Strong performances from the rest of the Shady label aside, acceptance of "Shady XV" will purely depend on your acceptance of Eminem’s savant syndrome manifestation.
Fifteen years of Shady Records represents an unusual time for rap music, transitioning out of the shiny suit era and into a bubble featuring new names. Aside from D12 and Obie Trice releases, the label’s existence was mostly tied to Eminem signing a certain Queens MC. 2011 proves a critical year with the reformation of Bad Meets Evil with friend Royce da 5’9”, and the signings of the Slaughterhouse collective and Yelawolf. Given the very recent additions, it would seem somewhat premature to drop a compilation, much less going with a double disc of new and old music. Nonetheless, Shady XV gives the people what they want. But which people are those?
Jumping into the meat of the projects, Shady XV features Eminem with bars on top of bars on top of bars, over his typical acid rock influenced production. “Psychopath Killer” brings back subtle horrorcore, with half of Slaughterhouse with Yelawolf. The song also has Eminem literally detonating on the track. At some point, he stops rapping off beat, and to his own time. ”Die Alone” pulls in a Kobe hook, where he’s asked to channel the Eighties Luther Vandross. Oh, the irony.
Bad Meets Evil reunites for now-infamous “Vegas,” a carnal and frankly misogynistic experience, in which Em cannibalizes Royce, who actually comes correct when his turn comes. The track fully encapsulates the ethical conundrum of Eminem of the present day. His elite technical ability has reached past another previously unseen Mario level. However, he’s still stuck on crushing female artists, with the 'cut and sew' precision that most non-stans would love to see on a different subject (literally any other subject, besides simulated abuse of women.)
Finally providing something other than Em spazzing out, Slaughterhouse gets their time to shine over a DJ Premier beat, with “Y’all Ready Know.” An honest and emotional Shady reappears with Sia on “Guts Over Fear”:
“Learned how to harness it while the reins were off/And there was a lot of bizarre shit, but the crazy part/ Was soon as I stopped saying I gave a fuck/Haters started to appreciate my art.”
“Right for Me” displays Eminem’s complete disregard for production, which he seemingly views simply as requirement satisfaction for a rap song, proves both enthralling and problematic. The excitement lies in Em’s anaconda-like ferocity, his ability to swallow the beat whole, leaving nothing to waste. The problem is he clearly no longer cares about anyone or anything else, while he’s in the zone. He settles for nothing less than complete annihilation of everything, including the artists performing alongside him.
This almost autistic approach begs the questioning of desired intention. Is the current version of Eminem even hip-hop, or increasingly abstract performance art with hip-hop as a base platform? Is he in discovery mode, similar to Thelonious Monk searching for lost chords and new syncopations? Is he just a raging misogynist, with nothing more to talk about (which, if he’s looking out on a world outside of the world of Marshall Mathers, seems a poor excuse on many levels)?
If “Down” was a reject from the "Love Story" sessions, Yelawolf might have something special on the way. He has flipped out that nasal, specifically Southern drawl, going with a more neutral tone. It comes back on the “Till It’s Gone,” a standout also featured on Sons of Anarchy. Mr. Porter and Kuniva pop on “Bane,” the D12 union track minus Eminem. Everyone runs down the “Detroit vs. Everybody” with a vengeance, but how do you have Dej Loaf on before Black Milk or Elzhi? (Or both.)
The “greatest hits” disc feels bloated, and largely unnecessary. Save a few deepish cuts, there’s nothing revelatory to be found, unless you’ve been living under a rock. Asking fans to purchase mostly ubiquitous tracks, like “In Da Club,” stands just this side of laughable within today’s music buying climate.
Though it has some strong points in lyrical dexterity, Shady XV fails to deliver definitive answers on where the label is now, nor where it may be going in the future. The album will pacify the subset of Eminem stans – which is acceptable for the personal journey of a solo album. However, taking a celebration of fifteen years to spew “me, me, me” vomit on an increasingly diverse canvas was unnecessary. Regardless of how skilled the delivery is, if you have nothing new to say, why say anything?
“Sometimes I have to ponder why people are like (I'll stick around)/And put up with my crap so long for/What's the attraction, mama? Is it the fact that I'm a walking, talking, actual quadruple entendre/Or the pointy nose that's pointing at you, mama?/ Who knows at this point.”