I can’t recall an album that my generation was more excited for than the second commercial effort from Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem. In the year 2000, nobody had a more profound star presence in music than Eminem. One year prior, he had released The Slim Shady LP, an album full of witty rhymes and chart topping singles that introduced the world to his dark alter ego. Slim Shady actively pursued in hating boy bands, microwaving his pets, bitch-slapping celebrities, and helping convince a man named Grady to murder his cheating girl. He also taught us to smoke weed, drop out of school, and kill people. At this point in time, Eminem was seen as this intelligent and sarcastic twit who guys liked because he was ridiculous, and girls liked because he was a good looking bad boy (including Christina Aguilera, who you may recall said she thought he was cute at the 1999 VMAs). So, when his second commercial album was about to drop, the entire world was freaking out, but nobody had a clue what was to come next.
For a couple of months before the release, I, along with my sixth grade class and the rest of the Massachusetts population, was treated to The Real Slim Shady on Bostons Jamn 94.5, and at school dances. The song was everything we had wanted on a new Eminem album; funny, clever, and slightly angst-ridden. On May 23, 2000, though, my friend was spotted in homeroom with a pre-ordered copy of The Marshall Mathers LP, and was the first kid in our class to have it. The Detroit rapper was seen lying in the gutter, shivering, along with a big PARENTAL ADVISORY sticker in the corner. This was a clue I would not be able to buy it, as my parents still had some control of what CDs came into their home. Of course, I should have known this was inevitable when Eminem made an appearance on TRL sometime around the albums release:
Carson Daly: Its a lot different from your first album.
Eminem: It is, its personal and much more violent.
Carson Daly: It really is a violent album.
Slim Shady was gone at this point. Only Marshall Mathers remained, and Marshall was frustrated with the kind of public image Slim Shady had received.
A few days later, my class was shipped up north for science camp, and it was at this point that I was allowed to hear the album in its entirety. To this day, it’s a rap album that gives me chills. Its so honest, dark, and, well, absolutely ridiculous. While Eminems lighter side was wiped from the face of the Earth, his sarcasm and amazing style continued on this record; you just had to be as evil as Em to appreciate it. Kill You is one of the darkest songs of his career, a track where Eminem describes some sort of twisted fantasy about killing his own mother, with a chainsaw, despite getting the Rolling Stone cover. Its filled with rhymes that are so quick, they almost seem to cut into your soul with every listen. It made an impression on listeners, so they kept listening, despite what they feared.
The album only gets darker. Stan will be an Eminem track that remains in his career highlights for eternity. Here he tells people to actually not listen to him. Yes, hes an icon, yes hes a star, but people dont need to do all the crazy shit he talks about in order to obtain the spotlight. This was a message he heavily advocated, because he knew people were going to take his words literally (more on this later). Who Knew? was one of the more sarcastic numbers on the album where he couldnt believe his lyrics were on trial when our nation was already so fucked up. You want me to fix up lyrics while our president gets his dick sucked? He questioned. Who was really to blame at this point?
The Way I Am was one of his most honest singles, where Marshall Mathers tried to express thats all he can be when hes not on stage. He didnt want to sign your autographs, he didnt want to answer your stupid questions, and he wasnt afraid to tell America about it in a song. And why shouldnt he? If Kurt Cobain had done the same thing, maybe his goals to get the public away from him would have been met, because people definitely listened to Eminem after that. The song established how he truly felt about his sudden success and how it was treating him. But no song on the album was darker or more autobiographical than Marshall Mathers. Its haunting bass line will turn your blood cold, and Eminems voice is more like a father yelling than a rap song. Marshalls problems are not the same problems he was rapping about years prior when he was poor. Now, Marshall has family members trying to get money out of him, people prying at his past, and people giving him shit for emerging from the underground. Success has its benefits, but Mathers was clearly showing us that it also had cons.
The cult favorite Drug Ballad follows, and the song was Eminems chance to goof off about a rather intense subject matter for sixth graders to be digesting. The song will always be seen as an almost slapstick tune from this album, but it freaks me out how true it is. Its amazing to see how many people since have adapted the It doesnt matter as long as you get where your going/Cause none of this shits going to mean shit where were going philosophy to their lives. Amityville showed what the hard life in Detroit was like, and introduced the mainstream audience to Bizarre, and Bitch Please II was a star-studded track filled with a fantastic beat, with appearances by Dre, Snoop, and Xzibit.
Its the last few songs on the album that truly leave an impression on you. Kim remains as yet another standout track that will undoubtedly stick on Eminem’s highlights reel. The whole track is a rant, a freak-out, a tantrum, a whatever you want to call it, of Eminem yelling at his former wife. Its one of the scariest songs I have ever heard. Slayer doesnt even compare to this. The beat just gives me goose bumps, and Eminems angered screaming is so authentic, that you know hes channeling his most honest feelings. Yet, while he is going crazy, burying this girl, and beating her, he cant go on living in this world without her. Its almost a glimpse at the soft side of a psychotic rapper, driven insane by his success. And if that wasnt enough controversy, the final track, Criminal, just made everybody hate him. He bashed the gay community, his mother, the president, his fan base, the church, the record industry, his education, himself, and threatened everybody if he couldnt make it as a rapper, hed be a fucking rapist in a Jason mask. And just like that, Eminems darkest thoughts, fantasies, and corners of his mind were opened for the entire world to see.
Eminem had attacked everyone on this album, and everybody pretty much resented him for it. People protested outside the Grammys, boycotted his records, and spread the word that Eminem was a horrible person. My parents tried to convince me his record was terrible, and he was an awful human being, but I still listened to every word he said. And what happened? Did I turn into some psychotic, woman beating, gun toting, angry, and jealous animal who hates his mother? No, I turned out just fine. Eminem wasnt trying to raise an army to think like him. The fact that people feared this album so much is a total laugh today. Sure, there were some who took his songs too seriously, but Im sure those people would have wound up in trouble eventually. We all listened to this album because it was honest, and it brought up points and ideas that we (at that point) probably couldnt have come up with on our own. This album was a lesson in harsh reality, not on how to live our lives, and, as a result, it has become one of the most important albums of our generation. Hell, it even won some Grammys. Eminem hated his iconic status, but he cemented it the minute he introduced us all to the real Slim Shady; hes just Marshall Mathers, a regular guy.