#302 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums Ever.
#5 on Q's Top 100 Albums Ever.
Albums, sometimes, are big. You know Elephant? That was big. And then, sometimes, albums are huge. Hybrid Theory? That was huge. And then, every so often, an album comes along that practically eats the world. Everywhere you go, it's there. It seems like everyone you know owns a copy. The lyrics and images within the album become an essential part of our culture. The artist comes to be among the world's most important fashion icons, and has their entire career made up. And for a while at least, it feels like nothing and nobody is seperate from its influence.
Albums like this don't come every day. In the 90's, only 3 albums could really claim that status - Nevermind, Jagged Little Pill, and OK Computer. And this decade, only one - The Marshall Mathers LP.
You'd have to be about 7 years old to not remember how massive this album was. It broke all records for first-week sales by a solo artist. It went 5-times platinum in its first month of release, a feat matched only by 2Pac and Notorious BIG. It has since sold 9 million copies in the US alone, and 15.3 million worldwide. It helped turn hip-hop into the most commercially lucrative form of music in the world. Without it, D-12 and 50 Cent wouldn't exist, and it's probable that Jay-Z and his ilk wouldn't be the stars they are today.
Nowadays, in the wake of this album, Eminem's every move and every utterance is scrutinized. He's recently come under fire for 2 bootlegs - one saying he wished the President was dead, and one attacking an ex-girlfriend - these events led to FBI investigation and a public apology after the song about his girlfriend was construed as racist by The Source (a magazine that has declared all-out war on him). Oh, and he's won an Oscar.
Perhaps the influence of this album can be put to words by the reader's comment on Q's Top 100 Albums Of All Time. 'It made me give a sh
it about music again.' That's exactly what this album did for me. I'm sure I'm not the only one. Before this, I saw music as being one of three things - unintelligible noise, boring, or for little kids. Sometimes all three. Then this album came out.
It still amazes me how well this album did, commercially. It's witty, intelligent, and not easy to listen to. Those aren't qualities you tend to associate with a 15-million seller. Eminem resolutedly HATED pop music. The moment this album dropped, he BECAME pop music. The face of the charts changed. Just as symbolic as Nirvana displacing Michael Jackson, Eminem displaced Britney Spears in the Billboard charts.
The key element to The Marshall Mathers LP is its intensity. Eminem didn't water down his sound to become such a success. This album was more intense, harder, louder, cruder, scarier, funnier, wittier, more shocking, infinitely more soul-bearing.....it was The Slim Shady LP to the nth degree. And you know he means every minute of it. You know that's he's hungry to prove himself - to prove all those Vanilla Ice comparisons wrong, to prove he's not a gimmick, to prove that white guys can rap.
And prove it he does. This is the album that stamped Eminem's reputation as possibly the best MC since Rakim - certainly the best to gain mainstream acceptance. There's more than enough here to prove his wit and technical ability - Who Knew's explanation of the hypocricy of middle American parents; Amityville's portrayal of the Detroit he grew up in; The Way I Am as a whole.
What elevates this above most mainstream rap albums is the variation. From Kill You's excellent use of silence and sparcity, to Stan's sampling of Dido and use of rain and writing sound effects, to The Real Slim Shady's twisted pop, to Marshall Mather's lonely acoustic guitar, to Bitch Please II's Dre-trademarked G-funk, to Kim. Oh man, you have to hear Kim. It's utterly incredible. Emotional, epic, tragic, disturbing, thought-provoking. It's the under-rated jewel in this LP, and indeed, Eminem's career.
The album is flawed only by a couple of skits (the Ken Kaniff skit is disgusting and has no place in music) and by guest appearances. Amityville would be much better off without Bizzare. D12 have never been up to Eminem's standards, a fact first proved on Under The Influence. Remember Me is better, but below average for this album. No such problems with Dido on Stan or Dre, Snoop, Xzibit, and Nate Dogg on Bitch Please II, though. Something that should be mentioned - although it is not necessarily a flaw as such - is the amount of nods to The Slim Shady LP. Drug Ballad is a sequel to Cum On Everybody, Kim ends the way '97 Bonnie & Clyde started, and the skit for both albums run parallel (Public Service Announcement, Ken Kaniff, and Paul are all on both albums). This may mean that this album becomes more enjoyable after having heard Slim Shady.
I'm willing to lay money on the fact that the vast majority of people reading this have already heard this album and made up their minds. If you haven't you pretty much missed out on the most culturally important musical event since grunge - maybe even since punk. Nevermind though. (Pun intended.) And it's for that reason that I'm not sure what score to give this album. It's not perfect (the 3 skits and Under The Influence could be slashed from this album without any caring), and thus doesn't deserve 5 on that scale. Not to mention, it is an immensely opinion-dividing album, and one blamed for offending as many people as it delights. And yet, a 5 denotes an album that everybody should hear and should own - and I believe that to be true of this album. Even if you ignore the album's importance, it remains a truly special album, unique in rap's canon, owing its spirit to rock and its heritage to rap, in a way I've rarely heard. How can I give it anything less?
Recommended Downloads -
The Way I Am
Built over doomy, gothic arpeggios, rumbling bass, and church bells, Eminem lays down one of the most perfectly formed lyrics of his career, weaving in and out of a tight rhyme scheme that echoes the loping piano motif. Interesting aside: this is one of the first Eminem songs that gives M. Mathers 100% of the writing credits.
Immense. Scary. Epic. Touching. Powerful. Reprehensible. Provocative. This is Eminem's tour-de-force, the most unique, singularly brilliant song he has ever recorded. Starting with a sample of a music box, Eminem talks sweet baby-talk to his daughter before exploding into a raging argument with his wife, Kim, over a piano loop that extends the arpeggios from The Way I Am (rather than gothic, it's now downright fu
cking EVIL), a marching funeral beat, and a mournful, pleading violin. If you want any sense of meter or rhyme in Eminem's lyrics, you're going to be disappointed. What you get instead is a deranged and utterly convincing murder fantasy that revels in its own hideousness, and a song so heavy it makes Raining Blood sound like We Are The Cheeky Girls. And the best thing about the song? You listen to him choke the life out of the mother of his child, put her in a body bag and throw her in the trunk of his car......and you SYMPATHIZE WITH HIM. Incredible.
A curio, in that even people I know who hate this album love this song. Maybe it's because it's built over an acoustic guitar looping a Im-IVm-V7 chord progression, AND it has a guitar solo. And maybe it's because it's got some of the funniest put-downs in rap's history - ICP's diss track Slim Anus prompts the response 'Slim Anus? Yeah, I don't get fuc
ked in mine, like you two little flaming faggots'. Maybe it's because it's the most blatantly confessional song on the album (Kim aside), and 'blatantly confessional' aren't words you associate with mainstream rap too often. In any case, it's a great song.
If you haven't heard this, you probably make a career out of living under rocks. It tells the story of an obsessive fan who kills themselves because their idol (Eminem) never writes back, and introduces one of the album's key themes - the scary power of fame. Ironic, then, that this album made him the biggest cultural figurehead on the planet. It starts with a sample of Dido's Thank You under a sample of rain. This sample goes on to form the song's hook, relating the level of Stan's obsession and almost making him a sympathetic character (Your picture on my wall/It reminds me that it's not so bad....). Offsetting this is Eminem's raps under the persona of Stan, which reveal him as a reprehensible character; mentally unstable, self-mutilating, sexually confused, volatile, and abusive to his pregnant girlfriend (whose life he takes too, when he takes his own). Eminem's final verse is him attempting to write back, asking him not to be like this guy he saw on the news....Overplayed? Yes. But even so, of all of Eminem's singles, this one demonstrates his power as a rapper and his skill as a poet best.