Tuesday, December 11, 2007

No. 273: The Slim Shady LP

Band: Eminem
Album: The Slim Shady LP
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Eminem's popularity is hard to argue and his ability as a rapper is also up there. This first record has most of the great Eminem qualities (humor, verbal flexibility, etc.) without a lot of his bad qualities (unabashed, unfocused anger, homophobia, etc.). Moreover, the beats are excellent, thanks to Dr. Dre's production.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's certainly misogynist. The overwhelming influence of Eminem's wife Kim on the record is obnoxious and really takes away from Em's copious ability.
Best song: The lead singles -- "My Name Is" and "Guilty Conscience" -- are incredibly clever. "My Fault" is tons of fun, despite its mostly dark context.
Worst song: "Cum On Everybody" and "Rock Bottom" aren't very good.
Is it awesome?: It is certainly his best, in my eyes.

I'm way late on getting my feelings on Eminem up on the Internet. In fact, Eminem has been out of the limelight now for a few years, as his last record was released in 2003. The rumor remains that he has retired, though I imagine that is greatly exaggerated.

Nevertheless, Em is easily the best white rapper ever to come along. It's not even close. The Beasties do some things well, but they are so very worn (and do an 80s version of rap music).

But, Em... He's just so clever.

From "My Name Is":
Stop the tape! this kid needs to be locked away!
Dr. Dre, don’t just stand there, operate!
I’m not ready to leave, it’s too scary to die
I’ll have to be carried inside the cemetery and buried alive
Am I comin or goin? I can barely decide
I just drank a fifth of vodka -- dare me to drive?
All my life I was very deprived
I ain’t had a woman in years, and my palms are too hairy to hide

From "Guilty Conscience":
Okay! Thought about it, still wanna stab her?
Grab her by the throat, get your daughter and kidnap her?
That's what I did, be smart, don't be a retard.
You gonna take advice from somebody who slapped Dee Barnes?!


And what of it? There's a lot of culture that is made by brilliant people who also had some, uh, questionable morals. That stuff is here. He's misogynist, he spouts "faggot" more than once and he proposes violence

Here's the question: Why scrutinize Em for this when all three of those things (violence, sexism and homophobia) are standards of rap music?

I love Jay-Z and I don't love Eminem. And, really, there isn't a whole lot of difference in the two, skills-wise. Jay is better at working with better producers and making hook-heavy records. Eminem seems to have a clever lead single from each of his records.

But, the B.I.G.s and Jay-Zs of the world toss around "faggot" somewhat often and we all know that a gun takes a starring role in their songs more often than it should. And, come on. "Money, Cash Hoes" was one of Jay's singles. "Big Pimpin'." That sort of thing.

So, I hate to go down this path, but do we hold Eminem to a higher standard because he's white?

I'd suggest he does. GLAAD doesn't do a lot of demonstrating around, say, Beanie Man's concerts. Women's groups don't often send out press releases about, say, Snoop Dogg. The rap discussion often centers around Emimen.

So, yes. I do think he's scrutinized more than other rappers because he's white. But, his success is also largely because he's white; The focus on Eminem is there because he's white. It's pretty simple human nature; People identify more with those who look like them. He's a fantastic MC, but he's not the best.

Also, in regards to the violence, at what point are we talking about hyperbole?

For example, "97' Bonnie & Clyde" is a cool little song, if you don't listen to the lyrics, but one that is reprehensible if you do (despite how clever it is). Is it something like the "Hostel" and "Saw" movies, where the violence is so hyperbolic that you can't take it seriously. Em, on some level, is assuming a character and acting out his murderous fantasies (that's what they are, simply fantasies) on the record.

I don't know. And I'd love to just lambaste him, but he might be smarter than that.


It goes without saying that he has every right to say whatever the hell he wants. I'm a first amendment absolutist. I agree with Melissa Etheridge on Em, he's hurtful, but he's massively talented and freedom of speech is freedom of speech.


One more thing to remember: Eminem is a rapper. He's not a producer. The best possible thing any rapper can do is hook up with a great producer at the helm. There are, of course, few greater than Dr. Dre. Dre makes this record sound so bouncy and so fun. Em's production on other artists' records (the track he did on 50 Cent's debut is the prime example) has a totally different -- and worse -- feel. Dre can basically spin gold.


All that aside, the record's humor is what makes this record better than his later records. Instead of "What I Am" -- a misguided and bitter song -- Em's humor comes out in the semiautobiographical song "My Fault." The song recounts a party in which Em gives a girl mushrooms (she takes the whole bag), she has a bad trip and starts revealing a lot of personal stuff.

And that's the type of Em I think we all want. The idea of having a smart, funny, somewhat introspective rapper is great. Even the really violent, sexist stuff ("Bonnie and Clyde '97" comes to mind) is still clever. White or black, it's too bad that Em has gone away from that. He'd be better served to go back to that Eminem.


kellydwyer said...

Beanie Man and Snoop Dog aren't being nominated for Best Album Grammies. NARAS tried to appear hipper than it was and was rightfully shot down -- then again, I'm sure they loved the extra audience.

The outrage and protests were in line with the popularity of the album and the plaudits it was up for. It's the difference between Brady Anderson's 'roided-sideburns and Barry Bonds variation on the same sample.

padraig said...

a couple things - first off dancehall cats like beenie man and bounty killer or whoever have indeed caught a bunch of GLAAD-style flak for their violent homophobia, outside of Jamaica. I also think it's kind of hard to compare them to a cat like Eminem. not that I'm defending their homophobia or anything, but a large reason they don't face as much scrutiny is that they come from a culture where homophobia is by all accounts virulent and widespread.

I do quite agree that on your two-way street take on Eminem - hip hop being one of the few areas where being white can be a double-edged sword, at least for the artists. what being white did for him in my eyes is allow the transition beyond success (of the underground selling 100,000 units type), which he would have had based on his talent alone, to mass crossover appeal. which, in turn, led to white people caring about his lyrics. and that's where the double standard starts. Most of the famous people who criticize him don't know fuck-all about hip hop. I don't want to defend Em's mysogyny etc. more than anyone else's - the difference is just that he's a) white and b) highly visible and much easier to dissect than trying to break down the vast, nuanced beast that is hip hop. I think most white non hip hop fans see it as more or less a bunch of black guys rambling on about guns, hoes and drugs ad infinitum with ATCQ, NWA, PE and Tupac all mashed up together into one monolithic entity. So combine Em's Great White Hopeness with other peoples' (both his defenders and critics) projections onto him and their general ignorance about hip hop both musically and as a culture and there you are.

Lastly and real quick, he's definitely the most commercially successful white MC ever, but the "best" is a very dubious claim. Good, yes, especially for a mainstream artist, but nowhere near the best. I would only recommened checking out Aesop Rock, El-P, RA the Rugged Man, Cage (who had a beef with Eminem wherein they accused each other of ripping off their flow/style) and the like.

R.J. said...

Padraig, that's a great point. I shouldn't say that Eminem is the best rapper; There are tons of underground white rappers of similar and superior quality, including but not exclusive to El-P, Aesop Rock and some of the members of the Anticon community.