I have no plans on reviewing maxi-singles on a regular basis, but the songs presented on here aren't available anywhere else, so what the hell, right?
In 1999, Detroit-based rapper Marshall Mathers unleashed his Aftermath debut, The Slim Shady LP, to critical acclaim, heavy sales figures, and a whopping slice of controversy. But this post isn't about that project: instead, I'm focusing on a song that appeared near the end of the tracklisting, "Bad Meets Evil", a collaboration with his hometown homeboy Ryan Montgomery, who worked under the pseudonym Royce da 5'9". The pair, who met back in 1997, hit it off so quickly that they decided to record as a duo. Taking their name from that particular song, Bad Meets Evil quickly banged out a couple of tracks for underground label Game Recordings, who was best known for putting photographs of half-naked models on their record sleeves instead of the actual artists. Not that anybody was complaining, mind you: hell, it made their progression to the best-selling Hip Hop Honeys adult DVD series that much more natural.
Em and Royce unleashed their maxi-single, "Nuttin' To Do" b/w "Scary Movies", in 1999 as a way to capitalize on Eminem's sudden popularity. It features nine tracks: three original songs (the third, "I'm The King", was a Royce solo effort), three clean radio edits for the deejays, and three instrumentals. I'm not certain of the sales figures, but I enjoyed the songs so much back in 1999 that I couldn't wait to get a full-length release from the duo.
Who almost immediately broke up after releasing this single.
Okay, that's not entirely true. Eminem continued to work with Royce as he recorded his solo album, which would eventually become Rock City. Em even tried to hook Ryan up with a job as one of his new boss Dr. Dre's ghostwriters, although Royce's manager fucked up that partnership by bragging about it to the press. But somewhere along the line, the two drifted apart: Royce dived deeper into alcoholism while Eminem surrounded himself with the likes of D-12, Obie Trice, and, later on, Curtis Jackson, all of whom managed to make him rich. An obviously embittered Ryan had several altercations with the Dirty Dozen, and also lobbed some dis tracks Marshall's way, although none of them were ever directly answered by the man who had become one of the biggest rap stars in history.
Sad, right? But at least we got to hear them together on this maxi-single.
1. NUTTIN' TO DO
The first of three tracks on this maxi-single is a Reef-produced flashback to the days when Eminem was Slim Shady, the smart-assed, sadistic, and socially retarded misanthrope that recorded The Slim Shady LP, as opposed to the constantly shouting jackass who released Recovery. Early fans of Marshall Mathers will love this shit, as nearly every bar is a punchline that has little to no relation to the previous one, and I mean that as a compliment. Royce comes across as the only rapper on the fucking planet that can keep up with him (a fact that remains true to this very day), as he also turns in a winning performance. There isn't much actually songwriting on here, but as an aural transcript of some general shit-talking, this track is an oldie but goodie.
2. SCARY MOVIES
Compared to his beat on the previous track, Reef's work on “Scary Movies” sounds positively epic. Royce takes the first slot on here, delivering a long verse that makes him sound like a seasoned veteran (remember, this song was released well before his solo debut and his subsequent drinking problem), actually besting Marshall's contribution, even though this is still the Eminem I prefer to listen to. It was the combination of these two songs (and, to a much lesser extent, The Slim Shady LP's “Bad Meets Evil”) that caused fans to salivate for a joint effort, so of course there would be a near-instantaneous fallout between them (Slim's (extremely) minor assists on Rock City notwithstanding). Fun fact: this excellent track is played during the end credits of the Wayans family parody flick Scary Movie, but its soundtrack features a Royce solo effort entitled “Scary Movies (The Sequel)”, which is alright enough, but it just doesn't pack the same punch.
3. I'M THE KING
The final original song on this single is a Royce solo affair, as he uses two verses to rip up The Alchemist's instrumental (which may or may not have been a direct lift of Capital the Crimelord's work on R.A. The Rugged Man's “Stanley Kubrick”, I don't really know). Marshall's presence is missed, but to be fair, he would have sounded terrible on here anyway: this is the Ryan Montgomery show all the way, as he not-so-subtly reveals the cocky persona that has brought him to his current position in the rap game. Well, this sounds a lot better than most of Rock City, anyway.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This isn't an album or even an EP, so it's ridiculous to look at it as anything but a collection of random songs, but man, what a collection: “Scary Movies” and “Nuttin' To Do” still rank among Eminem's best performances recorded on wax, and for listeners who were entirely unaware of Royce da 5'9”'s existence before this Bad Meets Evil thing came about in 1999, these three tracks serve as a very effective introduction to a man who remains one of the better emcees in our chosen genre today. The songs sound a bit dated, of course, but in a good way, not unlike a pleasant high school flashback. All this, and you even get to keep the instrumentals? That's not a bad deal. Every single track on here is a keeper. I'm serious.
BEST TRACKS: If you stumble across this maxi-single on the Interweb, you should pick it up. It's relatively cheap, and the music is entertaining in a way that these two probably couldn't possibly touch today.
Speaking of which...
In late 2010, Shady Records made headlines by signing the quartet Slaughterhouse, an underground rap crew made up of artists who were all fucked over by their respective record labels at one point or another. The group consisted of Joell Ortiz, Joe Budden, Crooked I, and Royce da 5'9". This was an incredibly huge deal, because it meant that Royce and Eminem, the head of Shady Records, had put aside whatever differences they had and decided to work together again. During the deafening cries of joy heard on hip hop blogs everywhere, the two guys quietly recorded a project that was even more highly anticipated than Slaughterhouse's Shady Records debut: the return of Bad Meets Evil on the EP Hell: The Sequel.
Fourteen years removed from their beginnings, Bad Meets Evil find themselves facing an entirely different hip hop climate than the underground fight clubs they were founded upon. Hell: The Sequel attempts to bridge the gaps between the two eras, mixing radio-ready beats, a guest spot from Bruno Mars (of all fucking people), and singalong choruses into the equation, all while Ryan and Marshall do their best to recreat ethe magic that was captured so succinctly within the span of two fucking songs from a maxi-single.
So can they pull it off?
1. WELCOME 2 HELL
This was an interesting reintroduction to the two-headed dragon that recorded this project. Over a thumping Havoc beat that sounds absolutely nothing like anything Mobb Deep could ever consider using (the man has grown as a producer, what can I say), Marshall and Ryan lay down their mission statement, each handling their own verse before they resort to some entertaining back-and-forth theatrics. Both men have obviously grown older since “Scary Movies”, and Em's flow is closer to Recovery than anything else, but they still bounce off of one another's energies quite well (read: Marshall actually sounds pretty good!). Nickel comes across as more of a guest than a co-star, but that's my only real complaint. Well, that, and Em's use of distorted vocals at times, which sound like his bid for a fraction of Odd Future's audience, which is both unnecessary and ridiculous, as Tyler, the Creator will absolutely never ever be able to match Eminem in sales. Mean, but true.
2. FAST LANE (FEAT. SLY JORDAN)
This street single, the first from Hell: The Sequel, will possibly go down in history as proof of Royce's psychic prowess: he mentions digging up the corpse of Jack Kevorkian, but this track was released well before the man actually passed away. Creepy, huh? Anyway, this track is a fun diversion, as Royce takes center stage while Marshall acts as his easily-bothered hypeman with an unhealthy fixation on Nicki Minaj's ass. The instrumental, credited to Eminem alongside and Supa Dups and JG, keeps things moving at a fast clip, which is appropriate for a song entitled “Fast Lane”, and our two hosts prove once again that they have an undeniable chemistry behind the mic. Who knows just how many great songs hip hop heads have been deprived of, all because these two were embroiled in a bitter feud. The hook, from Sly Jordan, isn't all that great, but I can work around it.
3. THE REUNION
Bad and Evil recruit Sid Roams, best known for their work with Prodigy of Mobb Deep, to trick the audience into thinking this is going to be your average song addressing the reconnection between our two leads. As it is, Em and Royce only actually reunite during the last few bars of this storytelling rap, in which Marshall channels Slim Shady-levels of sadism and misogyny (although in his regular voice and not a stupid fucking accent, thank God) while Ryan is stranded at the club between both his wife and his mistress. There's also a commentary hidden (in plain sight) about artists whose public personas differ greatly from what they rap or sing about: Em and Royce go through great pains to prove that they're not just “putting on a show”. This was the first misstep on Hell: The Sequel, but it isn't even that bad of a song: “The Reunion” sounds like what Bad Meets Evil's natural progression would have been, had Em and Ryan not broken up. Huh.
4. ABOVE THE LAW (FEAT. CLARET JAI)
Marshall's D-12 running mate Mr. Porter delivers a fucking fantastic instrumental, one which sounds like a True Master concoction as filtered through Dr. Dre's headphones, and both Royce and Em spit flames during their individual verses. Ryan's brief reference to Kanye West reminded me of their past beef (apparently Royce neglected to actually pay 'Ye for one of his older beats, which led to West vowing to never work with Nickel again), which has yet to be resolved, to my knowledge, so it was a bit weird to hear him specifically mention that he wasn't throwing shots his way. (Possibly because he was completely in the wrong?) Everything about this track is great...except for the hook, which sounds out of place, but maybe that's just because I didn't think “Above The Law” actually needed a chorus. But everything else rocked.
5. I'M ON EVERYTHING (FEAT. MIKE EPPS)
Royce and Em return to their bread and butter, songs written as though they were under the influence of several types of drugs that neither man actually uses (well, not Eminem, anyway), for this exercise in excess, by which I mean that they both use up so many bars on “I'm On Everything” that it's a small miracle that this EP is only half over at this point. Mr. Porter chops up a sound bite from a Mike Epps standup routine, turning it into an impromptu chorus (on which Epps sounds a bit like a shouting Method Man) that sounds annoying at first, but grows on you as the track progresses: for their parts, both Royce and Marshall tear shit up...after getting their bullshit Drake-esque metaphors and ridiculous sound effects out of the way first. I'd say that these guys were making fun of what passes for rap music today, but that's giving Em too much credit. Still ended up liking this enough, though.
6. A KISS
When I first saw that “A Kiss” was built over a Bangladesh beat, two thoughts crossed my mind: (a) I hope he actually got fucking paid this time (he has famously been stiffed for his work on Lil' Wayne's hit songs “A Milli” and “6 Foot 7 Foot”, both of which share a sonic structure with this offering), and (b) Shit, this song is going to suck. The shitty female vocal sample at the beginning (and used throughout as a hook) seemed to cement that argument. But then a funny thing happened: Ryan and Marshall turned this misogynistic test drive into a goofy lyrical clinic, with Royce going off the rails with hilarious bar after hilarious bar and Em doing the same (while lusting after Katy Perry and throwing a relatively harmless potshot in Lady Gaga's direction). Not the best song these two could come up with, but kudos for diverting my lowered expectations, guys.
7. LIGHTERS (FEAT. BRUNO MARS)
The inclusion of Bruno Mars on this track (both on the hook and behind the boards, as a part of the production team The Smeezingtons) seems to guarantee that this track will be a hit. Interscope seems to believe that, anyway, since “Lighters” is being positioned as the first actual single from Hell: The Sequel. And truthfully, the beat is fucking terrible, and Bruno sounds cheesy as fuck (as he sings about “a sky full of lighters”, which would seem to signal the Apocalypse before it doubles as a sign of respect for the artists involved). But Em and Royce keep “Lighters” from sounding like the third level of Hell, using the radio-friendly beat to spit some decidedly non-radio-friendly verses, with Royce's performance resonating the most, what with his ode to his father and his genuine excitement about working with Marshall again. Not good in the least bit, but it could have been a lot worse.
8. TAKE FROM ME (FEAT. CLARET JAI)
Okay, this track isn't very good. It's moderately better than “Lighters”, but just barely. Mr. Porter's weak instrumental, which sounds generically dramatic, is mostly to blame, although vocalist Claret Jai's chorus is also pretty terrible (as this is her second appearance on Hell: The Sequel, I'm now convinced that the artist formerly known as Kon Artis is smitten with her and strong-armed Ryan and Marshall into including her in the fun). However, Royce and Em use their respective verses to basically call out so-called “fans” for bootlegging their shit, hence the song's title, and they both make strong points. It's too bad that their message will never be heard, seeing as it's attached to a crappy instrumental and all.
9. LOUD NOISES (FEAT. SLAUGHTERHOUSE)
Hell: The Sequel ends with a Slaughterhouse posse cut that just so happens to feature Marshall Mathers, or at least that's how it feels to me. As I had hoped when I read the title, Mr. Porter includes a sound bite of Steve Carrell from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, but sadly, it only pops up at the very beginning, as it is quickly replaced by the shouting of “Slaughterhouse!”, which gets fucking old real fast. The beat doesn't sound as combustible as a collaboration of this caliber should, and, surprisingly, Crooked I seems tired, but everyone else (yes, including Joe Budden) is on point, I suppose. Still, this closing number should have been much better. At least Marshall isn't outclassed by Royce and Joell Ortiz, the two MVPs of this track, so that was awfully nice of them.
The deluxe edition of Hell: The Sequel contains two additional bonus tracks, boosting the project's profile to that of a real
10. LIVING PROOF
For a bonus track, this shit was tremendously dope, from Mr. Porter's really goddamn good beat on down to the bars from our respective hosts. Royce and Em hardly interact on here, though, so it's fairly obvious that these two recorded their contributions independently, but you can't have everything. Royce proves unequivocally that he is deserving of a much more successful career than what has been bestowed upon him thus far, and Marshall goes out of his way to eschew his title as a critical and commercial darling with a go-for-broke flow, all to excellent effect. Bonus points for not going the obvious route and naming the song “Don't Stop”. Those of you two who have heard this song will know what I'm talking about.
11. ECHO (FEAT. LIZ RODRIGUEZ)
So of course all of the goodwill Hell: The Sequel has earned will be squandered by the other bonus track off of the deluxe edition of the EP, as “Echo”, with its rock-tinged DJ Khalil beat and a Liz Rodriguez-handled chorus that has absofuckinglutely nothing to do with the song and probably came as part of a package deal with the instrumental, sounds like one of the shittier leftovers from Recovery. Marshall reverts back to his latter-day persona, the guy who shouts a lot and only occasionally bends his words into interesting bars, and Ryan's left to drown in a musical ocean that he isn't comfortable in. This was a shitty way to end the evening. Thankfully, “Echo” isn't representative of the project as a whole, which is a surprising comment coming from me.
THE LAST WORD: Bad Meets Evil's long-awaited debut project, Hell: The Sequel, isn't anywhere close to what I was expecting after listening to “Nuttin' To Do” and “Scary Movies” again (I know, that's my own damn fault), but, in a shocking twist, the duo of Eminem and Royce da 5'9” update their sound for today's audience, and for the most part, they actually. Fucking. Succeed. Marshall Mathers, who long ago spun off into the land of pop artistry, finds his hip hop credibility returned to him when paired up with who is still the only other rapper in our chosen genre who can keep the pace with him, and their chemistry is paramount to why Hell: The Sequel works. Someone should get these two a fucking sitcom already: for his part, Royce acquits himself well to the spotlight, which will be good practice for the man, as this EP will help him gain a wider audience, guaranteed. Beat-wise, Em and Royce screw the pooch a bit by relying too heavily on Mr. Porter instead of using their combined clout to get the attention of the likes of Dr. Dre and DJ Premier, but the instrumentals are mostly decent, adequate backdrops for the mostly entertaining rhymes from our two hosts, which are delivered at a rapid-fire clip. Look, I'm just as surprised to write this as you two are to read this, but it has to be said: Bad Meets Evil's Hell: The Sequel is a pretty good side project. I had no idea Marshall even remembered how to have fun in hip hop anymore.