Saturday, November 4, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1069: Eminem

I’m halfway through a weekend that has me keenly aware of how lucky I am to have so many great friends. If you’re going to have only one kind of luck, being lucky with friends is the best one to have. I’ll take it over a lottery win any day.

Disc 1069 is…The Marshall Mathers LP
Artist: Eminem

Year of Release: 2000

What’s up with the Cover? A washed out photo features Eminem sitting on the stoop of a house in a pair of pants that are way too big for him.

In the lower right corner Tipper’s Revenge lets all the kids out there that this album is ultra-cool, and that they should buy it. Thanks, Tipper!

How I Came To Know It: This was a pretty big album back in 2000 but I only recently bought it after deciding on a whim to delve into Eminem’s back catalogue.

How It Stacks Up:  I have two Eminem albums, this one and his debut “The Slim Shady LP”. They are both pretty awesome but I’m going to give the win to “The Marshall Mathers LP”.

Ratings: 5 stars

“The Marshall Mathers LP” is one of rap music’s great triumphs. Compelling, thought-provoking and unflinchingly honest, if you like rap and you don’t own this album then you need to reconsider your financial priorities.

Eminem’s previous record, “The Slim Shady LP” had launched him into the stratosphere, going multi-platinum and making him both wealthy and unfathomably famous. How that experience would impact someone like whose identity was wrapped up in being an outsider, spitting rhymes about hard knocks is the main theme examined on “Marshall Mathers”.

But to say “Marshall Mathers” is about exploring a theme would be to sell Eminem short. He is not exploring a theme so much as he’s baring his soul. It isn’t pretty, as the anger and invective that drove Eminem’s art on “Slim Shady” remains, but seeing him turn that invective to this new challenge is fascinating and, ultimately, cathartic for both artist and listener alike.

Many of these songs are various ways that Eminem lifts a middle finger to all of the people who seek to define him. Over the course of the record, he rejects those who want to hero worship him, those who want to blame him for being a poor role model and those who want to pigeon-hole his music. On “Who Knew” he pushes back on those who tell him that he should be more careful of what he says, and on “The Way I Am” he expresses resignation that his fame defines him whether he wants it to or not, or as he raps:

“I am whatever you say I am
If I wasn’t, then why would I say I am?
In the paper, the news, every day I am”

The structure of “The Way I Am”, with Eminem falling forward off of every rhyme adds to the feeling that he is spinning out of control. Eminem underscores that he is longer wholly in charge of his identity, but through an unflinching exploration of the experience, he is able to use his own rebellious nature to defeat this new problem.

Eminem also cleverly pays homage to the Eric B. and Rakim song “As the Rhyme Goes On”, where Rakim raps:

“I’m the R to the A to the K – I – M
If I wasn’t then why would I say I am?”

It is a brilliant twist on the braggadocio that is a core element to rap music, where the dream of one day becoming a household name becomes a new kind of burden.

And while all these deeper themes are woven throughout “Marshall Mathers” are amazing, even without them you would be left with some of the most complex and intricate rhymes ever. Eminem is one of rap’s true greats, spitting strings of complex rhymes in rapid-fire staccato and never missing a beat. Most people couldn’t stay on top of his furious pace, let alone write the narrative stories he weaves into each song.

This album is not for the faint of heart. Even though fame weighs heavily on Eminem’s lyrics, his response is to push back by trying to offend in every way possible. “The Marshall Mathers LP” is loaded with homophobic, misogynistic and violent lyrics. No matter how open-minded you consider yourself, there is a good chance that at some point on this record you will be either offended or troubled by something you hear.

 “Kim” is a particularly tough song to endure, featuring over six minutes of a man murdering his ex, complete with sobs and screams. It is hard to listen to and I’m pretty sure once I’m released from the CD Odyssey’s “a full listen, monkey!” rule, I’ll be skipping it when it comes on. But then, that’s the point: Eminem wants to poke until you feel uncomfortable.

The record has too many tracks (18) and is too long (72 minutes) but it is so brilliant as a single cohesive work of art that I forgave it both offences and gave it a perfect score anyway. After all, offending is part of Eminem’s goal.

Best tracks: All tracks, even the ones that make you squirm in your seat

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