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NCFOM - Eminem

The Marshall Mathers LP brings back good memories of a trip to Queensland in 2000 where my friends had the best six tracks of the album on repeat in the car for three weeks while we drank slabs of those tiny ‘hand grenade’ beers and made a public nuisance of ourselves. With the exception of the technically impressive (albeit not really enjoyable to listen to more than twice) ‘Rap God’ single from 2013 and the fact that Rick Rubin somehow managed to fuck up a record sampling Billy Squire’s flawless ‘The Stroke’, I’ve been able to comfortably ignore Eminem for the past 15 years. That said, The Marshall Mathers LP was clearly his creative and commercial peak, selling a tidy thirty-two million copies, winning two Grammy awards and spawning the classic ‘Stan’ single. With its 15 year anniversary this weekend (do CD’s have birthdays or nah?), it seems like an appropriate juncture to see how the old gal has held up.

It’s immediately clear that much of the content has aged horribly, with Eminem’s idea of cutting edge pop culture references seemingly based on watching the 1999 MTV Video Awards after slamming a cocktail of Valium, Xanex and Vicoden. Marshall doesn’t like boy bands (shock, horror!) and wastes no time in letting his feelings on the matter be publicly known, proving that he isn’t afraid to go after the hard targets. There are also multiple references to Monica Lewinsky’s antics in the oval office and a few crude remarks about some hose beast who’s currently a judge on one of those American singer contests. He also mentions some fellow by the name of Fred Durst who I think was the star of beloved TV favourite The Wonder Years, but I’ll have to research that.

‘Stan’ is still an undeniably great rap song with The 45 King and Dido providing a melancholy soundtrack to the deranged scribblings of a fictional character. Em managed to sketch such a vivid image of the song’s protagonist that his name became part of the popular vernacular. Not even that unfortunate incident of Shady’s live performance with Elton John at the Grammys can take away from the genius that is this ode to overly obsessive super fans.

Elsewhere, we have the “I’m Really, Really Frustrated, Guys!” song (‘The Way I Am’), the “Really Annoying Ditty Aimed For The Charts” track (‘The Real Slim Shady’), and the “Don’t Worry I’m Just Joking About Killing My Wife…Again!” number that is ‘Kim.’ I’m sure his daughter Hailie finds that one all shits and gigs to listen to now she’s all grown up. More than anything else, I’m reminded of just how shitty Eminem and the Bass Brothers’ beats are. The goofy keys and drum machine sound worked just fine on the Slim Shady EP, but when placed next to Dr. Dre productions, it seems to highlight how amateurish they often sound (with the exception of ‘Criminal’, which still knocks pretty hard).

There are also these things called ‘skits’ which were a thing in ’90s rap where you would pretend to get a blowjob in between songs (unless you were Biggie Smalls who apparently copped brain in the booth IRL) or shoot people with a sniper rifle and laugh in a cold-hearted fashion. The one where some record executive is yelling at Em about how shitty the album sounds is still funny, while the graphic depiction of the Insane Clown Posse giving the Ken Kaniff character blowskis isn’t something any listener needs to experience twice. Meanwhile, the appearance of his D-12 weed carriers and that RBX dude from The Chronic with the deep voice (who may still being paying his rent based off this appearance) only serve to detract from the main attraction.

Eminem did a fine job of pushing the boundaries of good taste in ways even the Geto Boys might have shied away from – in particular the rant at the end of ‘I’m Back’ where he tells Puffy that he would bang J-Lo even if she was his own mother and “have a son and a new brother at the same time and say it ain’t mine”. The ‘crazy white boy’ persona has been a staple of pale-faced rappers since the dawn of time since it seems to negate the need for any actual ‘street cred’ in the eyes of many, but there’s no denying that Marshall really nailed that angle. Aside from the ancient pop culture references, tinny production, and annoying hooks, there are still plenty of laughs to be had as Eminem trolls listeners with a healthy dose of self-awareness.

Keep up with Robbie’s weekly ‘No Country for Old (Rap) Men’ here.