#273 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums Of All Time.
#46 on Q's Top 100 Albums Of All Time
Eminem? Who's that? Recently voted the most powerful man in music by Q magazine, and the biggest and brightest star of our age - he will probably turn out to be the most durable, too - few people in the past few years have been as ubiqitous as Eminem. Although it was The Marshall Mathers LP that really made him the massive star he is now, this album, as his major label debut, set the ball rolling.
As an introduction, it's hard to beat. Many people were drawn in by the cartoon version of Marshall Mathers (Slim Shady, if you will) presented on Slim Shady and Guilty Conscience - a crazy, over-the-top, surrealist view of trailer park White America. The other major single - Role Model - helped this view along.
But those who bought the album expecting a full album of this character were going to be shocked. Sure enough, this is called The Slim Shady LP for a reason (just as the next two had their names for a reason), and the Slim Shady character was always lurking around a corner. But his role proved to be a backseat one, comparable to Flava Flav's role in Public Enemy. If you're not familiar with Public Enemy, then basically, this means that the core message of the music is wrapped up in surrealist humour, which makes it both easier to digest and easier to listen to. Eminem had a message with this album, but he knew people would have to be convinced to listen to it. Thus, the Slim Shady persona.
(Given how much Public Enemy hated Elvis for appropriating black music, there's a delicious irony here.)
The message Eminem had was one directed at America's poor white youth. Rap had long soundtracked America's black youth, with songs about the poverty they face, the discrimination within the system, and the hedonistic lives they wished to lead. Eminem took the same principle, and applied it to white youth. After all, black people weren't the only ones living empoverished lives, and Eminem realised this.
A lot of the white youth Eminem was talking to, though, buried their dreams and frustrations in rock music - a genre about as explicity 'white' as rap was explicity 'black'. Eminem realised this. Hell, why else do you think the second line you hear on this album was 'You wanna see me put Nine Inch Nails through each one of my eyelids?' If you've got the uncensored version, you get there even earlier. 'Hey kids....do you like Primus?' This almost constitutes a theme to the album. Eminem himself confesses a debt to rock bands that he listened to while growing up - Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Nirvana are three he specifically names. Of course, he comes from the same state as two of those acts. Whether Eminem is also left-handed is a question I can't answer. Throughout the album, he namedrops Cobain, the Beastie Boys, Kid Rock, and Vanilla Ice (directing adressing the unflattering comparisons he knew he would face). The album is pretty grungy in places tooc - Rock Bottom and If I Had bearing the most pronounced influence.
Although you could argue that generally, white youths don't have as many problems as black youths (due to the racism they face), Eminem had a hell of a lot to vent. His hatred for authority figures - at least on this album - went not to the president, or to the media, but to targets closer to home; namely, his mother (who allegedly abused his brother), and his girlfriend (who tried to stop him seeing their daughter). Bill and Hilary Clinton do get attacked on Role Model, but they were secondary targets. As such, Eminem's music began to strike a chord with not only the poor white youth he aimed at, but your average, frustrated teenager who hated their parents. It may sound a little juvenile, but it meant something to people. And, of course, his skills as a lyricist, his knack for a good song, and his sense of humour endeared him to the rest of us.
It didn't exactly endear him to the media, though. Some of his peers attacked him for being a gimmick, and compared him to Vanilla Ice and Marky Mark. It seemed only Dr. Dre's involvement (and a fierce underground reputation) prevented him being laughed out of the industry before anyone heard the album. The mass media, though, seeing how popular Eminem was becoming with Middle America's teenagers, slammed him for glorifying violence and encouraging crime. It's a criticism that has stuck with Eminem, and an unfair one - knowing Eminem as most people do now, thanks to exposure from the same mass media, it's not too hard to tell what's truth and when he's joking, and anyone who can't tell is [URL=http://maddox.xmission.com/hatemail.cgi#SUICIDE]Stupid.[/URL] It was mostly this criticism that would force Eminem to try to drop the Slim Shady persona altogether on The Marshall Mathers LP.
There are a few problems with this album. First of all, the balance between the message and the humour isn't as finely done as on Public Enemy's best work - in fact, most of the tracks could be seperated into one of two categories (Brian Damage stands out, though, as having the right balance). The skits are worthless, Lounge aside. The Slim Shady EP featured better versions of both '97 Bonnie & Clyde (then called Just The Two Of Us) and Just Don't Give A ****. The version of Guilty Conscience here doesn't have the chorus from the single version, which is a travesty. And you ocasionally get the feeling that Eminem is resorting to shock tactics rather than letting his natural ability shine through. And, of course, the flaw all Eminem's albums have - not enough quality control. You could remove a couple of tracks, and it would improve the whole.
Still, this is a quality album. Picking a best Eminem album is difficult, as all of them excel in different areas. This album is the one you want if you're after surreal humour and introspection, whereas the Marshall Mathers LP is the most intense and personal, yet outward looking, of the three, and The Eminem Show undoubtedly features the best lyrics from a poetic/emcees perspective. It really comes down to what you're after; I personally find this to be on a par with The Eminem Show, but The Marshall Mathers LP is on another level altogether. There are personal moments here that, for pure emotion, rival or better Marshall Mathers - If I Had being the most obvious choice, while Brian Damage has a bruised heart to it. But they are less hard-hitting then The Marshall Mathers LP's best moments, and are ultimately more forgettable. But The Slim Shady LP remains a great debut, a singpost of what was to come, and a highly recommended addition to any rap fan's collection.
Recommended Download -
I'd say Brain Damage
represents the album best. If you're after an explicitly personal song, then you'll want If I Had
, whereas the humourous side can be found on As The World Turns
, but Brain Damage
has both sides of the story within it.