Marshall Mathers is one angry young man, but it’s all for show. And what a show: Mather’s latest, The Eminem Show, is one helluva production, and listening to it makes you wonder why, after Mathers — aka Eminem, aka Slim Shady — has gotten everything he could have ever dreamed of, can’t he let bygones be bygones? Heaven help the women who’ve ever been close to the rapper. The Eminem Show is littered with verbal assaults against his own mother and the mother of his child; it’s exceedingly hard to believe they deserve them. Only his daughter and his mentor, Dr. Dre, are spared. But anyone who has dared utter a critical word is ripe for a creative lyrical punishment that shows nothing if not that Eminem has incredibly thin skin.
Eminem harbors his animosity because he wouldn’t sell as many records if he simply let it go. As Eminem similarly puts it in this nasty, heavy metal-inspired number on The Eminem Show: “Look at these eyes, baby blue, baby just like yourself/If they were brown Shady lose, Shady sits on the shelf.” Ice Cube, Common, Brand Nubians and others spewed hate way before Eminem did, and they didn’t raise our ire nearly as much as he has. Is it all because he’s white? Eminem concedes his skin color has a lot to do with his popularity, and it’s clear his fame troubles him for that very reason.
Eminem’s tiring solipsism and lyrical content is galling. Even those rare occasions when Eminem attempts to be sweet on The Eminem Show don’t last long. “Hailie’s Song,” named after his daughter, is a melodic number that starts off with the rapper coo-singing two genuinely tender verses to Hailie. It quickly turns bitter, with the self-styled “boogieman of rap” launching a tirade spiting his ex-wife. Yes, there’s a whole lotta wrong with his singing, but I’d take it over his vengeful rapping any time.
Musically, Eminem sounds excellent. Nearly every song has a catchy chorus and propulsive beats that complement his captivatingly shrill rap-style. And shouldn’t we be able to look past his vile lyrics by now? Aren’t we numb to his hate? The catchy “Without Me,” the first single from the album, sideswipes Moby (“bald headed fag, blow me”) for having the audacity to gently speak out against Eminem’s use of homophobic lyrics. “My Dad’s Gone Crazy” is the pleasingly perky album closer that features Hailie as well as these words to critics everywhere: “If y’all leave me alone this wouldn’t be my M.O./I wouldn’t have to go, eenee, meenee, meini, mo, catch a homo by his toe/Am I the only fuckin’ one who’s normal any more?”
If this is normal, let’s hope so. Despite the above statement to the contrary, it’s clear Eminem won’t be changing his M.O. any time soon. As he says on the forceful “Say What U Say” — “If I could only use this power for good, I wouldn’t, not even if I could.” Well, actually he could, you know. Whatever happened to social-activist rap anyway? Don’t look to Eminem to deliver. He could be gay enemy number one, but he’s no KRS-One, and certainly no Public Enemy. Fight the Power? Nah, Fight the Fight you created, to say you fought it. And to sell records.