Princess Superstar Talks Various Artists’ Shady XV

Eminem might have broken down doors for Princess Superstar, but she still thinks he needs an editor.

It’s funny to me when people get shocked about Eminem wanting to punch Lana Del Rey in the face, because this is nothing new. I remember 15 years ago when a mixtape called Soundbombing II came out on Rawkus, at that time the holy grail of underground hip-hop. One of the cuts, “Any Man,” featured this new insane rapper Eminem talking about spraying Puffy with mace and cutting himself out of the womb at six months.

That was the year “My Name Is” and The Slim Shady LP came out and broke the 1999 version of social media. (Back then, it was called AOL Instant Messenger.) Never before had we heard such outrageous shit spit with the lyrical dexterity of, like, Shakespeare. And, oh yeah, he was white. You have to remember that in 1999 we had very slim shady (sorry, I had to) pickings in terms of white rappers: it was basically the Beastie Boys and Vanilla Ice and some pseudo rock-rap which I don’t even feel like mentioning by name. I bring this up because in 1999, I was a rapper and white and a woman on top of that, and I felt like some obstacles were melting for me thanks to this dude. In 2000, I wrote “Bad Babysitter” which became a huge hit in Europe, and I was dubbed “Feminem” by the UK press, which bugged me to no end, as that sounded like something you use during your period. But our similar humor and lack of self-censorship were undeniable, he just ended up being way richer and famouser than me. (I am allowed to make up words in my review.)

That said, I don’t know Eminem and I don’t know what his life is like. I think he is a genius but faulty, like all geniuses. Sometimes I have a fractured experience listening to Eminem’s songs. I will just listen to his mind-blowing wordplay, but not like the actual song, which is ultimately not all that satisfying and more of an intellectual experience than an emotional one.

Eminem’s newest album isn’t a “real” Eminem album, though he’s all over it. Shady XV is a two-disc compilation album, highlighting the various artists he’s signed to his label Shady Records, including D12, Yelawolf and Slaughterhouse. The first set features new tracks from Eminem and his friends, while the second set features previously released tracks from the label’s history, including songs from the likes of 50 Cent and Obie Trice. Going through the old stuff is a really fun reminder; I’m flashing back to the time when the DJ played 50 Cent’s “In da Club” about a thousand times in one night. And the silliness of “My Band” and “Purple Pills” reminds me of the fun that Eminem can be when he’s not busy putting chainsaws on his album cover and trying very hard to convince us that he’s crazy. I also really liked the inclusion of the demo of “Lose Yourself,” and thought that was really vulnerable and cool of him. But let’s focus on the new stuff.

The lead-off and title track features a Billy Squier sample that’s so high in the mix that it’s just distracting, especially when you just want to hear what the hell Eminem is saying while he raps a bajillion words a minute. (And I say this as someone who sampled Mr. Squier’s “The Stroke” in 1996 on my very first, and now very rare, album Strictly Platinum.)

The new stuff then goes on to be somewhat boring until Eminem’s “Guts over Fear,” which, interestingly enough, seems lazy by his standards. The delivery is kinda clunky, words don’t rhyme and there are pauses in strange places; if it weren’t Eminem, you might think, “This rapper is kind of just learning how to rap.” But even though he’s being clunky, the emotion and sentiment are there (“I was afraid to make a single sound/Afraid I would never find a way out”) and you start to feel for what he had to go through — and still has to go through — in his life. This is the first point in the album where you actually begin to care about the guy and get emotionally involved in the music.

Eminem definitely has questionable taste in hook-singing chicks. Dido never did it for me and Rihanna is still not doing it for me, but the Sia and Skylar Grey features you find here are an upgrade, especially on the highlight “Twisted.” Grey sounds sadder and deeper than the insipid Dido, and Eminem is singing along and doesn’t even rap on it at all. But even though it’s a highlight, Yelawolf shows up at 3:05 and the song goes on for almost five minutes and you’re like, when is this gonna stop? And that’s representative of the whole double-album set: When is this gonna stop?

“Detroit vs. Everybody” is another highlight here, thanks to the Dej Loaf hook (she sounds just like a little kid) and also the honey-voiced Big Sean, whom I love and who does a cool play on 50 Shades of Grey: “When tenth grade was like 50 days away/Tryna get paid 50 ways a day/Used to put 50 on the layaway/now my closet 50 shades of grey.” But again, the song clocks in at nearly six minutes and you’re like, was this all really necessary? Or does Eminem feel guilty for his fame and need to give back to his friends by featuring, like, all of them?

On “Guts Over Fear” Eminem says: “Sometimes I feel like all I ever do is find different ways to word the same old songs.” So I propose something, Em: Why don’t you wait until you really, really have something you want to say, and then record a song? This is super hard for an artist to do, but I once did just that: I stopped writing. It was sort of an artistic fast, and then when I broke it, I wrote one of the best songs I’ve ever written. (Sorry, it’s still unreleased, so you’ll have to trust me on this!) Also, Em, if you’re reading this, you should have swapped out one of these tracks for the one you did with Kendrick Lamar!

How can I say this? I LOVE LOVE LOVE EMINEM but I didn’t love this: it was too indulgent and a lot of the beats (many of which Eminem provided) were shitty, to boot. I mean, seriously, there was a lot of filler. So I think I can sum up this album in four words: should have been shorter.

One of the first female rappers to mix up hip hop and electronic music in a modern way, Princess Superstar has two top 20s under her belt, including “Bad Babysitter” and “Perfect Exceeder” (#3 on the UK charts), and has recorded six astonishing albums. She is currently working in comedy (she just appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”) and is releasing a new song with Margaret Cho very, very soon. Princess Superstar will be launching an Indiegogo campaign for a revolutionary kids record. More info here.

(photo credit: David Yellen)