Eminem The Eminem Show
Jun 29, 2002
THE EMINEM SHOW, Eminem (Aftermath)
There may be people who believe Eminem means every violent vengeful word of his whoppingly popular records; it may even be why they like him. But mostly his champions point to the multiple personas, the heavily ironic tone, and rap’s tradition as wordplay, not to be taken literally. “If you have just purchased this album you have just kissed his ass!” punters were informed in the opening track of The Marshall Mathers LP. What’s more, we were told, he “is fed up with your shit and he is going to kill you.” Kill every one of the 10 million or so punters who would buy the album? He’s kidding of course, say the apologists. On the other hand, his mum didn’t think so. She sued him over slanderous lyrics on the same album.
But whether Eminem’s act is bluff, bloodlust or both, how long can he sustain it? That’s one of the things put to the test by The Eminem Show, already well on its way to completing a triptych of multi-platinum albums that the white 28-year-old rapper has created with his black producer, Dr Dre.
It appears that Eminem – alias Slim Shady, alias Marshall Mathers - hasn’t found any new targets for his bile. The closest he gets is a couple of faint references to terrorism, a juvenile joke about anthrax and tampons, and even though he dresses up as Osama Bin Laden for the video that accompanies “Business”, he seems uncharacteristically shy about following through a theme this topical. The album opens powerfully enough with “White America”, Mathers doing his best evil clown impression, hurling back at the state the abuse he believes society has heaped on him. But he ends the song with the disclaimer: “I’m just kiddin’ America, you know I love you”. Playing ironic mind games again? More like hedging his bets.
Otherwise, it’s the old subjects that inspire fresh feats of rhyming. His mother gets another round of abuse, as does his estranged wife Kim. US vice-president’s wife and moral guardian Lynne Cheney (whose name, it must be said, bears an uncanny phonic resemblance to Slim Shady) also comes under fire, along with Limp Bizkit, ‘N Sync and even poor old Moby (“you 36 year-old bald-headed fag/you’re too old to let go, it’s over, nobody listens to techno”). But these are all cheap targets.
Musically there are the slamming beats and irresistible hooks one has come to expect. The vari-speeded voice on the ludicrous “Square Dance”, the bubbling “Batman” bassline of “Business”, the pop-singalong chorus of “Say Goodbye Hollywood”. I’m a sucker for novelties like thse.
But the inevitable has happened. Eminem has become fixated on the response to his work as much as the work itself. The vivid shocking fantasies of 1999’s The Slim Shady LP and its follow-up have largely been replaced with self-justification. “I’ve created a monster, ‘cause nobody wants ta/see Marshall anymore/they want Shady…” he whines in “Without Me”. Referring to the incident last year when he was arrested for pistol-whipping a man he believed he had seen kissing his wife, he bleats: “What I did was stupid/no doubt it was dumb/But the smartest shit I did was take the bullets out of that gun…”
And he’s even quoting the critics, paraphrasing Barney Hoskyns’ suggestion that he is “Elvis all over again, a white kid filching black style and making a lot more loot from it than any black rapper ever did”. Eminem should be doing better than just setting other people’s essays to a drum track.
But there is a side of Mathers here we’ve only glimpsed before: the sentimental Eminem, crooning to his six-year-old daughter Haillie. The way he idealises her innocence is almost touching, possibly revealing and certainly slightly scary. The singing, incidentally, is awful. But his worship of Haillie becomes Mathers’ chief weapon against society’s slings. “If my music’s literal and I’m a criminal/How the fuck can I raise a little girl?” he asks. That said, the funniest track, “My Dad’s Gone Mad”, features a cameo from Haillie; a classic Eminem fantasy in which the legendarily homophobic Eminem admits to a relationship with Dre.
Still, all this solipsism is risky. What will it leave Eminem to rap about in future? And if he still relies primarily on his ability to shock, he has other problems in store. Since he last made an album, America has experienced war on its own soil and engaged itself in a military campaign that may well turn into a global catastrophe. At this point there are things coming out of Donald Rumsfeld’s mouth that are a whole lot scarier than anything Marshall Mathers has ever dreamed up.