Eminem fans finally have another date with Slim Shady.
“Relapse,” the long-awaited new album by the Detroit hip-hop superstar, will be released May 19, Universal Music announced Thursday. The disc will arrive nearly half a decade after Eminem’s last studio record, which was followed by a botched tour and rehab stint as the international hit maker eased out of the public eye.
Eminem will compensate for lost time with a twofer: “Relapse” will likely be followed later this year by a sequel, featuring songs recorded with longtime collaborator Dr. Dre during a productive stretch last fall.
“We were on such a roll. We wound up with a ton of new music produced by Dre,” Eminem said in a statement. “Putting out ‘Relapse 2’ will let everyone get all of the best stuff.”
Dre has also produced the bulk of the tracks on “Relapse,” Eminem told Billboard magazine in December. But the rapper and his associates have otherwise remained tight-lipped about the new material’s musical vibe.
“We are up to our old mischievous ways,” he told Billboard. “Let’s just leave it at that.”
The infectious Em-Dre-50 Cent collaboration “Crack a Bottle,” officially released last month after a leaked version caught fire online, will be included on “Relapse.” But the chart-topping track isn’t considered to be the album’s leadoff single, according to Universal, which said a new single and video will come April 7.
Thursday’s announcement caps months of rumors and chatter about the album, which originally was thought to be set for December 2008 release.
At his peak earlier this decade, Eminem was regarded by many as the world’s biggest music star, a headline-generating celebrity whose work also earned the respect of critics, Grammy voters and street-level hip-hop purists.
“Relapse” is the first major hip-hop album of 2009, and the return of Eminem will likely garner major attention around the globe. But however hot the hoopla, it’s unlikely that “Relapse” will match the sales heights of previous Em efforts, thanks to the increasingly dismal state of the record industry.
Long gone are the days when high-profile releases were guaranteed to make blockbuster debuts: Since 2005, just one album - Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter III” - has topped first-week sales of 1 million.
Eminem’s last studio release, 2004’s “Encore,” has sold 5.1 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundS can. That compares to 10.2 million for his biggest seller, 2000’s “The Marshall Mathers LP.”
Though the national release schedule will continue to fill up in coming weeks, at this point Eminem largely has the springtime docket to himself. New albums by Dave Matthews Band, Whitney Houston and Green Day are among those expected to hit shelves by summer.
Aaron Anderson, a music-retail veteran, describes “Relapse” as a pivotal release. Rap sales in 2008 were down nationally nearly 20 percent from 2007.
“This tests the waters for hip-hop in 2009. It is a tried, true, tested name - if it doesn’t work, I fear for any other scheduled big releases,” he says. “Because that could mean the industry has lost its hip-hop audience.”