So we last left off from The Slim Shady EP. Now, if we consider that the birth of Slim Shady, I think we’d have to consider The Slim Shady LP, the adventures of.
It was with The Slim Shady LP, the year 1999 that Eminem uncomfortably barged his way into the public consciousness and permanently branded his brand of unique, antisocial, psychotic brilliance on hip-hop’s increasingly rosy red ass cheeks forever after. It was his second studio album, technically, but his major-label debut and what will ultimately be remembered as his first album, by most.
After being flown out to LA by Dr. Dre, Em was immediately signed to Dre’s Aftermath label. The now legendary dynamic duo, and longtime friends immediately clicked and knocked out countless tracks amounting to a mass of classic material, in a short space of time. But Jimmy Iovine and Co. still felt Em needed a look. That’s when a bit of bizarre luck struck them as, after a day of drug and tattoo experimentation, Em randomly decided to strip his hair of its colour so that he would look like a light-bulb. He then walked in the next day and they all felt glory had struck, this was now Eminem’s image.
So Shady now had a look, but what about how he sounded?…
Let’s say this album was Slim Shady in youth or adolescence, fully formed and realized. On The Slim Shady EP, Eminem began to toy with the ideas and themes recurring Shady, he had the basic attitude and mindset in motion, the wheels were turning, but he was still on the edge – on the edge of exploding with it. He knew he’d hit upon something, but it was yet to be fully explored, that’s where this album comes in.
The Slim Shady LP (Feb, 1999), came a little over a year after the EP (Dec, 1997) and it’s pretty amazing how quickly Eminem can master and expand a style, and a set of principles once he’s fully au fait with them. From the words of his own mouth, and evident in his art – he’s an extremist. To the nth degree. I personally believe that all genius is born of obsession and that amlost all geniuses have disorders (the basis for most abnormal obsession and compulsive lines of thinking). Normal people create normal things, it takes an abnormal / disordered person to create abnormal brilliance, ala genius. But that’s another discussion.
So, with this album, Em took what he had began to toy with and maximized it. He inhaled the Shady persona like a bad smell, embraced it and spew it back out at us.
What’s noticeably different about this from the EP is the confidence of which Em spits as Shady. Now that he’s at full comfort with the idea of the persona and what it’s all about, he’s more free to indulge in it. And that’s absolutely what this album represents artistically, an indulgence in character, which he continues to represent to this day. What’s particular about The Slim Shady LP though, is how abstract the character indulgence is, how cartoonish and unreal it is, how provocative and surreal. It’s also absolutely fucking hilarious.
Not hilarious in the sense that it makes you laugh out loud like a great stand-up, but hilarious in the deepest, literary sense possible. When I call it hilarious, I don’t mean I sit there in hysterical tears I mean I sit there and marvel at his comedic concepts with a huge grin on my face, gaining a great satisfaction from them. So why do I use the word hilarious and not humorous? Simply because, the word humorous does not do the comedy enough justice. Whilst it probably won’t make you laugh out loud, that’s not because it’s not funny enough, it’s because it’s too funny, too potent and clever, and oh so committed. And it’s also due to the format. A stand-up comedian can ensue that reaction due to timing that’s permitted by a lack of direction, it allows them to be fully conversational in style. Which, amazingly enough, Em manages to replicate to a stellar degree through his lyrics.
So to call them humorous, would be to suggest they’re chuckle-worthy ideas, the type which a cocky journalist or chirpy writer comes out with. And that’s a gross misrepresentation and undersell of f how deeply dark and intrinsically hilarious they are. If you were to take a good majority of his ideas and expand them into an on-stage routine, if you generalized them for the sake of empathy and resonance, they would be top-level stand-up material. But due to the dense nature needed to fit so much into a song lasting less than five minutes, this is simply impractical.
Eminem’s lines on The Slim Shady LP are like poisonous darts to the funny bone. You can’t help but react with a smirk but then suddenly realize just how potent lyrics are.
A premature birth that was four minutes late
Will someone explain to my brain that I just severed
a main vein with a chainsaw and I’m in pain?
Both from the song “Role Model” and perfect examples of what I’m talking about.
He was also very adept at acute social commentary, in the form of situational mayhem and sarcasm. And, he was ahead of his time – talking about spraying an Aerosol can up at the ozone layer (Global Warming) and telling Saddam Hussein not to bother with making another bomb. Don’t forget, this was early 1999. And whilst both Global Warming and Saddam were in the public consciousness, they certainly weren’t being talked about to the degree they were in the following few years, and for a dirt-broke kid from Detroit, it’s surprising how much he knew. Some people are only just NOW catching-up and realizing the full measure of Global Warming for example. And not too many lyricists were openly mocking or even mentioning one of the world’s most evil dictators. Something Em would spearhead again on “Without Me” in 2002, at Osama Bin Laden.
Humour and scathing wit aside, this album was also an exhibition in storytelling. Em had always been a natural storyteller, it’s certainly a forte of his and he was actually already a master of it by the EP, which of course was where we first heard “97 Bonnie and Clyde” which was then called “Just the Two of Us”. And also of course the track “Murder, Murder” which unfortunately didn’t make the LP. I think maybe because of sample issues or some other reason, or maybe it was just a choice.
It’s through the comic-book-esque story tracks like “Brain Damage” and “As the World Turns” where the theme of this album lies. These tracks are a true commitment to the Shady mindset, Em runs free, not letting himself be bound by reality or commonplace. These are his adventure tracks. Then you have the haunting, conceptually compelling genius of “97 Bonnie and Clyde” where he (to paraphrase the man himself) expresses his love for his daughter and his hatred for his wife at the same time. This track was the true birth, or emphasis at least, of Eminem’s core objective as an artist – creating paradoxes. Being funny and heartbreaking, hilarious and disgusting, or any other number of things – simultaneously. Creating an uncomfortable pill to swallow for the average listener, a collision of polarizing and opposing views, themes or moods.
This album was also the beginning of his glaring honesty. Despite the fact it’s viewed as an album of fictional madness, there are also two very brutally honest tracks revealing Em’s depression, those of course being “If I Had” and “Rock Bottom”. The latter of which is rightly regarded by fans as one of his greatest emotional tracks to date, and a legendary rap track full stop. It’s when Em is tested that his best material usually surfaces, when he’s at his lowest or backed into a corner and there is no better example of that than what came next, and what I’ll cover in my next post – The Marshall Mathers LP.