Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Detroit rappers Eminem and Royce da 5’9 collaborated on many tracks, including Scary Movies and the original version of Jay-Z’s Renegade, creating the duo Bad Meets Evil.
After embarking on different journeys, Royce staying as the king of underground hip-hop in Detroit, and Eminem becoming the best-selling rap artist of the decade, the two MCs decided to reunite again, over 10 years later, releasing their new EP, Hell: The Sequel.
Being labeled as an EP, and not an album targeted at reaching multi-platinum status, you have to be in a certain state of mind to listen to this 9-track extended play, something I forgot to remind myself before listening to it the first time. If you’re looking for a summer album to listen to while cruising in your convertible car on Highway One, look somewhere else. If you’re an occasional Eminem listener and the only tracks you know are Without Me, Shake that Ass and Love the Way you Lie, chances are this album is not fit for you either.
After the evolution and maturity of Eminem that could be heard on Recovery, one could only expect that Em would pursue this path in this Bad Meets Evil project. Well, Eminem decided totally otherwise, digging out his old rhyming style attributed to his early work, reminiscent of The Slim Shady LP. Marshall Mathers looks like he decided to give something back to his die-hard fans after Recovery was labeled as a more commercial album.
The EP is a 45-minute display of lyrical mastery, both from Royce da 5’9 and Eminem, sometimes even pushing it too far, as if the MCs focused on technical skills and left aside the musical aspect of rap. Nonetheless, for any fan of battle rap, this is incredibly impressive. Listeners will pause, rewind and loop a lot of tracks to catch all the details in the lyrics.
Overall, the EP is very dark, and as I said earlier, is not one to be listened to on a bright sunny day while having lunch on your patio. It also feels very uneven. Fastlane has shades of Scary Movies, while The Reunion sounds like a track that could have been on the Relapse album, and then you have Lighters, featuring Bruno Mars, that, in my opinion, has no place on an EP like that, and feels like a track that was pushed in by the record label to ensure some radio play.
Having two rappers exchanging verses on every track feels refreshing though, getting out of the mold of 90% of hip-hop tracks that are rapped by one artist and have a sung-chorus by an invited artist. But, having two rappers sort of battling it out on an entire EP, you can’t help but start to compare them at some point. Honestly, I never thought I’d say that, but I think that overall, Royce da 5’9 overshadows Eminem on the EP. Eminem sounds too agressive and out of control, while Royce has an incredible flow that doesn’t feel forced. Em also brings back his multiple disses towards celebrities, which start to feel a bit old after the wisdom shown (not on every track of course) on Recovery. He even brings back another diss to the late David Carradine, which is pushing it too far in my opinion…
After pointing out its flaws, I now have to raise my hat to the highlight of this EP, which is Take From Me. This melancholic song about internet-leaking and lack of confidence towards their entourage is to me, musically, one of the best tracks Eminem has ever been featured on. Both rappers show vulnerability and honesty accompanied by an incredible melody by Mr. Porter, making it a memorable song, even if it feels like an orphan on an EP focused on battle rap.
Hell: The Sequel, fulfills what it was meant to be: an album for hardcore hip-hop fans looking for lyrical prowess and a dark, agressive sound. Royce da 5’9 and Eminem prove to the world once again that they’re 2 of the greatest rap artists ever, even if sometimes the quality of the musicality suffers from the technical display.