Think TNT knows drama? They got nothing on Marshall Mathers, whose life in the year leading up to the release of this album saw more ups and downs than all the rollercoaster's in all the Six Flags theme parks put together. The platinum-haired provocateur checked himself into rehab, reunited with infamous ex-wife Kim, broke up with her shortly thereafter, and lost his best friend Proof in a nightclub shooting that proved that sometimes gangsta bravado can go a little too far (remember the video for "Like Toy Soldiers," in which the D12 MC was depicted being rushed to the hospital after getting shot?).
Returning to the game after a two-year absence, you might expect The Re-Up to bear the creative fruit of Em's fucked up year. But you'd be wrong. In fact, Shady's profile here is surprisingly slim, instead focusing the spotlight on his extended rhyme family, including G-Unit, D12, Stat Quo and newcomers Bobby Creekwater and Ca$his. Originally intended as an underground mix tape, the album brings some serious heat despite its mastermind's relatively low profile, with plenty of blazing highlights to suggest that Eminem's empire remains strong.
But make no mistake, when Em does get on the mic he makes his presence felt. Unlike the bulk of Encore where he was sleepwalking through his verses, Shady sounds as hungry as ever, lacing blistering verse after blistering verse. When Em snatches the mic and takes the lead on songs like the title track, "You Don't Know" (which everyone just rips) and the closing "No Apologies," he makes a strong case for his claim to be the tightest emcee in the game. It's his second verse on his duet with 50, "Jimmy Crack Corn," that steals the show though: "you wanna talk shit? Let'em talk shit/cause they talk shit/knowing deep down they just wanna squash it/cause no wants to walk around stepping in dog shit/and get doo doo on their shoe again as soon as they washed it/but their pride won't let'em, inside's like go get'em/and I'm just like why you tryin' to fight momentum/we just keep winnin' by landslides oh and um/Shady Limited in any size yo demin...meanwhile your minds on us like mine's on Mariah/and y'all are just her you're all fuckin' liars/but I'll just keep fucking you like I fucked her/right in the ass with K-Y, yes sir/so full of joy, boy am I absurd/even Chingy would tell you, that boy don't cuurr."
Em isn't the only one sounding hungry again; Fif is sounding better than he has since his debut. Whether its batting lead off on the aforementioned posse cut "You Don't Know," or going toe to toe with Em on the title track.
The opening posse cut, "We're Back" sets the blistering tone, with a piano-laden beat, subtle strings and syncopated rhymes that give the track the feeling of a suspenseful car chase constantly teetering on the brink of spiraling out of control, while Creekwater makes a case for himself as Rookie Emcee of the Year on the percolating "Shake That Remix" with Obie Trice and Nate Dogg. The touching Proof tribute of "Trapped" is chilling in light of his untimely demise. But as on most mix tapes, there are some weak moments here, too, such as Bizarre and Kuniva's gratuitous gun talk on "Murder" (which seems disrespectful of their former D-12 bandmate) and the monotonous beat that drags down Ca$his' aggressive spitting on "Everything Is Shady. "
Not to be forgotten is Stat Quo, who sounds great at every turn - particularly in his shining solo joint "By My Side." You guys can release Statlanta anytime now. Unfortunately. The Re-Up falters at times when Em's production grows too plodding and repetitive. Fans may come away wondering why Kim, Proof and rehab barely merit a mention, but don't forget this is only a mixtape (originally slated to only be a street mixtape). Everyone saves their best material for their albums, which is a scary thought considering the quality of material on here.