Eminem, The Eminem Show (2002)
The Eminem Show is the aural equivalent of someone reciting his own press clippings. Eminem unsubtly rehashes his tabloid exploits over the past two years: the divorce from his wife Kim, their custody battle over daughter Hallie, the lawsuits flung between himself and his mother Debbie, the gun charge for pistol-whipping one of Kim’s paramours, the congressional hearings held on his music, and his subsequent canonization by suburban rap fans, MTV, and rock critics. “I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley,” he assumes on “Without Me,” which sounds tired and mechanical in comparison to past hits like “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” and “The Real Slim Shady.” Proud to be a multi-platinum superstar, Eminem boasts on “White America” how “It’s like a fucking army marching in back of me,” his voice hoarse and strained with swollen pride. “I go to TRL/Look how many hugs I get!” Meanwhile, The Eminem Show lumbers along with drearily self-produced keyboard bleats mostly produced by Eminem that are more lead-footed than a DMX album. Let’s face it: Eminem’s albums have never been club “bangers” on a par with mentor Dr. Dre’s own efforts. The rapper’s appeal stems from his witty and harrowing exploration of his personal life, particularly his eccentric, estranged mother, difficult childhood growing up in Michigan, and his disastrous long-term relationship with Kim. “I would never dis my momma just to get recognition,” he rationalizes on “Cleanin Out My Closet,” “But just try to envision/Watching your momma popping prescription pills in the kitchen/Bitching that someone’s always going through her purse and shit’s missing/Going through public housing systems, victim of Munchausen’s Syndrome.” In the process, Eminem has jettisoned his array of vocal inflections, which once ranged from a hilarious nasal lisp to a boisterous, puffed-up bellow, in favor of angrily shouting out harangues. After five years and three albums, the 28-year-old rapper’s matricide act is growing stale. “If you could understand the way that I am,” he pleads on “Say Goodbye Hollywood.” “It’s like the little boy in the bubble who never could adapt.” But it’s hard to sympathize with a wealthy entertainer who slaps hoes “off barstools” on “Superman,” no matter how many songs he dedicates to Hallie. Little has changed in Eminem’s world since 1998’s Slim Shady EP, and The Eminem Show reflects an inability to escape his demons and evolve into the thought-provoking storyteller and satirist he’s clearly meant to be. Still, his culture of complaint continues, if only for the record sales it generates. “Reggie [Redman], Jay-Z, Tupac and Biggie/Andre from Outkast, Jada [kiss], Kurupt, Nas, and then me/But in this industry I’m the cause of a lot of envy/So when I’m not put on this list the shit does not offend me,” Eminem whines on “Till I Collapse,” ridiculous considering few in the hip-hop community have publicly questioned his still-amazing rhyming abilities. Expect that to change with The Eminem Show, one of the most disappointing albums of the year. It marked a decisive split between stans who justify/celebrate everything he does, skeptics who blanche at his musical choices while grudgingly conceding his technical prowess, and critics angry at his overuse of misogynist and homophobic language. Mainstream publications celebrated the album at the time of its release, but that acclaim has mostly dissipated today. Aftermath and Shady Records, with distribution by Universal.