Having analyzed Eminem’s debut, The Slim Shady LP and all that the era entailed – we come now to what is maybe the most defining and important of all his albums / moments in his career: The Marshall Mathers LP.
If we look at The Slim Shady LP as the provocation, The Marshall Mathers LP is surely the reaction and a further provocation. After he introduced himself (largely in the form of Slim Shady) and bamboozled society with the first album: he inhaled for a moment, took in all of the confusion, anger, misunderstanding and resentment towards his perceived homophobia and misogyny, balled it up into a fiery ball of artistic fury and spew it back out at the world with tremendous force and conviction.
What makes this album so daring and unique is the blindingly bold execution and plain out refusal to compromise to any degree. Rather than try and back-peddle and argue with the people who didn’t understand his aims, he seized the opportunity to turn misconception into art and used his burning creativity and thriving musical passion to produce paradoxical chaos.
On The Slim Shady LP, Em jokingly jabbed gays and lesbians, as he did many others, and so many took everything out of context, ignored his humour and the aim of the songs and simply took most things he said as his actual opinions. The mere fact he was even mentioning gay people at all apparently meant he must be homophobic to some people. So, on The Marshall Mathers LP he has a lot of fun with this, particularly with the word “faggot”, making sure to use it in and out of context – bemusing middle and upper-class critics who apparently could do nothing other than take words as literal, ignore all literary and poetic form and be pig-headed buffoons.
What they mainly didn’t get was the fact that in working-class Detroit and other urban environments, the word “faggot” was used more as a trivial insult, by one man to the next. The word was somewhat re-appropriated to simply be a derogatory remark, in a macho setting.
It’s also ironic that reams of gay men and women were vehemently and visibly protesting a man for being ignorant, dismissive, biased and prejudiced and in the process, being all those things themselves. They heard and assumed this man was homophobic and hateful, they were being ignorant of context, character-play and tongue-in-cheek and treating art as reality. Basically, these people are utter fucking morons. And the fact they were protesting a piece of art, a piece of partial, variable fiction – as REALITY is totally insane.
Step back for a second and imagine people coming out of the film Taxi Driver and saying Robert De Niro is a racist, psychopathic, vigilante sociopath that must be locked up for the safety of all good people. And, that’s not an exaggeration to make a point; Eminem was literally in-character throughout The Marshall Mathers LP, screaming out fictitious murderous fantasies and splurging anti-social rants, and people treated it as a documentary. As if it was a personal diary. If they seriously believed Eminem was a genuine, slap-happy, bigoted psycho – how do they think he got to that stage, how do they think he got a record deal. I wonder what these people do when they sense trouble, do they call Christian Bale for help assuming he’s really Batman?
I wonder if they’d go to Dr. Dre with medical problems.
So what in essence, is this album about – what did Eminem do with this album. Well, the album’s second single “The Way I Am” sums it up entirely – “I am whatever you say I am” – that sentence explains the concept of the entire album. He was accused of being homophobic, twisted, hateful, spiteful and misogynistic, so what did he do? he simply BECAME those things, for an entire album, analysing it as he did it. Basically, you call him revolting? he’ll be that, you call him vile? he’ll be that, you call him ignorant, petty, childish, anti-social and loud, he’ll be all those things: to the nth degree.
When this album hit it was like an atomic bomb; music, and perhaps popular entertainment as a whole had never seen such public outrage. What’s perhaps misunderstood is exactly who was going so ballistic over this album, it was often said to be angry parents, when in fact it was almost entirely naive, reactionary supreme lefties who often look for any excuse to complain and protest at everything. It’s like it’s their livelihood. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were protesting genuine corruption or injustice, but what’s so infuriating is the fact they’re protesting intelligent, ground-breaking human creativity, purely because they don’t get it. They rarely even try to get it, they make up their mind from headlines and Chinese whispers.
Eminem played the role of public button-pusher with such intense credibility and conviction, and crafted each verse with such brilliant dedication and inventiveness. This album was and is truly, a masterpiece. What’s also impressive is the balance, the way he threaded genuine personal issues and thoughts with ingeniously original, and yet often juvenile provocation, all the while analysing it as he went, a great example of that is right here:
It’s just too much mess, I guess I must just blew up quick (yes)
Grew up quick (no), was raised right
Whatever you say is wrong, whatever I say is right
You think of my name now whenever you say, “Hi”
Became a commodity because I’m W-H-I-T-E
That’s an example of precisely what I meant, from the song “I’m Back”. He’s mixing personal thought, which is clearly genuine, with wordplay and blatant provocation. If it was just a single instance of this it wouldn’t be all that impressive in itself but it’s the fact he does this throughout the entire album, purposely prodding those who don’t get it for the hilarity of those of us who do. And, he really takes this concept to an obsessive extreme.
The Marshall Mathers LP is a bold, boisterous, skull fucking piece of modern art and it should be cherished and revered in its mighty state. It’s unlikely that you’ll witness such a ballsy, justified display of angst and creativity being so publicly effective in your lifetime again. So, if you were old enough to go through it in any measure, be thankful.
2001: That was the year Eminem went from generally known to generally impossible to ignore. He’s shown signs of evolution and growth since this album but I’m doubtful he’ll ever be able to top or even match the artistic merit of, The Marshall Mathers LP ever again. Next up, I’ll look into what I consider Eminem’s most consistent and best album (lyrically and musically), The Eminem Show.