Tag Archives: Eminem

Eminem – Album by Album

25 Feb

In this column, we continue looking at established artists by going through their career, album by album. Last time it was Foo Fighters. Today it’s the turn of one of the most widely sold and critically acclaimed artists of all time – Marshall Mathers, better known as Slim Shady or Eminem.

Note – due to space, I’m sticking to his ‘official’ studio albums and missing out his demo album, Infinity, as well as side projects like 8 Mile and Bad Meets Evil. If you’d rather read more about more obscure records next time, let me know in the comments.

 

Debate has raged for years over Eminem (real name Marshall Mathers): was he successful mainly because he was white? The answer’s yes – but not for the reason you think. His skin colour locked him out of the profitable gangsta rap market, and rapping about crime or drug dealing would have caused many listeners to accuse him of being inauthentic. He couldn’t even drop the ‘n word’ which most rappers throw around like sweets. Instead, he was forced to invent new ways to shock and outrage middle America. Enter Slim Shady.

The twisted alter ego of his stage name Eminem, Slim Shady said and did everything controversial you ever thought about. He baited politicians, outraged parents, made kids laugh and brought in a whole new demographic to rap music. Marshall Mathers also had another trick up his sleeve so not to alienate more hardcore listeners: his ferocious wordplay and rhyming. Casually dropping multi-syllable rhymes into the middle of lines were nothing to him. When his music first came out, they began describing him as one of the greatest white rappers ever. They quickly dropped the ‘white’.

 

The Slim Shady LP (1999) – The Blueprint

The story behind Eminem’s first album reads like a movie script: an unknown Detroit rapper gets his break by getting producer Dr Dre to hear his tape, and in a matter of months becomes a superstar. However if the Slim Shady LP is any genre, it’s a horror. While playing Slim Shady, Eminem wasn’t afraid to get cynical, provocative and very, very violent. It’s difficult to know what are scarier – the over-the-top gruesome fantasies, or vivid descriptions of being down and out. Nowhere is his dark persona better show than on Guilty Conscience, where Eminem and Dre trade verses as a devil and angel respectively. In the final verse, Em manages to provoke Dre – the former bad boy of rap – into losing his cool, effectively passing the torch onto his protégée.

Image

The Marshall Mathers LP (2000) – The Masterpiece

This is without a doubt his darkest album. With a front cover of him huddled near the fireplace of his abandoned home, it dealt with subjects like his many family problems, drug use and his ‘corruption’ of teenage youth. He was accused of homophobia and misogyny, and did little to convince people otherwise. Even on his poppier tracks, he set out to offend as many celebrities as possible for the enjoyment of his listeners. However, he proved impossible to pin down. Whenever critics were prepare to write him off after his harrowing song about murdering his wife, he would release something like Stan, a touching and tragic tale of a deranged fan. His incredible wordplay and rhyming abilities were almost a footnote after his song topics. Nevertheless, it remains the best album of his career.

The Eminem Show (2002) – The Political One

After the madness of his last album, Eminem decided he had some growing up to do. That’s not to say it had no sense of humour – far from it – but Eminem was keener than ever to satirise the world at large. He was always a joker, and like Batman’s nemesis, he was skilled at holding up a mirror to society and saying: “You think I’m crazy? You made me this way!” There were still zany moments like Without Me, but the tone on a whole was more mature. He even confronted his troubled relationship with his mother and how rap music can save troubled kids. For most fans, it’s his most personal and powerful album, even if a few weaker songs kept it off the top spot.

Image

Encore (2004) – The Disappointment

Perhaps based on expectations, Encore received rave reviews as usual when it was released, yet listening to it today, it’s hard not to wonder what went wrong. The highlights were his reflective songs – Like Toy Soldiers and Mockingbird – and his anti-Bush rant also deserves a few listens, but everything else verges on terrible. His lead singles still had a juvenile sense of humour but no meaning or purpose. His usually dexterous, quick-witting flow sounded stumbling and amateurish. Most of this was down to his increasing pill addiction which meant he was barely getting two hours sleep a night. If it had been a true encore, it would have been a terrible way to end his career.

Relapse (2009) – The Pretend Comeback

Eminem may have never been subtle, but it was a little on-the-nose to call a record Relapse while as in rehab. Thematically, he resurrected his Slim Shady character and tried to imitate the darker content that had launched his career. However, most songs sounded insincere compared to the passion of his earlier work. Many fans also complained about his constant use of accents. Eminem would later say the last two albums didn’t count as ‘Encore I was on drugs, Relapse I was flushing ‘em out.’ Either way, a slight improvement was good enough for fans after a long break from music.

Image

Recovery (2010) – The Real Comeback

His true resurrection came in 2010 when, finally clean, he set out to work out what a ‘grown up’ Eminem album would sound like. The violent skits and songs poking fun at pop culture were gone – in their place were inspirational songs with positive messages. Both Not Afraid and Won’t Back Down were well received and showed how Eminem had changed his outlook. The lyrics were much tighter, although his duet with Rhianna showed he could still put himself in a dark place when needed.  It was more earnest than his earlier work, and he still had the technical skills and wordplay to deliver his message well.

The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (2013) – The Legacy

Sequels usually suggest creative bankruptcy. Nevertheless, with some of biggest producers in music (including Dr Dre and Rick Rubin) behind him, Eminem could hardly fail. He managed to create an organic-feeling continuation of his most acclaimed song, Stan. He also produced some of the fastest, most intricate rapping of his career in Rap God. At one point, he was rapping an astonishing 10 syllables per second – not good for casual listeners, but music to the ears of his core audience. After seven albums and 16 years, he had reached the point where he could legitimately call himself a Rap God. 

 

How Festivals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Hip-Hop

9 Sep

Something strange happened once Eminem completed his recent headline set at the Reading and Leeds festival a couple of weeks ago. As the final rousing chorus of Lose Yourself faded away, hip hop officially become part of the British musical landscape.

Image

Let me back up a little bit. Eminem had previous headlined Reading & Leeds (henceforth called R&L to save my fingers) in 2001. However, it is one thing for an artist to be booked when they’re a cultural phenomenon, and quite another when they’re a veteran of the genre. Many British festivals and magazines opened their arms to Eminem while he was at his height. Booking him 12 years on shows the confidence festivals organisers have in his huge back catalogue of work.

Unlike the USA, where rap is so mainstream Jay-Z can host his own festival, hip hop’s traditionally faced a lot of resistance in Britain. Back when Jay-Z headlined Glastonbury in 2008, many people were sceptical. Noel Gallagher claimed: “I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It’s wrong.” Jay-Z ended up receiving rave reviews for his performance, managing to please both the hardcore fans and those who only knew the chorus to 99 Problems. However, Glastonbury was always far more diverse than traditional rock festivals like Reading & Leeds.

If you need more evidence, look further down the billing at R&L this year. A$AP Rocky and Azealia Banks both performed the penultimate slots on the NME Stage on different days. Neither are household names but both have cult followings. On smaller stages, you could find a whos-who of up-and-coming talent, such as Chance the Rapper, Angel Haze, Earlwolf and Action Bronson. You could quite easily have spent the whole weekend there without hearing a single guitar.

This breakdown of genre barriers isn’t limited to rap. Melvin Benn, the organiser of R&L, recently tipped Chase & Status as future headliners. Electric music is another genre experiencing a huge boom but this will still come as a surprise to the festivals’ hardcore rock fans; the emphasis seems to be less on promoting what people expect and simply putting good bands on.

Eminem may be the greatest crossover rapper ever, partly owing to his rebellious hits aimed at suburban teens and partly no doubt due to his skin colour. However, the fact remains he has opened plenty of doors in the UK and it surely won’t be long before hip hop superstars like Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar step through them. 

Money, Cash, Hoes: What Type of Facts are Those

12 Sep

I’m going to go from my oldest obsession to my newest.  Hip hop music.  I’m going to say upfront I never liked hip hop music. If your name starts with a “lil,” I don’t like you and I know your music sucks.  For that shrinking subset of rappers whose names don’t start with a “lil” or autotune, I’ll give you a chance.  That being said, I don’t like most rap.  I can’t really relate to either the excess rappers (smoke blunts) or the socially conscience rappers. That being said, there is still good rap even if you have to dig deep for it.

Take everything I said about excess rappers and throw it away for a second.  Just a second.  Or however long it takes you to read the following.  Despite what I’ve said, I really like Jay Z despite his embodiment of much that I despise.  The only explanation is that he has really soulful beats.  Try The Blueprint or the Black Album.  Neither album has him rapping over a drum machine which I particularly dig, even if much of his stuff is about living the life.

Watching that video, I remember just how great Eminem is.  Eminem was the first rapper I ever heard and said wow.  The man doesn’t just rap a line and take a break, he barrels forward without a break, even if it means you have to catch up to him.  His dark humor and violence turn me off at times but even then, he is, undisputedly, the most clever lyricist out there.  Similarly, Louis Logic’s clever lyrics and similar sense of humor remind me of Eminem.

My favorite rapper, however, is Common.  Originally attracted to his cool, soul and jazz influenced beats, I also started listening to his meaningful lyrics and was hooked.  There are, like with every other rapper, particulars that I don’t particularly enjoy but his album Be is the only rap album that I enjoy all songs on.

This last bit is about my favorite verse in all of hip hop.  It’s on a Kanye West song but no, it’s not a Kanye West lyric.  Jay Z is also on the song, but it’s not his either.  It’s by a hip hop poet by the name of J Ivy and you can skip to 3 minutes to hear it on the following link.

%d bloggers like this: