After he shook up the world with his ground-breaking masterpiece, The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem evolved as an artist, grew and matured as a person (and a man), and gave us The Eminem Show.
This was the album and period in his career that solidified some vital changes. Firstly, it elevated him from a rapper to a songwriter, in my opinion. Of course the songs on the previous two albums were still, songs, but what I mean is, they were more-so raps with choruses. Where as, tracks such as “Cleaning Out My Closet”, “Say Goodbye Hollywood”, and “‘Till I Collapse” have somewhat bigger and longer-lasting themes to them, and Eminem remains more sharply dedicated to subject-matter from beginning to end. He doesn’t just have some freestyle verses and a hook. He began to focus in a new way.
Secondly, this is where he went from rap superstar to global icon, when he truly became Elvis. And I say that, not to induce the cliché and often self-imposed comparison due to the obvious race similarities relative to genre, but more-so to imply Eminem’s status as a musical figure at this point in time. You could of course also compare him to Michael Jackson at this time and really any number of past legendary musical icons. Those comparisons may seem a little rash or over the top to some, but when you consider the Earth-shattering fame of those people, and take a look back, he really was that huge.
At this point in time, Eminem was unquestionably ‘the’ voice of MULTIPLE generations. He had grabbed the attention of the youth with his quick wit and originality, demanded the attention of critics and politicians with his daring provocations and dark fantasies and earned everybody else’s attention with his musical gusto. So what did he do next? he won an Oscar.
When analysing Eminem’s career, 2002 is always a significant year due to the transition Em made as an artist. He was still seen as a foul-mouthed, politically-charged rapper but he was taken more seriously as a musician by people who had prior to this, dismissed him or perhaps, not given him a fair chance in their mind. The Eminem Show was his most serious attempt, to be taken seriously.
On both The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP – despite the fact that the music and lyrics were to be taken very seriously (in terms of craft and execution), and despite the fact his content was very adult, irrespective of his tongue-in-cheek overtones and often intentionally juvenile ideas… The Eminem Show is what put all doubts to rest that Eminem was not just a great lyricist, artist and poet, but that he was here to stay, and, he could seriously produce.
Eminem has never truly gotten the credit he deserves as a producer and it bemuses me to think that, when if you ask most fans which album of his they think is produced best, they’ll say, The Eminem Show. Ask the same question of most music critics and they’ll probably agree, and yet… ask them if they think Em is close to Dr. Dre as a producer and they’ll laugh at you and dismiss it without a second thought.
Dr. Dre had a major hand in producing The Marshall Mathers LP and he also produced some songs on The Slim Shady LP, yet people will say the beats Eminem produced on The Eminem Show are better, but THEN say, Em isn’t close to Dre. I don’t know about yourself but to me, that just makes no sense. It just shows that people are blinded by status. I think if Eminem was solely a producer, he’d be accredited as one of the top dogs. It’s the fact that he’s known primarily as a rapper, with producing being his secondary interest, I think, that makes it hard for people to elevate him in that sector. Similar to how many underrate Kanye West as a rapper, for the same reasons in reverse.
Em also played a role in producing his first two major albums, often getting credited as co-producer.
What’s laughable is that Dre often gets credited as full producer when everybody from 2Pac to past production collaborators have said that sometimes he’ll do as little as coming in, listening to what’s been done, fine-tune the odd element and it’s then a ‘Dre beat’. Where as Em creates original melodies in his mind and would hum them to the studio musicians, which, is the vital structure.
What makes Em’s beats so great to me, and particularly great on The Eminem Show is the melodies. When you think of a classic song of his, produced by him, you can immediately think of the melody that gives life to the song. Try it now, think of “The Way I Am”, or “Without Me”, or try… “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” – you can hear those melodies right there in your mind. Some of which sound like classic musical melodies which are just so instantly memorable.
This is why Em is always best producing his own music himself, as his flows are by nature, melodic. In the past he would create the structure and sound of a flow before even hearing a beat. This is why on The Eminem Show, he sounds as if he’s embodying the music with his voice, as he could create the music that matched the flows in his mind, perfectly. So the end result, is better.
From almost every standpoint, this time in Eminem’s career was his peak. He was at his very best lyrically and musically, as a songwriter, as a word-smith; he was as known, acclaimed and respected as he had ever been and his influence was felt worldwide. Make no mistake about it, The Eminem Show, and this point, was Eminem’s absolute peak.
Perhaps the only element of Eminem that was already beginning to decline in a sense, was his artistry. The Eminem Show may have emphasized his status, marked a transition, solidified his legacy and shown the man at his prime… but there’s no question that The Marshall Mathers LP is a greater piece of art. This is because Em’s personal life and public persona’s had began to become more entangled than ever before, so naturally, his music followed suit. I don’t think it’s that he didn’t have the concepts in him at this point, it’s just that his focus had begun to shift. His music became more personal because his personal issues were evidently, heating up.
Make no mistake about it though, in no sense did Eminem ‘tone it down’ on The Eminem Show. He may have been less blatantly vile or daring, but that’s because this album has a different intent, is an evolution, and a more mature, head-on collision. I’ve heard a lot of people claim that Em went soft after The Marshall Mathers LP but that’s such absolute nonsense. On The Eminem Show, Em tackles political issues more wholeheartedly than ever before, he fully embraces his status as a voice of a generation and challenges hypocrisy and government pressure in a totally relentless manner.
Eminem went from dissing Britney Spears to pissing on the lawns of the White House. The Marshall Mathers LP was the way it was because it was a reaction to misunderstanding, a further provocation and a conceptual album. The Eminem Show is a more self-serious response to the reaction with Em also looking more outwardly and tackling bigger issues in a more adult way.
As the title of the album suggests however, The Eminem Show was also his most personal album thus far. Whilst he certainly took advantage of his status to push the envelope and responded to some serious political chatter, much of the album is comprised of personal grapples. The same can be said for pretty much all of his albums, it’s just to different degrees of course. I do believe this is the album where he managed to strike the balance most close to perfect though.
If it was this album, and this time in Eminem’s career that showed everybody why he could not be dismissed… it would be his next album, which would imply why he perhaps could be.
By Nick Sullivan