after a two-year absence, you might expect The Re-Up to bear the creative fruit
of Em‘s fucked up year. But
you’d be wrong. In fact, Shady‘s
profile here is surprisingly slim, instead focusing the spotlight on his
extended rhyme family, including G-Unit,
D12, Stat Quo and newcomers Bobby
and Ca$his.
Originally intended as an underground mix tape, the album brings some serious
heat despite its mastermind’s relatively low profile, with plenty of blazing
highlights to suggest that Eminem‘s
empire remains strong.

But make no mistake, when Em does
get on the mic he makes his presence felt. Unlike the bulk of Encore where he was sleepwalking through
his verses, Shady sounds as hungry
as ever, lacing blistering verse after blistering verse. When Em snatches the mic and takes the lead
on songs like the title track, “You Don’t Know” (which everyone just rips) and
the closing “No Apologies,” he makes a strong case for his claim to be the
tightest emcee in the game. It’s his second verse on his duet with 50, “Jimmy Crack Corn,” that steals the
show though: “you wanna talk shit? Let’em
talk shit/cause they talk shit/knowing deep down they just wanna squash
it/cause no wants to walk around stepping in dog shit/and get doo doo on their
shoe again as soon as they washed it/but their pride won’t let’em, inside’s
like go get’em/and I’m just like why you tryin’ to fight momentum/we just keep
winnin’ by landslides oh and um/Shady
Limited in any size yo
demin…meanwhile your minds on us like mine’s on Mariah/and y’all are just her you’re all fuckin’ liars/but I’ll
just keep fucking you like I fucked her/right in the ass with K-Y, yes sir/so
full of joy, boy am I absurd/even Chingy
would tell you, that boy don’t cuurr.

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Em isn’t the only one sounding
hungry again; Fif is sounding better
than he has since his debut. Whether its batting lead off on the aforementioned
posse cut “You Don’t Know,” or going toe to toe with Em on the title track.

The opening posse cut, “We’re Back” sets the blistering tone, with a
piano-laden beat, subtle strings and syncopated rhymes that give the track the
feeling of a suspenseful car chase constantly teetering on the brink of
spiraling out of control, while Creekwater
makes a case for himself as Rookie Emcee of the Year on the percolating “Shake
That Remix” with Obie Trice and Nate Dogg. The touching Proof tribute of “Trapped” is chilling
in light of his untimely demise. But as on most mix tapes, there are some weak
moments here, too, such as Bizarre and Kuniva‘s gratuitous gun talk on “Murder”
(which seems disrespectful of their former D-12 bandmate) and the monotonous
beat that drags down Ca$his
aggressive spitting on “Everything Is Shady. “

Not to be forgotten is Stat Quo,
who sounds great at every turn – particularly in his shining solo joint “By My
Side.” You guys can release Statlanta
anytime now. Unfortunately. The Re-Up
falters at times when Em’s production grows too plodding and repetitive. Fans
may come away wondering why Kim, Proof and rehab barely merit a mention,
but don’t forget this is only a mixtape (originally slated to only be a street
mixtape). Everyone saves their best material for their albums, which is a scary
thought considering the quality of material on here.