Welcome to ‘The Eminem Show’

June 1, 2002 Comments Off

My initial struggle with this review was to find somewhere between “Damn, he’s got impressive rhymes” and “DAMN, he’s hot” – both of which I feel strongly about. Yes, Eminem’s got the dimples to make ladies swoon. But he’s also got arrogant and insightful words that spill from his mouth (seemingly) effortlessly. It may be his pretty face that hooks people in, but it’s his not-so-hidden frankness paired with a self-satisfied smirk that makes them stick around.

Prior to this album’s release there were a handful of articles popping up about Eminem’s mental state, pretty much implying that he needs to see a psychiatrist to rid himself of his anger towards his mother Debbie and ex-wife, Kim. Why? Aside from the obvious creative jolt he gets from his ire, why should he be so willing to turn the other cheek with people who’ve hurt him? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know Marshall Mathers and I don’t claim to have any grasp whatsoever on the workings of his mind. I can’t even say if his ferocity is justified. But if it is, he has every right to be angry – to give a voice to that anger and experience it fully. And through his songs, he’s given that same right to his fans. Especially the fans who find themselves in situations beyond their control – he tells them to hang on and use that burning fire to keep them going. He is a self-help book in and of himself, confidant and eager egger-on all in one.

I act like shit don’t phase me, inside it drives me crazy. My insecurities could eat me alive.

I think that part of his appeal stems from the way he’s spread his life out for everyone to see. We are a nation that thrives on gossip, devouring every little piece of information about anyone even resembling a celebrity. But with Eminem, no one has to dig deeper than the nearest cd. His father walked out on him when he was a baby, he and his mother have a seriously fucked-up relationship which seemed to rival his seriously fucked-up relationship with his ex-wife. When he was younger, he was broke, beaten up and barely making it through school. And critics wonder why he has such a fanbase? Take a gander around his official website. The picture gallery shows an awkward boy who could have been in your grade school class. Hell, there’s one in there of him in a pink shirt with ALF on it. Oooh, doesn’t that send chills down your spine, Mrs. Cheney? Seriously, though, how many other celebs would willingly put those out for the world to see? In the video for “Without Me,” Eminem clods around in a Robin costume, noticeably more clumsy and aching to get the approval of his much cooler dominant BatDRE. As big as he’s gotten, it’s fairly obvious that Eminem knows all too well that he’s just mere steps away from the Marshall Mathers III he once was – and that many of his fans are now.

Eminem reaches out to his fans as Ani DiFranco does to hers – as his songs progress, they’ve become more confessional, cutting down his image as a thugged-out rapper and showing himself for the conflicted mortal he is:

“Soldier”: Never was a thug, just infatuated with guns, Never was a gangsta, till I graduated to one/And got the rep of a villain, for weapon concealin’. Took the image of a thug, kept shit appealin’/willin’ to stick out my neck, for respect if it meant life or death, never live to regret what I said.

“Say Goodbye to Hollywood”: These problems are piling all at once, cus everything that bothers me, I got it bottled up/I think I’m bottomin’ out, but I’m not about to give up, I gotta get up, thank God, I got a little girl/and I’m a responsible father, so not a lot of good, I’d be to my daughter, layin’ in the bottom of the mud

“Hailie’s Song”: / I act like shit don’t phase me, inside it drives me crazy. My insecurities could eat me alive/But then I see my baby, suddenly I’m not crazy

“When the Music Stops”: yo Slim, you gon’ let him get away with that? He tried to play you, you can’t let him skate with that/man I hate this crap, this ain’t rap, this is crazy the way we act, when we confuse hip hop/with real life

“Cleaning Out My Closet” is The Eminem Show‘s most blinding example of Eminem’s ultra-confessional nature. Every emotion is raw and striking; his rage is barely kept from boiling over. A parking lot altercation with Kim and John Guerra is addressed, as he expresses regret over not being able to control his reactions. However it’s the underlying ache for that hangs on and stays with you long after the song is done. Eminem talks about being the recipient of focused hatred from critics, but the lasting sting from his father’s departure and his mother’s estrangement resonates stronger than anything else. Detractors are quick to point out the vitriol he spews towards Debbie though I’ve yet to see a mention about his conflicted pain about not having his mother in his life: “And Hailie’s getting’ so big now, you should see her, she’s beautiful. But you’ll never see her, she won’t even be at your funeral. See what hurts me the most is you won’t admit you was wrong… Keep tellin’ yourself that you was a mom.”

In the end, Eminem serves himself up as an example to his fans – that it’s completely normal to be full of contrary feelings and like him, make mistakes and fuck things up. But, like him, they too need to learn to be “man enough to face them today.” He’s no hero, just another guy like them who’s working on getting through each day.

This is your moment and every single minute you spend tryin’ to hold on to it, cuz you may never get it again

Still on the same theme, the intensity of “Sing for the Moment” never fails to overwhelm me. Aerosmith may not have quite the same revival with this sample of “Dream On” as they did with RUN-D.M.C.’s “Walk This Way,” but this is a tremendous song nevertheless. I’ve always held that the appeal of rap music was its underlying message of underestimated power. While emo boys and gurls are off whining about life not being fair (and I was one of those, I probably still am), hip-hop fans are showered with reminders that they have been misjudged and will have their time to rock the world. Throw on The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” or Sebadoh’s “Brand New Love” and then follow it with LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.” Then tell me which one has you hyped up and ready for anything.

“Sing For the Moment” addresses that feeling and the hip-hop community’s duty to their fans. The songs Eminem brings are a simple reminder that they are not alone, they are not the first to feel this way and that everything is temporary. Yeah, more self-help in a less flowery package. But he speaks to every kid that he once was while he expresses his seething frustration with the world now ready to crucify him at any turn (“That’s why these prosecutors wanna convict me… But all they kids be listenin’ to me religiously, so I’m signin’ CDs while police fingerprint me/They’re for the judge’s daughter but his grudge is against me.”). He knows he’s got the money and his skin’s thicker than it was ten or fifteen years ago, and he knows why he’s here, even with all fame’s trappings, now. “Or for anyone who’s ever been through shit in their lives, till they sit and they cry at night wishin’ they’d die/Till they throw on a rap record and they sit, and they vibe. We’re nothin’ to you but we’re the fuckin’ shit in they eyes/that’s why we seize the moment try to freeze it and own it, squeeze it and hold it, cuz we consider these minutes golden.” Later on the album, Eminem raps that his songs can make you cry and take you by surprise. Maybe it’s the hidden sap in me, but this song makes me cry.

And then there are the songs that are supposed to make me angry. Or at least, some would assume if I were a proper feminist they would make me angry. Unlike his earlier albums, this one doesn’t have the sheer quantity of random slams against women, instead focusing his attention towards the aforementioned Debbie and Kim Mathers. When he does skew his vision, it results in the juvenile “Drips” and candid “Superman.” The latter is a is a strong juxtaposition of the typical R&B ballad. As pop and soul singers aim to capture the love of everygirl, their success dependent on her absolute and total belief that she is the focus of their smooth wooing. “Superman” starts out in a similar fashion – Eminem whisperings the sweet nothings that everygirl (and many boys) would love to have tickling her ear. “I think I love you, too… I’m here to save you girl, come be in Shady’s world, I want to grow together, let’s let our love unfurl.” It swiftly spins and slams into reality as Shady is forthcoming about the fact that he is no Superman – he can barely save himself, how could he save someone he barely knows? Why would he? His opinion of his groupies isn’t particularly low because he knows that he is just as much of a willing participant. It’s those that put on airs about knowing the ‘real Marshall’ as they try to weasel into his life that are the target of wrath. So, what’s worse, what causes more harm? The singer that gives pretty false hopes or the one that tells you upfront that a fuck is a fuck and nothing else?

Lyrics, lyrics, constant controversy

The Eminem Show isn’t without predictability, though. “Say What You Say” is your classic answer song – calling out Jermaine Dupri for derogatory comments the diminutive producer had made against Dre. Eminem aims his venom at Cannabis for the second time on the album, but it’s weak. The Em/Dre combination strikes harder and better on “Forgot About Dre.”

And while Eminem’s a crafted lyricist, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all the songs on the album are astute and piercing. Like “Drips” – a song I normally skip, I forced myself through a few listens for the sake of an honest review. It’s Slim Shady through and through, and not even the fun Slim. For some reason, however, the chorus keeps getting stuck in my head and I’ve decided that it’s penance for not finishing this review on time. Trust me, it’s quite the punishment. And “Business” is saved by Dre’s bouncy, layered hooks and a memorable chorus, making it the runner-up to “Without Me” for catchiest song on the album. But the verses are run of the mill, nothing too spectacular (the throwaway Chandra Levy line not withstanding). Oh, and the best use of Dr. Dre’s trademark “Hell Yeah,” which I propose is one of the sexiest things ever put to tape.

As for the single, “Without Me” is, hands down, the best choice to unleash Eminem back on the general public. Aside from the insanely addictive beat, it’s the Slim Shady we’ve come to know and love. It’s plain to see that Eminem all too aware that it is Shady that the audience has been awaiting. “Now this looks like a job for me so everybody just follow me/ Cuz we need a little controversy, cuz it feels so empty without me.” I, for one, am glad to see him back, everything has been a little too quiet around here, and every awards show is bending over backwards to nauseatingly wax poetic over what a GREAT.COUNTRY.WE.ARE. It’s past time for some humour to be injected into the mainstream.

We all need a little drama in our lives, something to shake things up a bit. The hip-hop scene had become lazy with their fixation with ice and Cristal. Whether or not people are willing to admit it – things have been a little boring without some Slim Shady hullabaloo. And it’s not as if controversy in rap is something new. Years ago, it was 2 Live Crew and their “Me So Horny” that caused controversy by stirring up the censorship zealots. But after a quick run with Luke Campbell and “Banned in U.S.A.,” they were forgotten. Eminem, the self-proclaimed boogie monster of rap, will not be dismissed so easily. The truth is, it’d be all too easy to write him off as a misogynistic, bigoted bastard if he wasn’t so talented – spitting out brilliantly insightful lyrics and wicked rhymes. This is proven with the strongest track off The Eminem Show: “White America.” It shows that he’s all too aware of what he’s doing and why it’s causing such uproar:

“White America! I could be one of your kids
White America! Little Eric looks just like this
White America! Erica loves my shit
I go to TRL, look how many hugs I get…

They were instantly hooked right in, and they connected with me too because I looked like them/that’s why they put my lyrics up under this microscope, searchin’ with a fine tooth comb”

Eminem knows that he and his lyrics invoke such a fury because he’s white. And he’s not only white, superficially he’s the ideal American child with Aryan features: Blue eyes, blond hair and oh, so very pretty. He’s the next-door neighbor, the classmate in the beat-up car and the pumping stereo that your kid drives around with. Armed with homogeneous good looks and a “fuck you all” attitude, he’s managed to torpedo hip-hop straight into suburbia without a fight. Kids who are getting their angst fill with wannabe hardcore bands like Linkin Park are loading up on Eminem cds. Rap is no longer an MTV novelty slipped into the soundtracks of cheesy teenybopper flicks. Instead of a pistol packin’ big neon sign blinking “BLACK. URBAN. CULTURE.” Eminem scares people because his songs weaseled in gift-wrapped in the shape of a cute, snarky white boy. There’s little that he says that hasn’t been alluded to before, but now everyone is up in arms because it’s no longer relegated to the hip-hop stations on the radio.

I got it bottled up, I think I’m bottomin’ out, but I’m not about to give up, I gotta get up, thank God, I got a little girl

So what does it mean to the parents that suddenly are faced with a kid that cranks rap music in his Eminem-plastered bedroom? A kid that maybe pierces his ears and maybe dyes his hair? Do they take a good long listen to the album and check in to see why their child has so strongly identified with the seemingly volatile rapper, do they throw it away or, worse, ignore it completely?

Nine times out of 10, no matter what path their parents take, the kid moseys along and finds his own kind of solace. That tenth time, when a disturbed kid acts out – everyone who had ignored their cries of help and seek an outside cause to blame. Because it couldn’t possibly be the fault of the kids or their parents. “When the Music Stops” takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the moral responsibility an artist has. It pokes holes through the obsession to blame music for one’s actions – most often used as a scapegoat by parents who can’t come to terms with the conscious and bitter choices their children make. In the past, it was Ozzy, Judas Priest, and Marilyn Manson’s fault, now it’s Eminem’s. A three minute song can only be blamed for so much, though, and when it’s over – what’s left to point fingers toward? Each individual rapper asks what happens when the vivid, larger than life world they create ends, when the music stops.

Now, at 28, Eminem is struggling with the fame he’s worked so hard for – realizing that it ain’t all it was cracked up to be. “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” details his mental and emotional descent as his popularity rose. He’s exhausted from trying to juggle so many things – raising his daughter, the ups and downs of his marriage, his music, and his responsibility to his fans. It’s unlikely that he’ll quit after growling over and over how integral music is to his life, but that doesn’t keep Marshall Mathers from pondering an Eminem-less life: “I love my fans, but no one ever puts a grasp on the fact, I’ve sacrificed everything I have/I never dreamt I’d get to the level that I’m at, this is wack, this is more than I ever coulda asked… It’s like the boy in the bubble, who never could adapt, I’m trapped, if I could go back, I never woulda rapped.” The boys who want to be him and the gurls who want to be with him have no real idea what it’s like to completely lose your privacy as you gain the title of celebrity. Perhaps that’s why Eminem is so quick to divulge the more scandalous events of his past that others would pay millions to cover up. He’s come from nothing and knows that he won’t die if he goes back to nothing. On one level, he may think that’s when he’ll get to live again. “It’s fuckin’ crazy, cus all I wanted was to give Hailie the life I never had, but instead I forced us to live alienated.”

Which brings us to the oft-mentioned love of his life, Hailie Jade, who herself brings a different Eminem to the plate. A strangely moral Eminem, one who constantly impresses upon the listener how much his daughter means to him and how much he is willing to change his life for her. On “Hailie’s Song” and “Cleaning Out My Closet,” Em spends most of it rapping about how much he hates the also oft-mentioned Kim, his ex-wife. But when it comes to Hailie, it’s apparent that even some things are off limits – a line that I can only assume alluded to Kim’s intention to have an abortion has been tweaked in both the liner notes and track.

Hailie does compel Eminem to reveal yet another face to the world. At times it’s almost a sickeningly sweet Eminem, so clearly in love with his daughter, the only lady that I adore, that it’s painful. The message is always strong and always the same – that no matter what happened between him and Kim, it’s not Hailie’s fault and that it doesn’t make him love her any less. With the high number of teen pregnancies and estranged parents, it’s actually refreshing to see someone preaching responsibility and unconditional love for his children. Especially someone like White America’s posterboy, Eminem.

The album ends with “My Dad’s Gone Crazy,” which, along with “Till I Collapse,” ranks among my favorites on The Eminem Show. I have to admit that on the first few listens through, Hailie’s repeated refrain was one of the most irritating things I’d ever heard. Then it grew on me to the point that I started to look forward to southern-inflected hook. But the song is brilliant, really – it is the combination of all things Eminem: witty, arrogant and self-effacing. He makes it all too obvious how aware he is of the perception of his public image: namechecks Elton John, taunts the critics who are convinced that his homophobic lyrics are merely masking his own closeted self, and reiterates the source of his popularity (The parents are pissed but the kids love it). Giving the etiquette police the shape of his mother (“Goddamnit you little motherfucker, if you ain’t got nothin’ nice to say, then don’t say nothing…”), Eminem serves up a growly response of “Fuck that shit…” Profound, no. Insanely satisfying to growl along with? Fuck yes.

Strangely enough, the last lines also reinforce what a good father he is: “I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t let Hailie listen to me neither.” Eminem is willing to stand by and not compromise his lyrics – especially when they invoke his desired controversy, but at the same time he knows that they’re not appropriate for everyone. Take another look at the “Without Me” video – the big race is to keep an underage kid from listening to a parental advisory version of his cd. The drama of the urgency may be tongue-in-cheek, but I wonder just how much.

With The Eminem Show, everything has come full-circle: from the overly cartoonish Slim Shady to the ultra-confessional Marshall Mathers, Eminem has now truly risen to the forefront. While Shady acts without thinking, pulling shit simply for the sake of causing controversy – Marshall is faced with the consequences of those actions, the suffocating weight of fame and the power he has over his fans and critics. Out of these two come Eminem – the one who can’t help fucking with people just to get a reaction and at the same time has chosen to use his skills for a positive effect. But not too often, never you worry. The Eminem Show is a logical progression for an artist who has grown through The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP. The question is, who’s going to show up next? Personally, I can’t wait to find out.

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