With Eminem and Royce Da 5'9" at the top of their game right now, it feels like the perfect time for a new album from Bad Meets Evil.
Considering that Bad Meets Evil originally formed in the late nineties --gaining their sinister moniker on Eminem’s major-label debut The Slim Shady LP-- receiving a single album from the duo might have easily been the end of it. After all, Em and Royce Da 5’9” weren’t always seeing eye to eye, and the early millennium found them embroiled in a sudden feud that spawned tracks like “Conspiracy Freestyle” and the incendiary “Malcolm X.” When they ultimately reunited for 2011’s Hell: The Sequel, fans were eager to see where Eminem and Royce would pick up; prior to its release, the last time Bad and Evil linked was on 2002’s “Rock City” -- and that was recorded even earlier.
While largely appreciated by their loyal fans, the project arrived during an interesting era for both artists. For Eminem, Hell: The Sequel was his follow-up to Recovery, a record that saw him disconnecting from Dr. Dre and rediscovering his artistry following a harrowing battle with addiction; stylistically, he dropped the notorious accent of Relapse and continued to build on the intense delivery of songs like “Won’t Back Down” and “Almost Famous,” where his cadence reached new heights of aggression. When looking back on this vocal transformation, a few factors must be remembered. Though Relapse is largely celebrated now, at the time many were critical of Em’s vocal choices, and thus viewed Recovery as a refreshing return to normalcy. The new delivery was initially welcomed, even if it did come at the cost of his Relapse dynamism.
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And though Em had emerged victorious from his battle with addiction, Royce remained deep in the throes of alcoholism. On one hand, Royce’s relationship with Patron had him feeling invincible in the booth, which in turn led to fan-favorite mixtapes like TheBar Exam series and of course, the dawn of Slaughterhouse. Now riding alongside three fellow elite lyricists, Royce’s liquid courage became commonplace in studio sessions, seeping into both his psyche and his musical style. Though he ultimately got sober in 2012, it can be presumed that Royce was still drinking during the Bad Meets Evil sessions; consider that he later described 2014’s PRhyme as his first “sober album.” It’s interesting to note, though perhaps a conversation for another day -- the impact that alcohol can have on creation. Here, it’s enough that Royce’s alcoholism was in full swing during the creation of Hell: The Sequel, and it stands to reason his lyrical content and demeanor were impacted as a result.
Looking back on the album in the context of both Em and Royce’s respective discographies, it’s hard to justify a lofty placement for Hell: The Sequel. That’s not to say it’s not without merit, but it feels somewhat transitional. Like two former collaborators feeling each other out after a years-long absence. At times, the chemistry is impeccable; introductory cut “Welcome 2 Hell” might be their best track yet, capturing the ominous vibe their group name suggests. It cannot be denied, however, that neither party was in the midst of a particularly stellar run, artistically speaking. In fact, each subsequent collaboration they’d go on to do would mark an improvement on the foundation Hell: The Sequel laid. Be it “Vegas,” “Psychopath Killer,” “All I Think About,” or more recently “Caterpillar,” “Not Alike,” “I Will,” and “You Gon’ Learn,” Eminem and Royce appear to have finally found that perfect middle ground.
Not only have their latest collaborations been consistently stellar, but the individual output of both emcees has seemingly reached a second apex. For Royce, who has occasionally struggled to find consistency back in the early half of his career, his run from PRhyme to The Allegory is one of hip-hop’s best. We’re talking Layers, Book Of Ryan, PRhyme 2, The Bar Exam 4, and The Allegory. All the while, his confidence as an artist has only grown, with a critical weapon recently being added to his arsenal. Under the watchful eye of longtime collaborators Denaun Porter and DJ Premier, Royce hit the ground running as a producer; after only a year or so of honing his craft, Nickel went on to handle the beats of his latest album in its entirety. Though The Allegory highlighted his ear for flipping samples, Royce took a few sonic risks as he produced both “You Gon Learn” and “Darkness” off Eminem’s Music To Be Murdered By. And as it happens, he’s already started crafting dark-sampled bangers for Bad Meets Evil, whenever the two horsemen decide to ride again.
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Like his counterpart, Eminem to feels like a new artist, completely and utterly reinvigorated. The back-to-back assault of Kamikaze and Music To Be Murdered By not only re-cemented Em a “Rap God” in the public eye, but it served to silence the critics who seemed to relish in writing him off post-Revival. It’s no coincidence that both projects found him once again reunited with Dr. Dre, who blessed Shady with four beats and subsequently sparked nostalgia for the good old days of Relapse. Yet despite having once been a trusted writer for 2001 back in the day, Nickle has yet to properly bless a Dre banger. Given that Eminem’s circle feels exactly where it should be, the time feels right for Royce and Em to trade bars over a Dre beat and check that off the bucket list once and for all.
Going even further than that, it feels like an entire album from Bad Meets Evil would be most welcome. With both Royce and Em having dropped solo albums this year, both of which featured many personal reflections and opinionated takes on cultural affairs, the time feels right to deliver something “low-stakes” -- though that’s not to be confused with low-quality. Far from it, as there’s a case to be made that both Em and Royce are rapping at a higher caliber than they were in 2011. A strong case even, considering how acclaimed Music To Be Murdered By and The Allegory have been thus far. Look no further than their latest batch of collaborations as a sample size. “Caterpillar," Not Alike,” "You Gon Learn," "Yah Yah," and "I Will," a collection that may very point to what a modern-day dynamic might look like: emboldened by one another, confident in their position as elite-tier emcees. Which other duo is capable of summoning the legendary DJ Premier and Dr. Dre in one properly-arranged conference call?