Detroit rapper Royce Da 5’9 endured a seemingly endless stint in commercial purgatory after he was rudely ejected from the Aftermath/Shady camp because his manager spoke too publicly about his gig ghostwriting for Dr. Dre on the album that became 2001. Royce Da 5’9 fell off the mainstream radar once Eminem stopped recording with him, but he’s used his decade out of the mainstream spotlight to become one of the most feared and respected lyricists on the planet. His comeback began with his Slaughterhouse supergroup album, and it picks up speed with Hell: The Sequel, an EP that reunites him with Eminem as the super-duo Bad Meets Evil.
Like Slaughterhouse, Bad Meets Evil is about lyricism in its purest form. Being reunited with a superior rapper like Royce Da 5’9 brings out the long-dormant competitive side in Eminem, who spits proudly ignorant raps with machine-gun precision and verbal dexterity. He’s back to his old Slim Shady ways as he delivers a dense lyrical onslaught that’s exhilarating and exhausting in equal measures. Royce and Eminem rap so quickly and with such demonic intensity that it’s possible even they can’t keep up with their own smartass verbiage.
A slick chorus from Bruno Mars on “Lighters” provides a not entirely welcome relief from the claustrophobic darkness of the rest of the album. But otherwise, Hell: The Sequel is refreshingly devoid of commercial calculation. This is a labor of love Eminem clearly made for himself and an old friend who unleashed his inner beast. As he does on seemingly every album, Eminem makes noise here about retiring; for the first time in forever, that actually seems like a bad idea.