Since the release of “The Slim Shady LP” in 1999, Shady Records has spent the majority of its existence at the top of the charts with only six out of the 22 major studio releases not reaching Platinum status. With the release of “Shady XV,” Shady Records celebrates its past success with a collection of greatest hits and embraces the present and future of the label with 12 brand new, original tracks featuring the label’s current acts. Fifteen years after the birth of Eminem’s wildly popular record label, it’s hard to not get excited about such an ambitious project. I grew up listening to Eminem, D12, Obie Trice, and other related acts that built me into the rap & hip-hop fan that I am today. That being said, it’s pretty difficult to not set such a high standard for Eminem and his band of lyrically talented emcees. It’s easy to get caught up in nostalgia from tracks that take me back to when I first started listening to hip-hop, and it’s hard not to be disappointed by the occasional lack of effort brought to the table by such a well-rounded group of artists.
The current gang is all here: Yelawolf, D12, Slaughterhouse, Bad Meets Evil (a combo of Eminem & Slaughterhouse member Royce Da 5’9”), and the real Slim Shady himself. Eminem mostly steals the show here (starring and featuring in nine out of the 12 tracks), although that’s not entirely a good thing. Tracks like “Shady XV” and “Vegas” properly show off the talents of the foul-mouthed rapper, as he ridicules pop culture all while displaying masterful wordplay. Whenever Eminem picks up the pen, he likes to remind us that no person and no subject are safe from his twisted pad of paper, poking fun at Rihanna about their hit single “Love the Way You Lie” (and that’s putting it lightly) and even making an extremely controversial reference to the all-too-recent and tragic Marathon bombings. Now I, by no means, approve of Eminem’s appalling reference, but I’d be lying to myself if I said this is the first time Eminem has treaded controversial territory – making such an offensive reference on Columbine back on “The Marshall Mathers LP” that the words “kids” and “Columbine” were censored even on the explicit version of the album.
As controversial as Eminem may be, there’s no denying his lyrical prowess and his seemingly impossible flow when he’s at his best. But for an album featuring a Jason-like hockey mask and dual chainsaws for cover-art, Eminem’s more sentimental tracks like “Die Alone” and “Fine Line” feel out of place and probably better suited on his next solo project (maybe even as bonus tracks). Eminem usually handles emotional lyrics fine and all, but I’m seriously not sure if I can take another song about his ex-lover Kim.
Thankfully, Yelawolf has some great material on the album. He brings his signature trailer-park-trash style in his solo track “Down,” while he also provides some welcome energy to the chorus of stand-out track “Psychopath Killer” and adds a much-needed rapper presence to the beautifully tragic-sounding “Twisted.” On the other hand, D12 feels wasted as they’re only given one track and it doesn’t even have a verse from lead act Eminem. Their lone track “Bane” has a cool concept, paying metaphorical homage to The Dark Knight Rises villain, but the aggressively dark humor that made the group famous is disappointingly missing here.
The true solitary Slaughterhouse track “Y’all Ready Know,” featuring all four members unlike “Psychopathic Killer,” is the stand-out track of the album. Head-nodding production, dope bars from all four members and clever lines that’ll bring your fist up to cover your mouth: this is what Slaughterhouse is all about. Not only is it my favorite track of the album, but it makes me yearn for another major Slaughterhouse project (hopefully in the form of “Glass House” in 2015). The final track of the album, “Detroit vs. Everybody,” is probably the most unique of them all as it primarily consists of Detroit natives. It’s genuinely fun to hear Eminem, Royce, Big Sean, Danny Brown (most notably known for A$AP Rocky’s “1 Train”) and other Detroit-born rappers all on one track.
The greatest hits portion of the album unfortunately suffers from similar inconsistencies of the first original portion. It’s fun to listen to, but it’s far from perfect. While I love any excuse to listen to Shady Records classics like 50 Cent’s “Wanksta,” Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and D12’s “My Band,” I could do without Yelawolf’s (excessive number of) two tracks “Let’s Roll” and “Pop the Trunk.” It’s also a bit of a let down that Eminem’s solo projects aren’t recognized at all here, probably since he already came out with a greatest hits album in the form of “Curtain Call” back in 2005. So anybody wanting to hear classics like “Stan” and “The Real Slim Shady” are going to be deeply disappointed. Not to mention, considering it’s the year 2014, I could probably make myself a deeper, more personalized playlist of my own favorite Shady records.
All in all, I feel a little torn on “Shady XV.” Being such a big fan, I wanted to love this album even before I heard any of the tracks. That was probably part of the problem. “Shady XV” certainly has its moments, but I’m skeptical it will stay in my car CD player for long with its few, but significant, shortcomings. With moderately entertaining original tracks and a decent, but disposable greatest-hits portion, “Shady XV” is best recommended for the hardcore fans that need to get their hands on the label’s newest material. Other rap fans can either pick out their favorite tracks to download or just safely pass on this mostly mediocre compilation of music.
Final Grade: C