Through The Past Darkly: Eminem's Marshall Mather's LP

The pieces most vital to the lifeblood of culture hardly ever get their fair share of credit when history is discussed. Sure, civil wars, technological inventions and diplomats are important, but the arts have a strong influence on the course of history, whether you choose to believe it or not. Anything one finds valuable or […]

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The pieces most vital to the lifeblood of culture hardly ever get their fair share of credit when history is discussed. Sure, civil wars, technological inventions and diplomats are important, but the arts have a strong influence on the course of history, whether you choose to believe it or not. Anything one finds valuable or depraved about our generation can take solace in the fact that it all started with Em. Whether you were white, black, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitan, you had the album. I remember sitting in class, on a dry, boring day sitting in Ms. Stevens (of course her name wasn’t Ms. Stevens, but I can’t really remember her name, as it was a long time ago and many drinks have been consumed since then) 5th grade Social Studies class at Angier Elementary. George Watson (same thing) soon spoke the words that would change my life for better or worse (probably worse). “I just bought the new Eminem album.” He showed me the album case. Sooner or later, everyone had the album. As a naive adolescent, grasping at strings of knowledge, naturally I had a slew of questions that needed answers: What is VD? What’s a c###? At what time, approximately, am I officially allowed to slap b######? Thank God that all of these questions were soon revealed to me, and I have Em to thank for that.

2. Kill You

It’s weird to me now, but when first I heard Em say “Imma be another rapper dead for poppin’ off at the mouth at s### I shouldn’t of said,” I really believed it. I figured there was no way a person could get away with saying this type of stuff, and consequences must surely be in the foreseeable future. Fortunately Em is still alive, but when “Kill You” was first released, it commenced a tidal wave of controversy. In 2000, Em was even petitioned by Ontario attorney general Jim Flaherty to ban the rapper from performing a scheduled concert in Toronto and ultimately ban him from access to enter Canadian border lines. Citing “Kill You” as the main source, Flaherty stated: “I personally don’t want anyone coming to Canada who will come here and advocate violence against women.” After a much heated debate between Canadian legislators and free speech advocates, Em was granted access to the country and the right to perform. But the controversy didn’t end there. Writing for The Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, Edward G. Armstrong investigated the modern popularity of Gangsta Rap, and cited Eminem as the main culprit: “Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP became the fastest selling rap album of all time. Violent and misogynist lyrics are found in eleven of the album’s fourteen songs. Worse still, nine of the eleven songs depict killing women, with drowning becoming a new modus operandi. Comparing the lyric content of gangsta rap music’s foundational period with that of Eminem shows the following: In terms of violent and misogynist lyrics, gangsta rap music (1987-1993) scores a 22 percent while Eminem (2000) reaches 78 percent.” Aside from “Kim,” “Kill You” is Eminem’s most offensive song, especially with lyrics like:

Put your hands down b####, I ain’t gonna shoot you
I’ma pull YOU to this bullet, and put it through you
Shut up s###, you’re causing too much chaos
Just bend over and take it like a s###, OK Ma?
“Oh, now he’s raping his own mother, abusing a w####,
snorting coke, and we gave him the Rolling Stone cover?”

Eminem- Kill You

With all that said, it’s probably one of my favorite songs on the album. S###, what does that say about me?

3. Stan

Later on in life, during my unfortunate path as English major, I would encounter much more tragic stories than this. However, as a ten year old, Em’s story of an obsessive fan named Stan, a playful change on the word “fan,” resonated with me in a strong way. Stan is dangerously obsessed with Em, so much to the point where he is willing to cut his wrists in a deranged attempt to be closer to the rapper. Things take a turn for the worse when Em, failing to respond to Stan’s fan letters in speedy fashion, he locks his pregnant wife in a trunk a proceeds to drive over a bridge. In the first three verses Em plays the role of Stan, only to address to Stan as himself in the last verse:

I’m sorry I didn’t see you at the show, I must’ve missed you
Don’t think I did that s### intentionally just to diss you
But what’s this **** you said about you like to cut your wrists too?
I say that s### just clownin’ dog,
Come on, how f##### up is you?
You got some issues Stan, I think you need some counseling
To help your *** from bouncing off the walls when you get down some
And what’s this s### about us meant to be together?
That type of s### will make me not want us to meet each other
Eminem “Stan”

Clearly the story described in “Stan” is extreme, but it does shed light on a troubling issue: when fans mistake entertainers as their friends or long lost relatives. Sampling Dido’s “Thank You,” the song would eventually go on to win a Grammy. At the 2001 Grammy Awards, Elton John (possibly the most famous homosexual man in the world, thereby temporarily silencing the many critics of Em’s supposed homophobia) performed the song with Eminem in one of the most memorable music moments in music history. Aside from “Drug Ballad,” “Stan” is my favorite Eminem track.

4. Paul (Skit)
“Em what’s going on, it’s Paul, uh…Dre gave me a copy, of the new album, and, I just…(sighs) f### it.”

5. Who Knew
On much of the album, Eminem not only spends a lot time inciting criticism, but also defending himself. “Who Knew” is entirely made up of such contrast, with Em directly addressing the critics of his music and his violent lyrical content. Em’s most logical argument is that he is not to blame for the young kids who decide to imitate the crazy scenarios in his songs, but rather the parents who clearly have a lack of control over their own offspring. The age-old debate about violent content continues to rage on with no ending in sight, but I tend to agree with Em’s perspective when he says:

Quit tryin to censor music, this is for your kid’s amusement
(The kids!) But don’t blame me when lil’ Eric jumps off of the terrace
You shoulda been watchin him – apparently you ain’t parents
Eminem “Who Knew”

6. Steve Berman (Skit)
Eminem: Heyyy!
Steve: Hey, Em, what’s up?
Eminem: Steve Berman. What’s goin’ on, man, how you doin? Good to see you again. What’s up?
Steve: Em, could you come here and have a seat, please?
Eminem: Umm, yeah, what’s…
Steve: Vannessa, shut the door.
Secretary: Okay.
Eminem: So what’s up? How’s orders looking for the first week?
Steve: It would be better if you gave me nothing at all.
Eminem: Wh-
Steve: This album is less than nothing. I can’t sell this f###### record.
Eminem: Wha-
Steve: Do you know what’s happening to me out there?
Eminem: Wh-wha-what’s the problem?
Steve: Violent Ground told me to go f### myself!
Eminem: Who’s Violent…?
Steve: Tower Records told me to shove this record up my ass! Do you know what it feels like to be told to have a record shoved up your ass?
Eminem: But, I-
Steve: I’m gonna lose my f#####’ job over this. You know why Dre’s record was so successful? He’s rappin’ about big-screen tv’s, blunts, 40’s and b######. You’re rappin’ about homosexuals and Vicodin.
Eminem: I mean-
Steve: I can’t sell this s###!
Eminem: What-
Steve: Either change the record or it’s not coming out!
Eminem: What, I-
Steve: Now get the f### out of my office!
Eminem: What am I supposed-
Steve: NOW!
Eminem: Alright man, whatever.

7. The Way I Am
I remember waiting in eager anticipation for Carson Daily to premiere the video for “The Way I Am,” on TRL. In the days before Youtube, Spotify, and Pandora, TRL was a big deal. I never once voted for a video, but I always hoped my favorite songs would be on there. Although white, Eminem seemed like a big difference between Christina Aguilera, NSYNC, and Britney Spears (Though I would be lying if I said I didn’t rock out to “Lucky” back in the day.”) Thanks to Eminem, I finally had a more firm understanding of the firmness I felt while watching the “Oops I Did It Again” video. Any who, “The Way I Am” was a smash single, and takes off right where “Who Knew” left off, when Eminem defending his particular brand of entertainment in a more aggressive manner.

I’m so sick and tired of being admired
That I wish that I would just die or get fired
And dropped from my label, let’s stop with the fables
I’m not gonna be able to top on “My Name is… ”
And pigeon-holed into some pop-py sensation
That got me rotation at rock’n’roll stations
And I just do not got the patience (got the patience)…
To deal with these cocky Caucasians who think
I’m some w##### who just tries to be black ’cause I talk
With an accent, and grab on my balls, so they always keep asking
The same f###### questions (f###### questions)…
What school did I go to, what hood I grew up in
The why, the who what when, the where, and the how
‘Til I’m grabbing my hair and I’m tearing it out
-Eminem “The Way I Am”

8. The Real Slim Shady
Back in the day, a television program called “The Box” aired nothing but popular music videos. Viewers could call in and request videos, or even purchase videos (in the pre-Youtube era) in VHS format. “The Real Slim Shady” was the first video I ever purchased with The Box, even though there were plenty that I wanted to buy. If you were alive during this time then you are well aware that this song was, simply, the undisputed “jam” in 1999. Radio, MTV, and VH1 played the song relentlessly, and millions of people copped The Marshall Mathers LP strictly off the strength of “The Real Slim Shady.” It should be noted here that a lot of my everyday (although inappropriate) language originated from this song. For instance, at age 10, an older/more knowledgeable friend had to explain to me what a VD and V##### was. On every Eminem album, aside from Encore, has featured a sort of jokey/catchy song like this. “My Name Is,” “Without Me,” “Hi My Name Is,” “Ass Like That,” and “Just Lose It,” are examples.

9. Remember Me
“Remember Me” is arguably the weakest track on the album, even though it definitely has its merits. Bringing along Sticky Fingers and former Aftermath Records emcee RBX along for the ride, Em spits one of the best verses of his career. Being a white rapper, Em typically gets less than his fair share of respect when it comes to debates about the GOATS (Greatest of All Time) of hip hop. However, in my book, Em deserves no less than a Top 10 spot, based on longevity, creativity, and most importantly, rhyme skills. Cultural journalist Chuck Klosterman may have said it best when arguing the case for why Em is his favorite rapper ever. According to Klosterman, Em is the most understandable emcee, based on his reliance on clear enunciation (unlike Future). Masta Ace, a hip hop legend dating back to the late 80s, is one of Em’s biggest influences in this regard. On “Til I Collapse” from 2002’s The Eminem Show, Em raps schools us on his own personal feelings about where he ranks with the greatest: “It goes Reggie (Redman), Jay-Z, 2pac, and Biggie, Andre from Outkast, Jada, Kurupt, Nas, and then me.” A strong argument can be made that Em is actually better than a few of those rappers, but I’m not saying any names…

10. I’m Back
Every artist has that one song that for whatever reason, it never gets its fair due. For The Beatles, it’s “Rain” and “Rocky Raccoon,” for Em it’s definitely “I’m Back.” While it’s not as memorable as the other cuts on the album, Em showcases his lyrical ability and trademark wit:

So I just, throw up a middle finger and let it linger
longer than the rumor that I was stickin it to Christina
Cause if I ever stuck it to any singer in showbiz
it’d be Jennifer Lopez, and Puffy you know this!
I’m sorry Puff, but I don’t give a f### if this chick was my own mother
I still f### her with no rubber and c## inside her
and have a son and a new brother at the same time
and just say that it ain’t mine, what’s my name?
-Eminem “I’m Back”

On a side note, the line: “What do I think of suc-cess?/It sucks, too much press/I’m stressed/Too much stares two breasts/too upset” Jay-Z bit (excuse me, borrowed) that line for his song “Success” on the American Gangster album.

11. Marshall Mathers
Unfortunately, whenever I hear this song, I want nothing more in this world than to beat someone’s ass. I know that’s not a healthy response, but it’s true. In this one, Em rages against everybody from New Kids on The Block, Vanilla Ice, Britney Spears, parents, 2pac impersonators, and most importantly, fellow Detroit emcees Insane Clown Posse. According to sources, the whole Em vs. ICP feud happened around the release of The Slim Shady LP, when Em starting promoting a possible feature with ICP without first consulting the group. Regardless of the fact that ICP are some of the most worthless human beings on the face on the earth, and furthermore, make hideous sounding music, Em destroyed whatever shred of actual legitimacy the group had when he said: “Slim A###?/You damn right slim a###/I don’t get f##### in mine like you two little flaming f######.” As I’m sure everyone will agree to, talking about another person’s a### is never actually cool, so Em had every right times three to address ICP’s pathetic disses. Aside from the fact that it is never cool for grown men to wear clown paint as a fashion statement, Em’s slanderous attack has carried on indefinitely, I have never been able to take the group seriously. The beef excerabated the moment Em spotted a known affiliate of ICP engaged in a passionate kiss with Em’s girlfriend, Kim. On “The Kiss (Skit)” from The Eminem Show, Em fictionalizes that fateful night when he confronted an affiliate of ICP with a gun and proceeded to pistol whip the s### out of him. After an inevitable trial, for which he faced five years in jail, Em was sentenced to one year of community service. Circuit Court Judge Denise Langford Morris handed down the generous sentence, not without taking the time to criticize Em’s controversial lyrics. To this day, ICP are the biggest losers to walk the planet.

12. Ken Kaniff (skit)
It’s common knowledge that Marshall Mathers goes by many different aliases. Eminem is obviously the most popular, but Slim Shady is popular as well. One of his lesser talked about aliases is Ken Kaniff, and if you have ever had the opportunity to listen to Ken Kaniff skits, you will completely understand my decision to not reproduce the transcript. Thanks for your understanding.

13. Drug Ballad
Eminem’s long battle with drugs has been well documented. The most telling track on his 2009 album, Relapse, is “Deja Vu,” where Em laments in painfully honest fashion about just how bleak his life is on drugs. What’s interesting is how different the somber tone is in comparison to the carefree “Drug Ballad,” where Em prophetically raps “In the longrun these drugs are probably gonna catch up to me sooner or later/But f### it, I’m on one.” On a sidenote, that particular line is the official first usage of the popular “I’m on one” hip hop colloquialism, which of course led to the smash DJ Khaled hit. “Drug Ballad” is not only my favorite song on the album, but my favorite Slim Shady song of all time. It’s amazing how the man can spin drugs, murder, Marky Mark Whalberg, irresponsible sex, violence into such endearing, light-hearted subject matter.

14. Amityville
In 1977, Jan Arson published a non-fictional account of a murder in the Amityville suburbs of Long Island, New York. Em’s “Amityville” is another one of those songs that seems to unfairly fall by the wayside. It’s a shame, because “Amityville” features some of Em’s finest rapping of his career. Bringing along fellow D12 member and Detroit native, Bizarre, Em adds another classic song to a classic album.

15. B#### Please II
On “B#### Please II,” bring along West Coast legends Snoop, Xzibit, Nate Dogg, and of course, Dr. Dre. Many felt that Dr. Dre was finished before he decided to take the huge risk of signing a white emcee from Detroit. Obviously, he made the right decisions, to the tune of millions of dollars. Whenever Dr. Dre and Em hook up on a track, aside from “I Need a Doctor,” its of classic material. “Crack A Bottle,” “Say What You Say,” “Encore,” “Guilty Conscience,” “What’s The Difference,” and of course, “Forgot About Dre.” On another note, I’ve always felt that Em’s verse on “B#### Please II” is the most succinct and insightful verse of his entire career about his personal approach to music, his public persona, and his overall DGAF attitude. So, without further adieu…

“What if he’s right? I’m just a criminal
Making a living off of the world’s misery
What in the world gives me the right
To say what I like, and walk around flippin the bird
Livin the urban life, like a white kid from the ‘burbs
Dreamin at night of screamin at mom, schemin to leave
Run away from home and grow to be as evil as me
I just want you all to notice me and people to see
that somewhere deep down, there’s a decent human being in me
It just can’t be found, so the reason you’ve been seeing this me
Is cause this is me now, the recent dude who’s being this mean
So when you see me, dressin up like a nerd on TV
Or heard the CD usin the fag word so freely
It’s just me being me, here want me to tone it down?
Suck my f##### dick, you f#####
You happy now?
-Eminem “B#### Please II”

16. Kim
Throughout his career, Eminem has never been the type to craft the standard hip hop love song. In fact, many of his songs involve violence and extremely degrading lyrics. “Spacebound,” “Superman,” and “Love the Way You Lie” are just a few examples, but by far the icing on the cake in this category is “Kim,” the 16th track on The Marshall Mathers LP. The song involves an extremely distraught Em ranting at his girlfriend, ultimately killing her and stashing her remains in the trunk. Considering Kim is a real person (played by the late Brittany Murphy in 8 Mile, and at the time, Em’s longtime girlfriend, the song is beyond eerie:

Ha! Go ahead yell!
Here I’ll scream with you!
Don’t you get it b####, no one can hear you?
Now shut the f### up and get what’s comin to you
You were supposed to love me
{*Kim choking*}
-Eminem “Kim”

This is not the only time Em fantasizes about killing his baby momma in songs, such as in Dr. Dre’s “What’s The Difference,” where Em raps:

[Em] I mean it dawg, you ever need somebody offed – who’s throat is it?
[Dre] Well if you ever kill that Kim b####, I’ll show you where the ocean is

Well that’s cool, and I appreciate the offer
But if I do decide to really murder my daughter’s momma
I’ma sit her up in the front seat and put sunglasses on her
And cruise around wit her for seven hours through California
And have her wavin at people (Hi!) Then drop her off on the corner
at the police station and drive off honkin the horn for her
-Eminem “What’s The Difference”

Later in his career, Shady took a much more sympathetic/mature and simultaneously self-critical angle in his music, even in his raps about Kim. In “When I’m Gone,” from his the greatest hits album, Curtain Call:

Daddy look what I made”, Dad’s gotta go catch a plane
“Daddy where’s Mommy? I can’t find Mommy where is she?”
I don’t know go play Hailie, baby, your Daddy’s busy
Daddy’s writing a song, this song ain’t gonna write itself
I’ll give you one underdog then you gotta swing by yourself
Then turn right around in that song and tell her you love her
And put hands on her mother, who’s a spitting image of her
That’s Slim Shady, yeah baby, Slim Shady’s crazy
Shady made me, but tonight Shady’s rocka-by-baby.
-Eminem “When I’m Gone”

17. Under The Influence
On April 11, 2006, Proof, Em’s long-time friend and hype man was shot outside of a club on 8 mile in Detroit. Despite his violent lyrics, Em always maintained that he made his songs strictly for entertainment purposes. But by time of his third studio release, “Eminem Show,” Eminem had unintentionally involved himself in one of the most memorable rap feuds in hip-hop history, mostly due to his protégé’s (50 cent) long-standing beef with Ja Rule. Suddenly, Em was in new territory. Ja’s career was never to be the same after 50 cent and Eminem released a tirade of diss tracks against him, such as “Back Down” and their rendition of 2pac’s “Hail Mary.” Coupled with his beef with Ja, Em was also in a public showdown with Benzino, a terrible rapper who is mostly known for helping to found The Source magazine. Eventually, Em came to his senses, stating in interviews that he was pulling himself from the hip-hop battle arena. Eminem’s “Like Toy Soldiers,” from 2004’s Encore, recounts his difficulties with transitioning from an entertainer to prize fighter. The video for the song is eerie, because it portrays Proof getting murdered 2 years before the rapper was to die. “Under The Influence” is one of Proof’s most notable guest verses, and the song continues to be a favorite among fans of both artists. The title is somewhat ironic, because Em would have a fierce drug addiction after the death of his best friend, a theme that pervades much of his follow up record, 2009’s Relapse.

18. Criminal
Throughout his career, the only rival Em has in terms of unfair criticism is President Obama. I can remember hearing countless stories about how Em’s album was causing the downfall of the country, or at least expediting the process. Many complaints were issued by parents who felt that Em’s violent lyrics were detrimental to their offspring’s well-being. However, Em never took these bogus allegations lying down, constantly attacking his critics with good ole’ logic, such as in “The Way I Am” when Em spits:

And all of this controversy circles me and it
Seems the the media immediately
Points a finger at me so I point one back at ’em
But not the index or pinky
Or the ring or the thumb, it’s the one you put up
When you don’t give a f### when you won’t just put up
Wit the b####### they pull ’cause they full of s### too
When a dudes gettin bullied and shoos up the school
And they blame it on Marylin and the heroine
Where were the parents at? And look where its at?
Middle America now it’s a tragedy
Now it’s so sad to see, an upper class city
Havin’ this happenin’ then attack Eminem
‘Cause I rap this way? But I’m glad ’cause they feed me the fuel
That I need for the fire to burn
And it’s burnin, and I have returned
-Eminem “The Way I Am”

Sampling Aerosmith’s legendary “Dream On,” with “Sing From The Moment” Em goes further on the issue, providing a in-depth account of why many fans gravitate toward his music:

They say music can alter moods and talk to you
Well can it load a gun up for you , and c### it too
Well if it can, then the next time you assault a dude
Just tell the judge it was my fault and I’ll get sued
Eminem “Sing For The Moment

And furthermore:

They say music can alter moods and talk to you
Well can it load a gun up for you , and c### it too?
Well if it can, then the next time you assault a dude
Just tell the judge it was my fault and i’ll get sued

That’s why we sing for these kids, who don’t have a thing
Except for a dream, and a f#####’ rap magazine
Who post pin-up pictures on their walls all day long
Idolize they favorite rappers and know all they songs
Or for anyone who’s ever been through s### in their lives
Till they sit and they cry at night wishin’ they’d die
Till they throw on a rap record and they sit, and they vibe
We’re nothin’ to you but we’re the f#####’ s### in they eyes
-Eminem “Sing For The Moment”

Despite the fact that Em spends the majority of time defending his lyrical content and violent lyrics, on “Criminal” he fully accepts his role as hip hop’s bad guy. On the chorus Em states: “Every time I write a rhyme people think it’s a crime to tell them what’s on my mind, I guess I’m a criminal.” Furthermore:

“My morals went thhbbpp when the president got oral
Sex in his Oval Office on top of his desk
Off of his own employee
Now don’t ignore me, you won’t avoid me
You can’t miss me, I’m white, blonde-haired
and my nose is pointy
I’m the bad guy who makes fun of people that die
in plane crashes and laughs
As long as it ain’t happened to him
Slim Shady, I’m as crazy as Em
-inem and Kim combined – [*kch*] the maniac’s in
-Eminem “Criminal”

19. The Kids (Bonus)
“I’m an idiot,” I thought to myself. Somehow I had managed to leave, quite possibly, the most offensive, violent album in the history of the world out in the common family room. Like an idiot, I looked all over for the disc, and I can say with confidence that I looked harder for this album than I had ever looked for anything in my entire life. Never did it dawn on me that my parents had taken the album, fearing that I would become the embodiment of the shady lifestyle. Eventually, I went to Wal-Mart and bought the edited version. Although much of the album was edited, and unlistenable, complete with long pauses of nothing at all, about 50 percent of the curses were still there however. I guess it was impossible to edit the entire album, so the wise editors only edited half of the disc. All the tracks remained, except for “Kim,” which I figure would be nothing but a completely blank track if some brave soul attempted to edit it. “Kim” was replaced with “The Kids.”

It’s shocking to me that it has been over a decade since this album came out. Although Em’s follow up, The Eminem Show is a classic in its own right, the rapper has never come anywhere near topping the brilliance of this record. Em has never released a wack album to be sure, and even 2009’s Relapse gets it’s unfair share of hate, Marshall Mathers LP will always rank as his magnum opus. On Em’s latest offering, Recovery, the tone is almost completely different as a more mature Em takes the stage. The cover is all too telling, with Em donning black hair instead of his trademark blonde dye, walking solemnly in the distance. The album is definitely good, but entirely different from Marshall Mathers LP: gone are the goofy songs like “The Real Slim Shady” and skits with Ken Kaniff. However, a look at Eminem’s transformation is more indicative of the fact that the kids growing up listening to his inappropriate music are all adults themselves…like me. I always hear middle-aged people talking about The Beatles Sgt’s Pepper as the defining record of their generation, but I doubt anyone would disagree that Em’s Marshall Mathers LP was one of the defining records of our generation. It just so happens that this record spoke extensively about violence, rape, drugs, and all things X-Rated instead of Mr. Kite. As a result, my generation consists of some of the most well rounded individuals you will ever meet.

Thanks Em.