Recovery is the first time Eminem sounded like he was in his right mind since The Eminem Show. It isn’t that the intervening albums weren’t good, or occasionally great. But you could hear how the pressure had caught up to him. Not only was Eminem the biggest rapper in the world, he was one of the best-selling artists in the history of recorded music—of course his perspective got a little warped. “Them last two albums didn’t count,” he raps on 2010’s Recovery’s “Talkin’ 2 Myself.” “Encore, I was on drugs; Relapse, I was flushin’ em out.” The fantasy of being able to start over is just that—a fantasy. But if Relapse was the sound of Eminem rediscovering his mean streak, Recovery is the sound of him rediscovering his inspirational one, whether for himself (“Going Through Changes”), or for the tens of millions of fans betting on him (“Not Afraid”). The Rihanna-featuring “Love the Way You Lie” was one of his best ballads (not to mention proof of how much he’d reshaped what a ballad could sound like). And “Space Bound” was the most earnest love song he’d written for anyone besides his children. But for all of Eminem’s candor about addiction and redemption, the album’s realest moment is on “Talkin’ 2 Myself,” when he admits he wanted to write diss tracks about both Kanye West and Lil Wayne, but realized he’d get his ass handed to him (his words). Rap had changed. So had he. “I fucking love leaves now, man,” he told an interviewer in 2011, explaining the way sobriety had awakened a wonder in him he’d forgotten was ever there. “I feel like I’ve been neglecting leaves for a long time.”

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