Eminem seems like he could be a sexist, homophobic, stupid, crazy person.
So why do I like him?
Because he’s compelling as hell.
Eminem is fully realized pop entity. Think about it: over long a career he’s shown us a full range of representations of himself, and unlike say, Madonna, Gaga, or other pop entities, Eminem has made his career on blistering honesty. Whether he’s exhibiting his fully humorous cartoony-songs, his rap battle antics, or his deeply personal moments, they are all startilingly honest. To Eminem, rap is PERSONAL. Marshall Mathers is not a genius mind you, he isn’t carefully orchestrating his image with some calculating manner. He is working off his intuition. His work is visceral. He is painfully sincere to the point that he’s not even aware of how sincere he’s actually being and how remarkable that is (think about, how many other rappers are all about posture and the exhibition of cool?). The end result is that we’ve gotten to see the real “story” of Eminem play out in public; he’s all but documented it for us.
Believe or not, we know that story well. I’ve always considered myself tangentially aware of his life, but in sitting down to write this I’m shocked by how much I know off the top of my head: Marshall Mathers was a young man who grew up poor in Detroit. He suffers from Munchhausen syndrome by proxy, at the hands of his mother. He begins rapping as a teenager and slowly builds his way up in the underground rap scene of Detroit. He features a unique penchant rap battling. He both embraces the complicated nature of his “whiteness” and yet doesn’t use it a crux. He is mostly just plain talented. He gains notoriety. He releases self-made EPs and a album. These allow him to hook up with Dr. Dre and they produce the Slim Shady LP. At first, he is first regarded as rap’s new silly jokester who tosses insults at celebrities. Then people hear the rest of the album. It’s dark as hell. Matricide, suicide, other “-ides.” Parents get upset. He owns the controversy. We start to get a picture of angry and confused young man, albeit one who is hungry to prove himself as an M.C. And he wants to prove himself especially because his whiteness is still regarded as one-off Vanilla-Ice-ism.
His next album, The Marshall Mathers LP explodes. The critical reception is enormous. He proves he is not a one-off trivial distraction. The first single continues his tradition of an obligatory jokey song, but the album actually shows depth. He gets angry. He gets border-line poetic. We get a bigger picture of his world. It’s clear he’s not in it for the money. In fact, he barely raps about money. He raps to prove how good he is. It’s pride. It makes all the difference. He stays true to his roots by taking up his old friends from Detroit and they form a side project, D-12. They have nowhere near his talent but he did it anyways, and they are marginally successful. From there the career goes on. He becomes increasingly complex. More brazen. He becomes more mature in some ways. He grows more frustrated and indignant in others. His albums continue to sell. They earn emmys. He stars in a movie by a uniquely talented director. The movie is a smash hit. It showcases a realistic portrait of where he comes from and what he values. Some of the songs from this movie are, without a doubt, his best work. He is on top of the world. He can do no wrong. He doesn’t know where to go now. He starts having weird reconciliations with his ex-wife. They don’t go well. He falls into problems with drugs. His albums suffer. He becomes lazy. He takes a hiatus.
… It’s a traditional musician’s career if we’ve ever seen one.
So what does this all mean? It means that since he documented all of turmoil and “story” in his music (rather than do what most do and hide it, establishing a youthful and desperate front), he became a tangible, “known” figure. Unlike so many other figures, we really do feel like he we know Eminem. The very concept is insane, but he’s geniune. And even though what he’s saying might be crazy, it’s still fascinating. He’s an anti-hero. He’s Tony Soprano. You want to watch him even if you might not want to know him.
And now. Eminem is back. He’s off drugs. He doesn’t like the fact that he faded away. He doesn’t like the fact he released two sub-par albums. He’s vibrant. He’s hungry. He’s angry. He’s ready to go.
He first came out to play on this year’s “Forever”, a collaboration by Drake and Little Wayne. It’s actually a kinda crappy song. Then you get to Eminem’s verse. Take a listen:
Yup, awesome. Just awesome. The first thing that’s clear is that Eminem is still absurdly talented. The second thing you notice is just how ready he is take on the rap world.
Sure, he gets a lot of attention for his clowning-around-songs, or his more trite/preachy/”serious” stuff, but in my opinion Eminem is strictly his best when he’s angry and spitting venom.
Which is pretty much the entirety of RECOVERY.
This new album came out this week and I happen to think it’s fantastic.
A lot of folks have already taken a look at his first clunky (yet still kinda honest) song “Not Afraid” and made their conclusions:
Those conclusions fair in some ways. It falls into the previously mentioned “trite” territory… I don’t really dig the song.
But, luckily, that’s not the good stuff. The best song without a doubt “No Love” which shows of Lil Wayne’s obtuse stylings followed by what may be Eminem’s best verse in his entire career. Yes, it’s just more of the typical rap-boasting “look how awesome I am! You suck!” stuff, but that’s most of rap. We’ve come to accept it. The key is it’s freaking engaging. It’s paced perfectly. It’s (more) mature. It’s interesting. It’s fast as freaking hell. It gets your blood pumping. There’s a reason Daniel Day Lewis picked Eminem to get his blood boiling in the mornings when he played Bill The Butcher in GANGS OF NEW YORK. Really, it says it all.
“No Love” Take a listen to the whole song, but especially Eminem’s part:
And then “Won’t back down” is a little more silly and try to ignore Pink, but it’s just as speed-laden addictive:
There’s a lot more to boot: “Cinderella Man”, “Talkin 2 myself”,”25 to Life”,”Love The Way You Lie””
All very good.
Eminem has recovered. And he’s spitting venom, just the way we like.