When news broke that estranged Detroit wordsmiths Royce Da 5’9″ and Eminem settled their differences, speculation ran wild as to the future of two of the best lyricists in hip-hop. Could a Bad Meets Evil reunion truly happen, even with all of the bad blood between former best friends? Could we get the absolute best of Nickel-Nine and Shady once again? While the signing of Slaughterhouse (Joe Budden, Joell Ortiz, Crooked I, and Royce) to Shady Records was a taste of things to come, few could reasonably predict that the subject of this review would come to fruition.
But with all of the promise that Hell: The Sequel has, it’s hard to judge this EP without acknowledging that it exists in two liminal spaces: an album judged on its own merit; and a record judged as catharsis for long-time fans. Unfortunately, the project succeeds in one space more than the other.
As an album that fans of both artists have waited a decade to hear, it has all the traditional hallmarks: Royce’s gruff, vulgar lyrics; Em’s rapid-fire wit; Royce’s cold, comfortable delivery; Em’s sing-song choruses; both rappers’ competitive juices flowing as they try to outdo one another in the same verse. Unfortunately, while this makes for an album filled with lyrical mastery, this does little in the way of creating an enjoyable listening experience. As fans know, both artists care more for lyrics than beats and melodies, leading to moments where the production and choruses are curiously subpar. Furthermore, as an experienced mixtape rapper, Royce’s feel for song structure isn’t quite in line with mainstream releases, which could alienate some listeners.
In eschewing mainstream leanings, the message of the EP is just that: it’s not for the mainstream. Judging from the lyrics, the duo could care less. After all, jokes about drugs and sodomy wouldn’t fly on the radio — though, incidentally, the next promotional single, “I’m On Everything,” is a humorous take on heavy drug abuse with an assist from a Mike Epps comedy special. Though tracks like “Lighters” feel out-of-place with their pop-heavy vibes, the majority of the album is hardcore hip-hop similar to the duo’s darker solo efforts.
Regardless of its aim, Hell: The Sequel is a platform for both Royce Da 5’9″ and Eminem to have fun while working with a beefed-up budget. Though the beat selection is questionable, there is little doubt that the lyrics are on-par with the best of any release this year, mainstream or otherwise. This is strictly an album for the artists and their fans, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. As an album on its own merit, Hell: The Sequel is admittedly average but surely worth at least one listen if you had any interest prior to this review.
Here’s hoping that a full-length Bad Meets Evil LP is around the corner.
Verdict: 3 out of 5 (Average) – Outstanding lyricism, schizophrenic beat selection.
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