Has Eminem lost his edge?
In 2000, Eminem’s ”The Marshall Mathers LP” attracted unprecedented attention both for its limber, creative lyrics and its violent, homophobic, misogynist messages. Two years later, after some of the most virulent condemnation – and biggest sales figures – in history, Mathers returns to the mic with ”The Eminem Show.” But when the album drops on June 4, will the real Slim Shady stand up?
After an advance listen to the album, I can definitively say…sort of. Make no mistake, Em is still the nastiest rapper this side of Chuck D. His lightning-fast elocution, complex internal rhyme structures, and stellar vocabulary are all back in force.
But as Chuck once said, ”The rhythm is the rebel.” Most listeners will be listening to hear if the Shady remains as angry and raw as ever, or whether he has succumbed to pressure far and wide and backed away from his, uh, questionable lyrics.
Early on in the album, it sounds like Mathers is intent on giving a giant ”f— you” to those who reprimanded him and criticized his last album. He goes on the attack early and often, hitting the media, Lynne Cheney, ‘N Sync, Moby (huh?), and, of course, various members of his family.
But as the album goes on, it becomes clear that for all his bluster and all the rehearsed anger at his critics, Eminem ultimately took their message to heart. The overwhelming homophobia and homicidal rage that permeate ”The Marshall Mathers LP” are almost entirely absent here. To my ear, he only uses ”faggot” once, and that’s as a general epithet in an angry tirade about the father who abandoned him. And while that hardly qualifies him for a GLAAD humanitarian award, it’s a far cry from the incessant references on the last album.
Also muted are the ”The Marshall Mathers LP”’s constant violent references to women. Only one track, ”Drips,” includes the kind of reprehensible raunch of, say, ”Kill You” or ”Who Knew” from the last album. But this time, Em leaves most of the nastiest nuggets of dubious wisdom to his comrades in D12, who guest on the track. And nothing here comes close to ”Kim,” the grisly tale of spousal murder on the last disc.
And while Eminem has always been brutally honest – emphasis on brutally – with his inner demon, now he lets us see a bit more of his vulnerability and, dare I say it, tenderness. On ”Hallie’s Song” he breaks into full-fledged vocals with loving odes to his daughter who ”makes it all seem OK,” and ”who he loves more than life itself.” In the same song, he again addresses ex-wife Kim, but this time with a remembrance of the love they once shared and the bruised feelings she left him with.
In all, ”The Eminem Show” does present a kinder, gentler Slim Shady. And, truth be told, he does sacrifice a bit of his ”f— the world” rebelliousness with the drop in shock value. But rest assured, Eminem is still angry, if a little less so. But he’s also still rich, and come June 4, he’ll be at least a little more so.
Will you buy ”The Eminem Show”?