Many people criticize albums for being "self-indulgent." To me, that's the only way you can make something truly classic. If an album caters to a certain group of people, that usually lowers the quality of the piece. Classic albums are made by the artist, with nothing else but the artists' own pleasure and need in mind. This is what Eminem did on this album. He spits brutal and acid hate throughout the entire album, never slowing down or considering pop music tastes. It seems like Eminem created The Marshall Mathers LP more to satisfy his own desperate desire to hate then to make a musical masterpiece. Because of that very fact, this is one of the best albums of all time.
The cultural impact of this album is hard to overestimate. This album single-handedly changed the way millions of white suburban kids acted. Instead of reaching for the Offspring and Blink-182 albums, they started to reach for the Onyx and Gang Starr records. But The Marshall Mathers LP was much more important than just an agent of change for children's music tastes. Eminem's lyrics incited violence and hate, both against him and his enemies. Millions of outraged parents railed against Eminem, telling him that he was corrupting their children. Rallies and protests were held in the streets calling for the fall of Eminem. Despite all of that, this record became one of the best selling rap albums ever. It's true what they say about controversy selling, you know. Because of the huge public reaction, many people dismiss this as simply shock and horror music. While it is that to some extent, it is also so much more.
The musical quality of this album is higher than that of any other album that I've heard. Eminem's rhymes are more intricate than any other point in his career, and doubtlessly some of the most intricate ever. His flow is evenly paced and unfaltering, and he always manages to fit his rhymes into the necessary amount of beats flawlessly. The quality of his rhymes and flow is dwarfed by the actual content of his lyrics. They are so incredibly full of genuine hate that it's impossible to comprehend on the first listen. Indeed, some of these songs feel more like venting sessions for Eminem than anything else. I bet you all know the one track that gave The Marshall Mathers LP that reputation, and I'll go into much more depth later.
The beats on this album are very creative, the best in Eminem's career. While The Eminem Show and Encore sounded a bit too poppy, this is an undeniable hardcore rap album. Dre throws in an acoustic beat on "Marshall Mathers," and it sounds absolutely perfect. "Remember Me?" is an extraordinary mix of odd sounds, and it all combines to create a surreal and spooky atmosphere. Of course, Dre is better than any other at creating catchy and fun beats, and he does this perfectly on "I'm Back" and "The Real Slim Shady." Often the beats get overshadowed by the lyrics on this album, but they deserve their time in the spotlight. They would be the highlight on almost any other rap album.
The lyrical concepts on this album are creative and brutal. Eminem delves into the impact he has on young kids, and ends up reaffirming the claim that he does in fact affect the kids who listen to his music. He also directs corrosive hate at anybody within arms reach, including such targets as: his mom, Kim, The Insane Clown Posse, N'Sync, Britney Spears, and just "bitches" in general. But perhaps the most creative and thought provoking lyrical topic comes from the chilling single, "Stan."
"Stan" is almost too grand and concept defying to talk about. For one of the few times on the album, Eminem lets his terrifying rage fade to the background. Instead, he creates a thoughtful and intelligent masterpiece. This song uses many atmospheric sound effects and samples, such as rain and pencil scratching. A Dido song is sampled for the chorus. I think using a sampled hook was the perfect thing to do for "Stan." It is played rather low in the mix, and does more to set the depressing atmosphere than stand on its own. That puts the listener's focus right were it should be; on the lyrics. In this song, you hear a fan's dark obsession grow into a double murder and suicide. The obsessed fan, "Stan," kills himself, his girlfriend, and his unborn son because he feels Eminem is ignoring him. In the last verse, you can hear Eminem finally responding to Stan's letter. The song ends with Eminem's chilling realization that he killed Stan. You kind of sit there in a stunned state throughout the next two tracks, just thinking about that ending. Basically, this song is a key piece in the overall development of music. Despite all of that, it isn't even my favorite on the album.
That title would have to fall to the dark and brooding masterpiece "The Way I Am." As I said earlier, the best albums are the ones made for the artists themselves. Naturally, that would also be the same for individual songs. Eminem bars none of his true feelings on this song, letting his soul out for the public to hear and judge. "The Way I Am" is a five minute spew of acid hate and intolerance. Eminem's rhymes are the best of his career on this song, due to their intricacy. There are so many rhymes within rhymes that you miss a few on the first couple of listens. Eminem even mocks the people who sue him in this song, a daring move, due to the fact that many lawsuits were filed against him during the time this album was recorded. I also love the beat of this song. It is piano driven, with booming church bells interspersed. It is simply perfect, as are the rhymes. The fact that Eminem had the courage to release these two songs as singles speaks volumes for the man's willingness to put artistic integrity over album sales.
Whoo. As you can see, the songs on this album are tremendous. Are there any bad seeds lurking in the depths of The Marshall Mathers LP? I can honestly say that there is not a single bad song on here. There are a few that are less than excellent, but none of them are unlistenable. The ones on the bottom of the pile are probably "Drug Ballad" and "Under The Influence," due to the lack of lyrical originality on these songs. Still, the unoriginal lyrical topics are executed excellently on those songs, making them enjoyable listens nonetheless.
I would like to close up the mention of individual songs with "Kim." As I see it, "Kim" is the most important song to be released in the 21st century, perhaps ever. It broke the barrier between what you can and cannot do in music. If you can have a murder fantasy about a real and defined person on an album, what can't you do? This helped create an anything-goes atmosphere that is persistent in modern hip-hop. But believe me, it was never done better or more disturbingly then on "Kim." For those of you who don't know, this is an incredibly detailed and realistic story of Eminem murdering his wife. The unedited itunes version of this song is actually edited in points, because it is so incredibly gory. In this song, Eminem puts Hailey to sleep, drives Kim to a secluded area, and then begins to mumble inanely. Kim tries to run, but Eminem catches up to her, chokes her to death, and then throws her in the trunk of his car. Throughout this story, you can hear Kim screaming frantically, shouting lines like "I can't do this! I'm scared!" and "Don't do this baby! PLEASE!" The song finally climaxes with Eminem yelling "YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO LOVE ME! NOW BLEED BITCH! BLEED! BLEED BITCH! BLEED! BLEED!" Throughout that sentence, you can hear Kim wheezing and fighting for air. Then it's over. Wow. This song is truly the most intense I have ever heard. I'm relatively sure that there could never be a more disturbing song made.
This album is incredible. It is a fearless and uncatering work of a disturbed man, so incredibly violent and disturbing that it scares many people away after the first listen. But that is precisely what makes it so great. It is a necessary listen for all fans of music, period.
Originally written for www.rateyourmusic.com