Review Summary: You know you started some controversy when the uncensored version of your album is still censored.
I could open this by talking about the state of hip-hop in 2000. I could open this by giving a lengthy explanation for what Eminem means to me. Or how Eminem is the most wildly misinterpreted artist of all time. Or how Eminem’s skin color made him a prime target for white culture assimilating everything that African Americans brought to prominence. But I’d rather not. I’d rather just start by talking about “Kill You”. Because for the opening PSA skit Eminem is just fu*king around, and for the first 17 seconds of “Kill You” he’s just fu*king around. But then, “They said I cant rap about being broke no more/they aint say I cant rap about COKE no more”, and it becomes abundantly clear that Eminem is not fu*king around anymore. What follows is a vicious attack on… goddamn everybody I guess and one of the most jaw dropping openers you're likely ever to hear. I can’t even begin to start quoting from this song since that doesn’t even come close to doing the utterly phenomenal rhyme schemes justice but I do have just this one. When he says “Give me your hands and feet/I said shut up when I’m talking to you/You hear me, answer me” do you think he’s talking to some imaginary girl or his audience?
Hell, Eminem needed to just straight up address his audience by this point. His lyrics had created a media circus in the most hilarious way. When Eminem started burying his wife’s body and encouraging kids to do acid it caused a huge tidal wave of controversy that afforded Eminem more free publicity than any marketing campaign could drum up. Em owed each and every angry mother a cut of the profits generated by the 10 million copies this disc sold. Speaking of 10 million copies, this is a seriously dangerous album to sell 10 million copies. In the wrong hands this album goes from being lyrically complex to a simple exaltation of violence. This album belongs in the hands of serious hip-hop scholars, not 16 year olds that heard “The Real Slim Shady” on the radio. But it made it there anyway so now Eminem has to deal with it. He cant help but wonder aloud, “How many retards will listen to me and run up in the school shooting when they pissed at the teach’?”
Some people work best under pressure, Eminem is one of those people. With the weight of following his debut pressing down on him Eminem wiped the sweat from his brow, steped to the microphone, and transformed into flow incarnate. Stress is easily is the driving factor behind his planet shifting mic performances with “The Way I Am” as exhibit A. The first verse barely rhymes on paper but when Em accents it (“I sit BACK/with this BAG/of zig ZAGS/of this WEED/it gives ME/the *** NEEDED”) it makes each end word hit with the blunt force of a fist thwacking a punching bag.
Hot rhymes cant carry a whole album though, you need great beats too. The spotless Aftermath/Dr. Dre sound is played out nowadays, but this knocks front to back. From “Stan” making Dido worth it to “Bitch Please II”’s high noon organ it provides a snapshot of what high quality mainstream production sounded like but the most jaw dropping beat award goes to “Remember Me”, which glimmers with the tension of glass exploding.
Em is on such a hot streak here that anytime a guest shows up it nearly deadens the momentum of the album. Its not that the guests here are particularly bad, some are good (Sticky Fingaz) some are running on autopilot (Dr. Dre) and some are terrible (Bizarre) but they all just serve as little breaks for Eminem to get some water or go to the bathroom, none of them add much to the album. Other than that, “Drug Ballad” is a fun but pointless throwback to The Slim Shady LP and Eminem’s long forgotten D12 posse dominates the runtime of “Under the Influence”, so obviously it’s garbage.
But those few flaws just fade away when “Kim” shows up. I have never heard a song like it in my life. If you haven’t heard it, go listen to it, any descriptions I can manage of it pale in comparison to actually hearing it for the first time. He utterly flies off the handle in a microphone performance so good I forget he’s even rapping. What separates “Kim” from other rap murder fantasies is that Eminem is never presented in some kind of positive light; his rage is never justified as a fair punishment. He is clearly the villain here and yet he still refuses to let himself be presented as pure evil. Throughout the song he colors his character with shades of humanity during his full-scale mental breakdown. His desperation manifesting as fumbling with the radio and screaming at a truck that cuts him off, his anger momentarily melting away as he accuses her of thinking he's ugly, and finally complete madness taking over as he tells stories of innocent times to his wife before he chases her down in the forest and strangles her. It’s so powerful that the track that follows it might as well be 5 minutes and 22 seconds of silence.
As a rapper, Eminem is amazing, but as a writer, Eminem was a whole other beast. It’s clear today that his muse has long flown but during the entirety of The Marshall Mathers LP his words drip with purpose. The vivid flights of fantasy on his debut were lost but the creativity wasn’t. He expresses himself by kicking the *** out of the hornet’s nest that is mainstream, family focused news. You can only imagine how many times someone told him “Don’t go there” and yet there he is, fearlessly rapping about the Columbine massacre a year after it happened. “You know why Dre’s record sold so well? He’s rapping about big screen TVs, blunts, 40’s and bitches”, goes the only worthwhile skit on the record, “You’re rapping about homosexuals and Vicoden.” Indeed he was and that’s the kind of fearlessness that carries the spirit of this record 10 years later. You still hear the daring in every line, the refusal to fall into cliché, you stand in awe that an album this weird could damn near double the sales of “Dre’s record” (2001), and then Eminem ends the album by shooting you. What a guy.