The last few years for Eminem have been something of a victory lap. Not that he’s not putting his all into his work, but he’s basically been showing off his exceptional talent. Marshall Mathers, is arguably the best rapper in the world. His cadence, lyrical barbs, metaphors, and punchlines are so on point and lightning fast, that you’ll miss most of the punch of a song in just one pass. Which is what makes Shady XV the disappointment that it is. The entire Shady Records roster gets to flex their muscles, but their fearless leader throws off the balance at every turn.
Shady XV is a compilation album, but Eminem appears on nine of the thirteen tracks. Shady Records is his label, and his footprint is firmly placed on this album. You’d think this would be a check for the positive column, but it ends up being a hindrance more often than not. Eminem has been the highest example of “super rap” in mainstream hip-hop for about two years now. His latest singles, “Berserk” and “Rap God,” are prime examples of this. He tears into a track, and blacks out. It’s not even second nature, it’s what he was born to do. However, this becomes a problem when his flow doesn’t ride the beat, it deconstructs it. He dissects it. Listening to an Eminem verse isn’t a relaxing experience, it is a study in rap technique and breath control. Shady XV shines a light on one of the oft overlooked facts of Eminem’s career; he doesn’t have the club / party song.
Each artist on Shady Records brings something to the table on the Shady XV compilation, most notably Yelawolf and Slaughterhouse. The thing about the label is, it’s made up of mostly hip-hop workhorses; Rappers who had regional respect and success, but could never quite maintain a nationwide presence. That’s what makes the concept of the celebratory compilation album a bit perplexing here. For everyone who isn’t Slim Shady, it’s not full on fan service. Rather, it is a showcase of artists, trying to appeal to people who would otherwise ignore them. Trying to show them why they should even care.
On songs like “Psychopath Killer,” with Yelawolf and Slaughterhouse, the artists are trading bars and going in and out of lyrical consciousness in a way that few can. This is a song that begs to be heard, if only because the production is more minimalist and atmospheric than the other booming tracks on the album.
The second half of Shady XV is a “greatest hits,” of sorts. This is a loose definition of the term, because these songs are not necessarily the most popular or better known tracks from the label’s fifteen year history. It’s more of a hodgepodge of hits that sort of represent what the label has gone through. You get a few tracks from 50 Cent off of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and his pre-Shady days with songs like “Wanksta.” You also get three tracks from Obie Trice, which is great since he’s missing from the new material side of the album. All in all, the second disc comes off like an afterthought. It seems as though tracks were chosen at random to give some attention to artists who may not have been able to make it to studio sessions.
It’s an odd sensation to say that Eminem is the weakest link on Shady XV, but his presence pokes holes in his armor more than it shows the strength in the house that Shady built. Eminem hasn’t been able to truly craft a song in quite some time. “Love the Way You Lie” reined him in, but songs like that are few and far between. On what should have been another platform for him to show off the face of the proud parent to well respected artists, Em takes some of their shine, and the good songs are left to rot in playlist hell. For as skilled and great as Eminem is, he forgets that restraining yourself is also a talent in and of itself.
Originally published on – Inyourspeakers.com (12/05/2014)