Sunday, March 29, 2009
Tonight's requested review has been requested by my good friend Matt Hoffman (no, not the BMX star we all know and love, unfortunately), who has been waiting diligently for his Eminem review since... I don't know, December? Yikes. Sorry, Matt. I hope this long, sad wait has not hindered our loving friendship.
Matt didn't specify any particular Eminem record for me to review, so I took it upon myself to choose 1999's The Slim Shady LP, his inauspicious debut that thrust him into the pop consciousness. Admittedly, the main reason I chose Slim Shady is because, despite having never heard it before, I was almost certain that I would like it, at least a lot more than his newer stuff (I would not touch Encore with a ten foot pole, especially after "Ass Like That"). And thankfully, I was not disappointed.
My choosing of Slim Shady LP is also a pretty personal choice; since I've been following Eminem since "My Name Is" debuted on TRL, listening to this album is a nice nostalgia trip for me, especially considering that it - along with The Marshall Mathers LP a year later - were arguably the era-defining rap records of the late 90s/early 2000s. They were critically acclaimed, commercially huge, and probably two of the most controversial records ever released - so of course they were everywhere. And admittedly, while I always liked Eminem as a kid, he scared me straight, which probably prevented me from really embracing his work. I just didn't know if he was joking or not! I mean, have you guys heard "Kim"?? Yikes. A friend of mine played that song for me, late at night on my 13th birthday, and I almost ran out of the room crying. I had to smack my hand against my boom box several times until it finally turned off. Oh God Eminem was gonna kill me!!
But The Slim Shady LP is all in good fun. Yes, there is cursing, and there is violence, and there are some slightly insensitive remarks. But it's all pretty funny! When I was 12 I couldn't get into this stuff because all of the aforementioned cursing and violence and whatnot intimidated me. A decade later, it's all so common to me now that I barely even notice it. Oh, sure, this is still a pretty rough record when you get right down to it - throughout the course of The Slim Shady LP, Eminem gets nasty revenge on schoolyard bullies, forces a girl to OD on shrooms, encourages a man to rape a drunk 15-year-old girl and dumps his wife's body into the harbor while his daughter watches. But Eminem's lyrics - and his gift for storytelling - shine through here, turning these otherwise horrible acts into pure entertainment.
There are a lot of great lyrics here. As I am the laziest of men, I don't feel like wading through every song here trying to find my favorite lines - that would take quite a while! So instead let me explain why these songs are so funny. "My Name Is," for instance, is the perfect introductory single - I mean, not only does it very bluntly introduce you to Eminem, but it is also a very funny, goofy song that properly summarizes Eminem's brand of humor. And then there's the other single, the classic "Guilty Conscience," which might be the best song on the record, and arguably the most theatrical. The premise is well known: Dr. Dre and Eminem attempt to give advice to three people encountering a moral dilemma, with Dr. Dre as the voice of reason and Eminem as the exact opposite. The premise is already funny considering that, compared to Eminem, the hot-tempered Dr. Dre is the good guy here; Eminem plays off the "evil little bastard" persona well, especially during the song's climax where he mocks Dr. Dre for giving advice considering his violent past (dropping a few choice N.W.A. references) - it might be one of the funniest parts of the record. Doesn't hurt that the song has a hard-hitting, danceable beat to go along with the subject matter.
Beyond the singles, there are a lot of choice album tracks that display Eminem's knack for storytelling - I'm particularly fond of "Brain Damage," where he describes a succession of bullies that beat on him in high school (including his principal and even his own mother). Then there's the notorious "97 Bonnie and Clyde," which - despite kicking off his well-publicized feud with his ex-wife Kim - is another very funny song, albeit probably the darkest on the record. It worried me for a bit when I first heard it, since it starts off with Eminem talking cutely to his daughter Hailie; I'm still getting over that gross "Blackbird" song off of Encore so maybe it was just a Pavlovian response. But then it turns out that, hey, he just slit his daughter's mother's throat and he's dumping her into the harbor, with his daughter in tow! And he's describing it to her in these cutesy baby terms ("Mama wanted to show you how far she can float / and don't worry about that little boo-boo on her throat / it's just a scratch!"). Man that's terrible! Awful! But it's really funny. You will feel guilty, it is so funny.
I enjoy most of Slim Shady in this matter. One complaint - while lyrically, Slim Shady is solid, musically it can be a little weak at points. Some songs are downright ugly, in fact, and are saved by Eminem's creepily entertaining witticisms. "My Fault" is a perfect example - while it's a humorously bizarre story about Eminem sharing some shrooms with a girl and her freaking out and ODing, the chorus is so unusual and ugly that it almost seems intentional. Probably was intentional. Also, the album as a whole kinda starts to lose my attention near the end, probably because it's over an hour long; the last few songs are solid, though, especially the epic, defiant closer "Still Don't Give A Fuck," a perfect segue into The Marshall Mathers LP.
The Slim Shady LP is a perfect reminder of what made Eminem such a phenomenon in the first place - simply put, he was a jokey, dark, scheming little bastard, a personality that years of media hatred and layer upon layer of serious self-consciousness eventually obscured beyond the point of recognition (no wonder "Just Lose It," the only joke-single released off Encore, felt so forced). It's a shame he lost his edge, because for a few years he was arguably the most bluntly honest pop superstar of all time - and looking back, it is unbelievable that the same kids my age that bought up N*Sync and Britney Spears records would even touch an Eminem release. I guess it was just for the poop jokes?
Anyway. There you go, Matt. The Slim Shady LP is good! Okay?? It's done. It's over. Stop peering through my window.