I'm not an Eminem fan--really, I'm not. I just own all of his albums, have tracked his career from the beginning, and have been anxiously waiting his return to making original music after five years from keeping out the public spotlight.
But still, I do not consider myself an Eminem fan. Nor a Slim Shady fan or D12 fan. If I am supporting anyone at all, it is Marshall Mathers the artist, whatever persona or alter-ego he should feel suites a song, a phrase, or a rhyme.
Let it also be known that, while one of my favorite artists in music right now, I have from time to time gone through such a love/hate relationship with the rapper/actor that I've praised/denounced him on again/off again almost at the same time.
Put aside the homophobia, violence against women, sick sexual situations, or drug abuse turned on its head. It is be pointless to retread Mathers' mediums and if they are too harsh of colors, do not look at the portraits the man paints. They certainly are not hum-dingers most of the time that you can dance to, but the do open up a vein and have true, raw emotion which very few recording artists infuse into their songs today.
So here's my history with the man who gave all angry white suburban males a reason to hold up a middle finger and let it linger.
The Slim Shady LP (1999)
I heard "Hi, My Name Is" on the radio and was instantly smitten by it. But I must have been the only person to enjoy it, but not hear it constantly played on the airwaves in 1999. He just kind of came up on the radar and then faded into what I thought would be obscurity. I never forgot the chorus, a perfect intro for a new voice, as well as the type of artist he was. The next year is when I would go back and listen to the tales of bullying, substance abuse, and murderous nightmares. Could this man really describe so much, have such a vivid imagination, and surreal lyrical flow all at once? I quickly bought a used copy from a local CD store and hid it under my bed, listening to it all the time with my headphones on. To me, it was his greatest, even as the first Mathers masterpiece was just being released...
The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
Will the real Slim Shady please not define this record for all eternity? Please! I was instantly hooked again by the catchy single that, today, now seems so incredibly dated that it is hard to listen to. And "unlistenable" is what I thought about the rest of the album when I first put it in my ears and then hid it under my bed from my parents. Keep in mind, I thought it was going to be a little dark, but more goofy and humorous like the previous one. Instead, it was a sick and twisted nightmare that made me question everything--violence in the media, using Columbine for pathos, and of course, the use of the word "faggot" constantly. I made up my mind too quick, wrote Eminem off as a bigot and a Nazi, and returned the record to the store I had bought it from. Two months later, I bought it again, after my English class had gone through a course in satire. Art shouldn't go down easy and this album still scratches my sensibilities, but it is good medicine nonetheless.
The Eminem Show (2002)
The best of both worlds: this record had Eminem acting as the ringleader to a circus of Slim Shady going crazy on celebrities and Marshall Mathers working some family issues out. To date, it is his most solid album in terms of mixture and balance. Some weak tracks do bring it down, but the beats, the lyrical content, and the true-blue portrait of the rapper are there. Where his previous recording had made Eminem famous, this is what made him a master of his craft. It also came out the same year as 8 Mile and the soundtrack's title song that got Eminem an Academy Award (ironic, since everyone focused on his acting said he would never win an Oscar--but an little gold man is a little gold man). I like to look at these two albums as one, because the songs from 8 Mile make up for the two or three so-so tracks on Show.
And what happened here? Only a handful of decent songs in an hour and twenty minute album with a separate CD for some bonus tracks (which should have just been on the original record anywhere because they were slightly better). After "Mosh", you can pretty much just look at this as a workshop for a man who might have run out of ideas. Eminem was successful and talented, fixing up his marriage, and on his way to retirement. Things were going well for him and besides a valid attack on G.W. Bush, a track that still comes out with guns blazing, there was very little pain and anguish to draw from. One song, in fact, just basically has the rapper making funny noises and occasionally talking to the listener...for no reason at all. I tried to like it, but even now I just cannot find the genius in it and I do not think I am missing something. Unless it is all a big joke and I was one of the suckers who bought into it? Nah...
This is where the kung-fu king of lyrics and song comes back swinging. If you have not listened to the entire Relapse album, take ninety minutes and do so with headphones glue on. What starts out as the journey of a man running from his demons quickly takes you to the root of them in his childhood, then a meteoric rise to stardom, followed by a four year crash-landing to earth. It is bold, it is scary, it is nasty, and it is so touching. That is right, touching. Mathers makes the smart move to keep the featured guests to a minimum of Dr. Dre and 50 Cent for two songs and the rest is all him. Not only is he on top of his game, but he's breaking new ground even for himself, which is pretty impressive for a man who rearranged a whole genre of music.
I could go into the D12 records and the lackluster group album, Eminem Presents: The Re-Up, but it is hardly worth the time. Through out the years I used to get excited when he was labeled as a guest rapper on a song, but most of the time he sounded exhausted or bored. The man has always been better when he is serious than when he is joking and the poker face slipped every time he tried to be the merry prankster on other musician's music.
He needed to pull from within.
Artists require pain and suffering, hurt and anguish, and then time to reflect. Unfortunately for Mathers, that creative process almost killed him in the form of a drug overdose. But he's still here, still making his brilliance available to anyone who can identify with his wounds and that's lucky for him, as well as all of us.
Eminem can close the show, Slim Shady can run naked through the woods with a chainsaw and never come home, but as long as Marshall Mathers is around to tell a story, I think that I can safely say he's got at least one fan for life.