Em & Royce reunite for an EP for the first time since the Slim Shady LP and the world of hip-hop collectively holds it’s breath. Now that the project is available, does it stack up to the great expectations?
‘Hell: The Sequel’ is filled to the brim with verbal acrobatics and judging by their chemistry on record Em & Royce enjoy pushing each other to these linguistic wildfires as much as their audience likes listening to them. There are bumps in the road though, as the project is marred by a completely unnecessary concession for radio spin featuring Bruno Mars that’s a corny plea for lighters in the sky. That’s not some cynical analysis either, the hook litterally asks for a sky full of lighters. Still, while you’re busy admiring how they rhythmically stack syllable on syllable the duo catches you by surprise with punchlines they were telegraphing half a verse away (“I’m saying I die hard!”) and drop more than enough quotables to be forgiven for an occasional misstep.
This album has a problem right from the start. Two of the greatest active lyricists make an album together and one might jump to the conclusion that the product is one of the greatest albums ever. Let’s put that out of our minds right now and take the album for what it is. It’s entertaining in the “Wow, did he really say that” way that has become their trademark and it’s technically precise in the “he’s never gonna finish that phrase by the end of the line” or “break down the rhyme scheme” way that separates these two from so many others in the game. The production is exciting at first, but it will bore upon repeated listens. The great part is that these guys have about as much chemistry as Red and Meth.
Aaron J. McKrell:
Em and Royce pick up where they left off a dozen years ago, but which Hell: The Sequel they’re moving forward, not backwards. Rather than attempt to recapture the magic of their late-’90s work, Em and Royce rap about their present issues with their impecable flows, deliveries, and lyricism intact, all backed by stellar production. This isn’t to say their not still crazy; Em can still make you laugh out loud with his nutso rhymes, and Royce is still capable of making your jaw drop. It’s just that they’ve realized where they are as MCs, and aren’t trying to force a cartoonish image of insanity. The two are at their best when rhyming about the opposite sex, such as on “The Reunion” and “A Kiss.” While the EP may not blow yu away, all told it’s Eminem’s best work since the 8 Mile Soundtrack. As for Royce, he had me hooked the moment he dropped the best line so far this year: “She said ‘I’m feelin’ ya whole swagger and flow/Can we hook up?’ I said hmm, you just used the word swagger, so no.”
It’s gotta be hard being gifted lyrically like Eminem and Royce. So many fans, purists and lovers of the Hip-Hop game consider them to be part of the upper echelon of MC spitting today, so you can’t deny what they bring to the table when they are on point with the pen. When it comes to album or EP projects, people feel they might need to do “more” – whatever that is, and these guys have times where they don’t deliver. Hell: The Sequel highlights their strengths and weaknesses. Most of the weaker shit, I feel, are the hooks. If it’s not the obvious radio-reach with Bruno Mars on “Lighters”, it’s the tired, typical Eminem singing on “The Reunion”. When it’s time to spit about the shit people wanna hear from Bad Meets Evil – getting fucked up, talking wild shit, etc. – you’ve got brilliant anthems like “I’m On Everything”, the massacre which is “Loud Noises” and the throwback boogie of bonus cut “Living Proof”. Did you also notice how much better their rhymes sound when the production is right? Trying to make this more than what it is kills the project. Who is trying to hear BME on the radio? You’d think that Eminem, who’s had this vanity label for a while, would allow himself to just let loose on a release or two, then save the cuts like “Lighters” or “Above The Law” for his albums, when he’s trying to get that Grammy/tour love. Hell: The Sequel should really just be about spitting that shit people wanna bug to, and letting that mainstream-lean drop on your bigger projects.
Sketch The J:
Em and Royce the Nickel-Nine’s Hell: The Sequel feels like a professional, tag-team exhibition of Five Finger Filet (aka the Knife Game). It’s fast, offers a remarkably high level of skill, and is often look-away dangerous. But while it’s sharp, one wishes this flurry of activity had more of a point.