I remember writing somewhere (might have been a Facebook status update) that Eminem is like an “A” student who continually turns in “C” papers. As an emcee, Em is flawless. The guy’s got a great vocabulary, a fantastic sense of rhythm (A.K.A. flow) and a unique voice. However, for the past five or six years, he’s been squandering his gifts and pandering to his pop fanbase by a) using that obnoxious Triumph the Insult Comic Dog accent, b) reveling in poop jokes, c) trying to be a fake gangsta, and d) making records insulting easy-target celebrities. Not to say songs like “Just Lose It” and “Ass Like That” weren’t worthy of a couple of giggles, but they were definitely well beneath his skill set. Last year’s “Relapse”, not to mince words, was a piece of shit. Dr. Dre’s production was tired, and Eminem sounded lazy, like he was just going through the motions. Then came his scene-stealing verse on Drake’s “Forever” last year, and it felt like someone had turned all the lights back on in the house. The man still had “it”. Now the question was, would he use “it”?

“Not Afraid”, the first single from Em’s upcoming album “Recovery”, kinda answers that question. The flow is definitely on point here, and Em sounds as hungry as ever. Thematically, he’s also stepped his game up. “Not Afraid” serves almost as an apology to his fans for serving up undercooked hip-hop for the past half-decade or so. The fact that he admits in the song that “Relapse” wasn’t his finest hour scored major points with me. I also like the fact that he’s stepped away from producing himself (his productions were quite monotonous) and he’s also stepped away from Dre for a second. “Not Afraid” was produced by Drake’s right hand man Boi-1da, and I have to laugh at the fact that Eminem has aligned himself rather closely with Drake when his career was built on dissing people like Drake. Ah well, whatever gets you through the night, I guess.

If you’re looking for “We Made You” II, you won’t find it here. This may not appeal to Em’s teenybopper fans, but one should also consider that at age 37, his music probably SHOULDN’T be appealing to booger-flicking kids in the same age range as his now teenage daughter Hailey. Consider “Not Afraid” not a total redemption, but a step in the right direction.

(and yes, I know the YouTube clip doesn’t play the whole song). I figured this was good enough to give you a taste.

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