You're All Right
A Review by Marty Brown
You’ve lost your right to remain neutral.
You either care or you don’t. Choose now.
You either want to hear Slim Shady, the drug fiending, trash talking, tourette’s mimicking little idiot; or you want to hear Marshall Mathers, the wounded boy in a man’s world, lashing out wildly and passionately at the people who hurt him. Choose now. Nobody wants to hear Eminem, the combination of the two.
You either think he named his latest album The Eminem Show in order to label it as a(nother) concept album about his constant fascination and discomfort with his own celebrity or you think he named his latest album The Eminem Show as a sly wink at his audience, indicating that his life lived in the public eye isn’t a show because America has become obsessed with his actions, but rather for show because he retains the power of puppet master over his rabid fans, manipulating what aspects of Eminem they do and don’t see; what they do and don’t know.
You either believe that Eminem rose to popularity as “the worst thing since Elvis Presley to do black music so selfishly and use it to get [himself] wealthy,” like he says on “Without Me,” or you don’t consider Eminem hip-hop at all, but a bastardization of rap built more upon the principles of cock rock than on soul, funk and disco. If you fall into that first category, you either know that the controversy surrounding 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP—the flack he got for his misogyny, homophobia, anger and violence—came as a direct result of the color of his skin (meaning that any black rapper could have produced the same album and not received nearly as much attention, because the media already dismisses them as unintelligent criminals—but, as Eminem suggests on “White America,” The Eminem Show’s lead off track, once a white kid starts saying the same shit it hits too close to the homes of the middle class suburban parents, so they urge the rest of the country to classify Eminem as an unintelligent criminal), or you rest assured that the tongue lashing that Eminem took from the moral majority had everything to do with the fact that he was not only a misogynistic homophobe, but also exploiting his own prejudices to stir up controversy and, inevitably, line his pockets.
You either think that Eminem endlessly repeats the formulas that brought him to popularity in the first place—the pop culture references, the “Why the hell do you love me/hate me” rants—in order to give the kids exactly what they want and keep a tight grip on his massive popularity, or you think that all great artists strike a delicate balance between fulfilling audiences expectations and making them uncomfortable, to provoke thought and change, and with each successive album Eminem finds new depth and excitement within the same themes and structures he used way back on The Slim Shady LP, so even if new songs contain earmarks of Eminem classics, they still feel reinvigorated. With The Eminem Show, you either think Eminem has gotten lazy; that the single “Without Me” is a lackluster attempt to repeat the success of “The Real Slim Shady,” which itself was a lackluster attempt to repeat the success of “My Name Is;” that all the verbal assault toward his mom and his ex-wife, Kim, has grown tired; that the clunky chorus on “White America” doesn’t hold a candle to the unyielding construction of “The Way I Am;” or you think that Eminem has finally begun to shed the pretense of his previous albums; that his repeated professions of love for his daughter and for making music begin to reveal the true, new, sensitive Eminem that Marshall Mathers always promise; that, by constantly returning to the incident where he pistol whipped a man outside a club in Detroit for kissing his wife, he’s dealing with remorse and learning to take responsibility for his actions—in fact, Eminem may be maturing before our very eyes. You either believe him or you don’t.
Dr. Dre’s production has either tightened, providing Eminem with the perfect sound-scape on which he can “make you cry, take you by surprise at the same time”—a launchpad equally effective for humor or anger—or Dre has become derivative of himself, blatantly turning his own “Still D.R.E.” into “Business” and nicking the bass line from D12’s “Purple Pills” for “Without Me.” Either you think that use of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” for “Sing For the Moment” is nothing but a cheap attempt at another “Stan,” using a pop song to tug on heartstrings while Eminem contemplates his power of influence over youth, or you think “Song For the Moment,” aside from containing airtight, powerful rhymes, marks Eminem’s progression as an artist as he finally tells a story with a little bit of objectivity—using third person storytelling to add some nuance and subtlety to his rhymes. Either you think that the tracks aurally represent Eminem’s declaration that “there’s a lot of shit I keep bottled that hurts deep inside” by accentuating the natural tension in Eminem’s rhymes—as it does most effectively on “’Till I Collapse”—or you think that the production lacks the creativity and exuberance of both The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP. You either dig Eminem’s crooning on “Hailie’s Song” or you don’t. No, on second thought, you don’t. You just don’t. (But it scarcely matters—“Hailie’s Song” gets its power from its structure as a bedtime lullaby from father to daughter.)
You either recognize D12 as a bad influence on Eminem, evidenced by the extended fart joke they tried to pass of as an album last year, (an approach that has its tendrils in The Eminem Show’s uuuuugly “Drips” and “Superman”) or you see Eminem as a positive influence on D12, evidenced by their collaboration on one of The Eminem Show’s strongest songs, “When the Music Stops,” where the crew—especially Kon Artis—reveals some of its own depth and potential. You either dismiss Eminem’s weak swipes at Canibus and Dre’s at Jermaine Dupri as half-hearted battle-baiting or you consider their reluctance to come at their adversaries full force as another sign of their maturity. Years from now, you’ll either still giggle at Eminem’s duet with his daughter Hailie on “My Dad’s Gone Crazy” or you’ll quickly tire of its clever gimmickry.
You either look at Eminem’s list of the hottest rappers—“It goes Reggie, Jay-Z, Tupac and Biggie, Andre from OutKast, Jada, Kurupt, Nas and then me”—and cringe at his inclusion with the rest of that group of powerhouses, or you agree with his statement, “I’ll probably never get the props I feel I ever deserve.” You either view his inconsistency as his greatest strength—he’s willing to take risks and continue to grow as an artist—or his greatest weakness—sure, he makes some brilliant singles, but he’ll never make one cohesive album. You either buy his claim that he’s utterly compelled to write the music he writes, whether it’s abrasive or mundane; or you don’t.
You either empathize or you disdain. You either dismiss or you accept. You either question or you ignore; listen or hear what you want to hear; bob your head or shake your fist; react or respond; investigate, indict, recoil, laugh, tense up, appreciate, respect, detest, like or love.
You’re either with Eminem or you’re against him.
© Copyright CultureDose.com 06/04/2002