“Don’t call it a comeback/I’ve been here for years.”
The lyric is from LL Cool J’s 1990 hit “Mama Said Knock You Out,” but you could just as easily apply it to Eminem today.
At least the Detroit rapper is hoping so with the massive push he’s putting behind the May 19 release of his first new album in almost five years. The notoriously angry and addled singer, who almost a million Vibe magazine readers voted “Best Rapper Alive” in the fall of 2008, is hoping that "Relapse" will put him back on top.
In a year that has seen the music industry continue its freefall decline, with CD sales down 19 percent in 2008, the promise of digital sales and iTunes yet to fill the void — and illegal downloading and file sharing a mere click away — anyone attempting a comeback in 2009 might want to ask themselves if it is worth it now they’ve made their millions?
It is to the man born Marshall Mathers III.
That heavily weighed desire is why you can’t crack a bottle this week, to use the title of the unofficial first single off "Relapse," without getting a swig of the Grammy- and Oscar-winning Eminem.
After five years of canceled tours, failed marriages, death, drug addiction as well as rumors of the reclusive rapper packing on the pounds amidst junk food binges and quitting the biz, the comeback push actually started last October with the release of the warts-and-all memoir "The Way I Am." In select interviews afterwards, almost always on his Shade 45 satellite radio station, Eminem teased fans and the industry that a new album was in the works.
In early 2009, a bootleg of “Crack a Bottle,” featuring Dr. Dre, who produced almost every track on "Relapse," and prodigy 50 Cent, started circulating online. The song was officially released on Feb. 2, breaking iTunes' then weekly download record with sales of 418,000.
Now all of a sudden, the machine kicked into high gear, with Eminem now talking about putting out two new albums this year. That, along with his passionately poetic induction of Run DMC into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame on April 5, fanned the already growing comeback flames. Next, the singer intentionally lit a blaze of old school controversy — the video for "Relapse’s" second single “We Made You,” which came out on April 7, was pussing with demeaning depictions of Sarah Palin, Brett Michaels, Lindsay Lohan and other celebs.
Predictably, the song garnered headline-making condemnation from the likes of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, which only helped move the rapper back onto center stage.
Having hit those bases, Eminem then brought back his psychopathic alter ego Slim Shady for the next pill and pillaging single “3AM,” which came out on April 28. Then “Old Time’s Sake,” another single produced by and featuring Dr. Dre, came out digitally on May 5.
If that wasn’t pumping enough fuel into the marketing motor, the rapper released “Beautiful,” a successful fourth "Relapse" single digitally on May 12. Off the charts, Eminem has been personally promoting the CD in Europe, where he become the talk of the UK tabloids by publicly baiting Mariah Carey and her new husband Nick Cannon with lyrics about his past affair with the songstress.
And then there was this rather bizarre freestyle appearance on German TV:
I actually expected Eminem to show up at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner last weekend to hang with the Celebrity-in-Chief. Certainly, with President Obama, RNC Chairman Michael Steele and comedian Wanda Sykes all lapsing into hip hop slang and moves throughout the night, Eminem would have felt right at home
Not that Eminem, Dr, Dre, manager Paul Rosenberg and Interscope-Geffen-A&M head honcho Jimmy Iovine, the Fantastic Four of the rapper’s career, have left many avenues unexplored in their failure proof attempts to restore the Detroit native to his past platinum glory.
As a crescendo, Eminem’s flying 200 unemployed Detroit auto workers to L.A. for his May 15 pre-recorded late night appearance with Jimmy Kimmel. The same day, Sirius XM announced that the rapper’s satellite radio station Shade 45 would air a three-hour “Eminem: The Prelapse” special, hosted by the singer.
At the same time, picking up the baton the White Stripes held with multiple appearances on Conan O’Brien in 2003 and that U2 imitated for five nights on David Letterman this March, Eminem’s Friday performance with Kimmel is just the first of a trio. In the final stretch to "Relapse’s" release on May 19, the rapper will perform for Kimmel live from Motor City on Tuesday and again on May 22.
Yeah, sounds like a great plan — except Eminem isn’t the only returning heavyhitter about to take a well-calculated leap of faith.
On May 15, four days before "Relapse" is released, Green Day is rolling out "21st Century Breakdown," the group's first album since the success of 2004’s "American Idiot" turned the sixth-generation punk band into superstars.
So the question is, after all the rapper’s efforts, will Oakland’s pop punk kingpins snatch the crown out of Eminem’s hands?
No novices to a good rebranding exercise themselves, Green Day has been building up its own momentum the past few months. More circumspect than Eminem, the band has only released the “Know Your Enemy” single off the new album, but it has been on a media junket frenzy.
The coup is that this week it's plumping up sales and the charts by releasing the record on a Friday — and not the usual Tuesday, when most new albums come out.
Like a summer blockbuster that hits the big screen on a Wednesday to snag a few extra days of box-office momentum for the all-important opening weekend, the boys are expected to hit number 1 next week with only three days of Nielsen SoundScan measured sales under their studded belts.
It gets better for the punk trio. With the next week of sales gauged from Monday to Sunday, "21st Century Breakdown," which has shipped something in the realm of 650,000 copies to the few record stores remaining in America and has had heavy pre-orders on iTunes, has a one day advantage over "Relapse" on what will technically be its second week of release.
During the years of the Republic, Roman generals who had conquered lands and enemies often entered the city in great triumph. They were treated to grand parades of their marching Legions, captives, and booty with feasts. There were honors and games to celebrate their victories.
However, the Senate and people of Rome were not without some degree of measure in theses matters. Behind every chest-plate-beating military leader bathed in glory there was a slave whose duty it was to whisper into the potentially aspiring dictator’s ear the phrase “Remember, you’re only human.”
Grotesque in its imbalance, it is something Eminem might want to think about — his triumphant might end up being much shorter and much greener than he figured.
“Don’t call it a comeback” is right. It might not be after all.