Do you crave new music by a singer-songwriter who’s in touch with his or her feelings, will attend to your innermost needs, and can soulfully articulate the nagging angst and anxiety we all feel in this era of media overload?
If so, then Eminem is not your man. As rubbery piano and thumpy scratching cook behind him, Eminem proudly tells us he smokes pot, likes to drink and drive, spits when he talks and ”f—[s] anything that walks,” and wants to grab Pamela Anderson’s chest. And he’s not sure what concerns him most: the fact that his mom isn’t well-endowed enough to breast-feed him, or that she does ”more dope than I do.” C+
All of that can be heard on just one track — the attention-grabbing single and video, ”My Name Is” — on The Slim Shady LP, Eminem’s new and much-buzzed-about album.
It was bound to happen, wasn’t it? What with Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu leading the charge of hip-hip soul positivity, reformed reprobates the Beastie Boys singing the praises of adulthood and Tibetan boys in hoods, and a new generation of bands like OutKast and the Roots aiming to broaden rap’s musical and cranial focus, it was only a matter of time before someone applied the brakes to the new hip-hop consciousness. The Slim Shady LP is the backlash to that backlash, an impudent, say-what? collection of rhyming and reeling on which Eminem — ne Marshall Mathers, a cocky, 24-year-old white rapper from Detroit, signed to Dr. Dre’s slow-starting Aftermath label — gladly presents himself as rap’s latest clown prince.
There’s no question we need someone like Eminem. The current face of hip-hop is so sullen that it’s often hard to recall a time when rap could be deliciously funny — truly naughty by nature. The Slim Shady LP marks the return of irreverent, wiseass attitude to the genre, heard throughout the album in its nonstop barrage of crudely funny rhymes (”I get blunted offa funny homegrown, ‘cause when I smoke out, I hit the trees harder than Sonny Bono”). In ”Role Model,” he gleefully debunks the idea of rappers as heroes (”So if I said I never do drugs, that would mean I lie and get f —ed more than the President does”). In the album’s funniest slice of black humor, a smart-ass parody of Will Smith’s unctuous ”Just the Two of Us” called ”97’ Bonnie & Clyde,” Eminem and his baby daughter take a pleasant drive to a lake — into which he tosses the dead body of the child’s mother. Sending up the gooey sentiments and pop melody of the Smith hit, Eminem raps: ”Mama said she wants to show you how far she can float/And don’t worry about that little boo-boo on her throat.”
But as much as he brazenly yanks your funny bone, Eminem is also intent on crossing the wide line between humor and horror. With Dre providing a backdrop of predominantly spare rhythm tracks and occasional juicy melodies — skeletal versions of the G funk he pioneered earlier this decade — Eminem plays the role of the debauched character Slim Shady, rapping in a singsongy whine that makes his rhymes sometimes seem less insidious than they are. That coldly-calculated-to-offend alter ego considers date rape (”Guilty”), wants to ”turn the planet into alcoholics” (”If I Had”), admits to a preference for acid and cocaine (”Just Don’t”), and, in ”My Fault,” isn’t overly concerned when a gal pal overdoses on drugs at a rave (”Quit trying to swallow your tongue/Want some gum?”). Even pop fans deadened to graphic lyrics are likely to flinch at a beyond-tasteless line like ”My favorite color is red/Like the blood shed on Kurt Cobain’s head/When he shot himself dead.” (Next on Celebrity Death Match: Eminem vs. Courtney Love!)
For all its unapologetic outrageousness and old-school yuks, The Slim Shady LP isn’t merely a reaction to the post-gangsta era of hip-hop (or the antimacho, almost asexual world of alt-rock). It may also mark the ascension in pop of the same knuckleheaded, millennial-caveman mentality that’s bum-rushing the culture at large, from drooling men’s magazines to bombastic wrestling telecasts to teen movies that increasingly recall the we-so-horny subtlety of the Porky’s oeuvre. The Slim Shady LP is music to crank between salivating over issues of Maxim and cheering on the Undertaker on WCW Raw. It’s slick, savvy, and boorish — the owner of an ornery heart. C+