There's a certain kind of sitcom plot that anyone who watches a lot of Nick at Nite will recognize: A happily married man with a boring job and a couple of zany kids receives a surprise visit from his high school buddies, who are still living the wild life. Much carousing and general embarrassment ensue, followed by apologies to the wife. With D12 World, Eminem is kind of like that married guy. Since the summer-2001 release of D12's debut, the sick, psychotic and perfectly titled Devil's Night, Mr. Anthrax in Your Tampax has released the soul-baring, relatively serious Eminem Show, proved himself a solid dramatic actor in 8 Mile and showed the world that he's a pretty good papa. On D12 World, though, he's again pulled into a game of shock-rap one-upmanship with his old running mates. In this NC-17 sitcom, no one's offering any apologies -- just more claims of ghetto lunacy, a dozen or so sodomy jokes and "I put a rubber on my toe and fucked you some more." (Thank you, Bizaare.)
D12 World is still undoubtedly Eminem's show, and aside from Bizaare -- who sounds like he put in lots of late nights figuring out how to offend as many parents as possible -- and the raspy Proof, casual fans would be hard-pressed to ID any voice besides Eminem's. But the album's best moments find all six members dropping rhymes that play off one another -- like a group of hoods working together to steal your hubcaps. On the bright single "My Band," everyone contributes comic verses, poking fun at themselves while pretending not to understand why the media are so interested in their leader; on the title cut, which is buoyed by an excellent Kanye West beat, everyone speed-rhymes a list of the best stuff in their world -- bitches, hot lead and liquor, in particular.
Much of D12 World simply repeats Devil's Night's blend of rote horror-core rhymes, "offensive" humor and dumb skits. But Eminem's experiences in the past three years have had a subtly positive effect on the new material's disposition: The same kind of somber, melodic production that informed Em's recent work and 50 Cent's smash debut can be heard in D12 World's menacing, synth-heavy bounce. Cuts such as the opening "Git Up" and the Dre-produced "American Psycho II" get by on hooky beats and much-improved flows, as D12 boast of their skills, take target practice and mostly eschew lame jokes. Compared with their debut, D12 are less into shock for its own sake -- the tales of violence here seem, if not realistic, at least less calculated. Like Get Rich or Die Tryin', only not as good, D12 World works as a polished dramatization of a lifestyle nobody really lives. And sometimes it works pretty well -- even when Eminem isn't rapping.
"D12 -- we ain't going nowhere/We still smokin' crack!" intones Bizaare on "Keep Talkin'." He's right -- as long as Eminem needs a project to fill the gap between solo albums and movie soundtracks, his homeboys will see more advance money. But, like any sitcom, this shtick can run only for so long.
(Posted: May 5, 2004)