Album Review: Eminem 'Marshall Mathers LP'
by RapJointLagos Lagos
My initial impression of Eminem is that of another white rapper, Vanilla Ice, who was quite a hit but faded away as quickly as his fame came. A rapper whose success was largely credited to his racial identity.
By DJ Daggash
This changed after the release of the Marshall Mathers LP and I watched his interview on TV. He was asked why he was cursing out Britney Spears, Christian Aguilera, N’Sync and other white pop stars. His answer was blunt, shocking but fascinating: “I just don’t like them”. Why don’t you like them: “they are herbs”. Haba!! Wahala dey!!
The Marshall Mathers LP has been included in several lists of the greatest albums of all time and is widely regarded as Eminem's best album. Commercially, no rap album has ever had a more lucrative first-week as this Album. It became the fastest-selling studio album by any solo artist in American music history – a record that went unrivalled for 15 years, until Adele released 25 in 2015. It has sold 35 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums of all time and certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Eminem has been hailed as one of the holy trinity of biggest-selling rappers, the other two being 2Pac and Biggie of course. Though the holy trinity are not the only rappers certified diamond. Others include MC Hammer, Outcast, Kid Rock, Beastie Boys and Nelly.
The Album was nominated for Album of the Year and won Best Rap Album at the 2001 Grammy Awards. While "The Real Slim Shady" won Best Solo Rap Performance. Rolling Stones, amongst other publications, named it the best album of 2000.
Interestingly, it’s the third studio album by American rapper Eminem, released on May 23, 2000, by Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records. The album was produced mostly by Dr. Dre and Eminem, along with The 45 King, the Bass Brothers, and Mel-Man. Recorded over a two-month period in several studios around Detroit, the album features more introspective lyricism, including Eminem's thoughts on his rise from rags to riches, the criticism of his music, and his estrangement from his family and wife. A transgressive work, it incorporates horrorcore and hardcore hip hop, while also featuring satirical songs. Featured appearances include Dido, RBX, Sticky Fingaz, Bizarre, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, Nate Dogg, and D12.
The first track, "Kill You", discusses the controversy that surrounded the rapper's first album, nightmares of "ladies' screams", and being raised by a single mother. In the song, Eminem also talks of raping his mother, and "notes the irony of magazines trumpeting his mother-raping self on their covers'."
The six-and-a-half minute long "Stan" samples Dido's "Thank You" and tells the story of an exchange between the rapper and an obsessive fan, where the character berates Eminem for not responding to his letters, which later turns to the fan committing suicide with his pregnant wife. This was hip-hop narrative at its finest and it allowed the rapper to portray not Eminem, not Slim Shady, but Marshall Mathers: a rare voice of reason. Not many artists could pull off three in-character verses then pivot back to their usual persona for a 4th character. The song became a cultural phenomenon. Ultimately, the word ‘stan’ was added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2017 as both a noun and verb to describe “an extremely or excessively enthusiastic and devoted fan”. I’m not sure any other rapper has been able to pull off this achievement of adding to the dictionary.
On "Who Knew", the rapper addresses criticism regarding glorification of violence in his lyrics, pointing out perceived hypocrisy in American society. According to Gabriel Alvarez of Complex, Eminem's response ranges oscillates from "smart-ass ('Oh, you want me to watch my mouth, how?/Take my fuckin' eyeballs out and turn 'em around?') to smart ('Ain't they got the same moms and dads who got mad when I asked if they liked violence?/And told me that my tape taught 'em to swear/What about the makeup you allow your 12-year-old daughter to wear?')."
"The Way I Am" is a meditation on the pressure to maintain his fame, and his fear of being "pigeon-holed into some poppy sensation/to cop me rotation at rock 'n' roll stations". He also laments the negative media attention received by controversial public figures such as himself and Marilyn Manson in the wake of shootings, including the Columbine High School massacre and the West Side Middle School shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The rapper criticizes the media for focusing on tragedies such as school shootings while ignoring inner-city violence that occurs on a daily basis. "The Real Slim Shady" pokes fun at pop culture icons such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Will Smith. On “Bitch Please II” with Dr. Dre, Snoop and Xhibit Em showed his ability in company of some of the best in the game. I struggled to pick the best verse between Snoop’s and Em’s but eventually settled for the latter. I must note Snoop’s condescension in his verse “Me and my cousin Eminem, the great white American hope”. He recently capped the lyrics on a recent show that Em’ race is the reason why he is famous. I disagree. Eminem is just simply good at his craft.
The more you dive into the album – especially all these years later – the more you realise that with ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ Eminem became rap’s first troll before the internet became the troll breeding ground it is today. In between the lyrical jabs aimed at pop stars, actors, politicians and members of his own family, there was refuge for the disenfranchised youth. Eminem’s rage and fury, filtered through his experiences of a deeply troubled childhood, offered a way for damaged teens to vent, knowing that they weren’t the only ones suffering. This is why many continue to have a complicated relationship with the album to this day. It’s reality rap at its best.
While the album was hugely controversial and criticized, It propelled Eminem to the forefront of American pop culture. At a United States Senate Hearing, Lynee Cheney criticized Eminem for promoting violence of the most degrading kind against women", labeling him as "a rap singer who advocates murder and rape". She specifically cited lyrics from "Kill You", explaining, "He talks about murdering and raping his mother. He talks about choking women slowly so he can hear their screams for a long time. He talks about using O.J.'s machete on women, and this is a man who is honored by the recording industry". Cheney drew a link between the Columbine massacre and violent music, mentioning artists Eminem and Marilyn Manson as musicians who contribute to the United States' culture of violence. Although she stated that she has "long been a vocal supporter of free speech", Cheney called for the music industry to impose age-restrictions on those who can purchase music with violent content.
On October 26, 2000, Eminem was to perform at a concert in Toronto's SkyDome. However, Ontario Attorney General Jim Flaherty argued that Canada should stop Eminem at the border. "I personally don't want anyone coming to Canada who will come here and advocate violence against women", he said. Flaherty claims to have been "disgusted" when reading transcriptions of Eminem's song "Kill You", which includes lines like "Slut, you think I won't choke no whore/till the vocal cords don't work in her throat no more?" Eminem's fans argued that this was a matter of free speech and that he was unfairly singled out. Michael Bryant suggested that the government let Eminem perform and then prosecute him for violating Canada's hate crime laws, despite the fact that Canada's hate-crime legislation does not include violence against women. In an editorial in The Globe and Mail, author Robert Everett-Green wrote, "Being offensive is Eminem's job description." Eminem was granted entry into Canada.
A 2001 and 2004 study by Edward Armstrong found that of the 14 songs on The Marshall Mathers LP eleven contain violent and misogynistic lyrics and nine depict killing women through choking, stabbing, drowning, shooting, head and throat splitting. According to the study, Eminem scores 78% for violent misogyny while gangsta rap music in general reaches 22%. Armstrong argues that violent misogyny characterizes most of Eminem's music and that the rapper "authenticates his self-presentations by outdoing other gangsta rappers in terms of his violent misogyny." A fifteen-year-old boy in Fresno, California was arrested in September 2015 for making terrorist threats, after sharing the Columbine-related lyrics to "I'm Back" on Instagram.
Despite the dark and twisted lyrics, the way they were put together was nearly flawless. Em’s diction and syntax were unparalleled to anything out at the time. He balances both punch line concentrated rap and storytelling so well that this album is less of a compilation of songs and more of an autobiographical narrative describing what was going on in Em’s life at the time this album was written. I will argue that Em is the progenitor of Reality TV made famous by the Kardashians and the Osborne. He started it with this Album
In all, it’s a historical album for hiphop: it mainstreamed and cemented hiphop’s place in pop culture. Also, the emotional depth of the album is unquestionable.
1st published 7th November, 2020 on www.rapjointlagos.com as Album of the Week