expected on a new disc from Interscope Records -- the brainchild of west-coast gangsta
rapper and producer Dr. Dre -- this first major-label release of rapper Eminem (aka,
Marshall Mathers) is laced with sex, violence, drugs, and misogyny -- not surprising until
a few other facts are taken into account.
First, Eminem is a white, baby-faced singer who doesnt try to emulate the extreme
street language of his African-American counterparts. Neither do his songs portray life on
the street or the violent reality of street gangs. In fact, many of his songs take place
in trailer parks or other venues that he associates with his white trash
Second, Eminem has a sense of humor, something rarely heard on rap recordings. Some of the
humor is decidedly over the edge, but much is smile-inducing. Most notable is his take on
high school. His songs are replete with teachers, hall monitors, bullies, wimps, and kids
who worship bands like Nine Inch Nails and The Spice Girls. Much of his humor is
self-depreciating, painting himself as the fool or class clown. However, the flimsy
attempts at comedy expose Eminem's limitations as an entertainer. With the opening
public-service announcement, we are painfully aware that we are being entertained by a
rapper with a sense of humor, not a comedic writer/lyricist who raps. In fact, the flimsy
attempts at comedy expose Eminems limitations as an entertainer.
Eminem seldom casts himself as the hero of his songs. Rarely does he thump his chest in
acts of self-aggrandizement so common to rappers. He is more comfortable in the role of
buffoon -- he is about to be beat up by the high-school bully, he returns to his
trailer-park home only to find his wife in bed with another man, he is the unhappy youth
who cant really complain because his mother takes more drugs than he does. His
vocals accentuate his lowly status in life. His raps are more about content than effect.
He is careful to place himself within the scene of the song rather than observe it or
explain it. Whether wry or serious, he often ignores the accompanying beats and vocalizes
in a conversational meter. The effect is that his lyrics easily rise above the
From the bottom of the pile Eminem spins yarns of robbers and other soon-to-be evil-doers
having animated arguments with their consciences, children trying to cope with hopelessly
misguided parents, and students unable to get detention in order to avoid being beaten up.
When the humor subsides, Eminem also writes about the sobering consequences of being at
the low end of the
human food chain. In the song "If I Had," he warns that hes tired of
being white trash, broke and always poor..., tired of not driving a BM, tired of not
workin at GM, tired of trying to be him. And although money would seem to be
the answer to this prayer, satisfaction would still be elusive. He adds later in the song,
If I had a million bucks, it wouldnt be enough, Id still be out
robbin armored trucks.
Revenge is a recurring theme on this CD, and it seems to be another piece of this rapper's
idea of gaining self-esteem. He describes being a white youth in a predominantly black
school and being beaten up by black students and teachers alike. Victimized by reverse
discrimination, the violence on this record, and there is a great deal of it, is usually
directed toward high-school thugs and unresponsive teachers. He leaves the rest of us with
his desire only to fit in and be left to pursue his dream without interference.
There are some troubling moments on this CD, most notable is the song "97
Bonnie & Clyde," which on the surface seems like some sort of love song -- the
lyrics are recited in a cooing tone to his daughter. But the song evolves into a scene
depicting extreme violence against his wife, and the gentle tone is meant to quiet his
daughter while he is disposing of the body. Here too Eminem tries to engage in some humor,
but it only serves to darken the piece. Uncharacteristic of the gangsta milieu, however,
Eminem leaves the listener with a brief footnote toward the end of the CD that ...my
babys mamas not dead, shes still alive.... Although the song is
only depicting a life gone terribly wrong, it crosses a line that diminishes the fun on
this CD as well as the luster of the first major release of a new artist.
Dr. Dre has played a significant role in the making of this
conceptually several productions go beyond the standard stacks of sampled loops playing in
synchronized unison. Several introductions are not musical at all, but rather
scene-setting sound effects more common to radio productions. The instrumental tracks seem
to have been newly created for these songs, and although repetitive, they break away from
the practice of sampling
musical elements as well as percussion. Although the drum sounds are average, the tracks
sound fresh due to the instrumental work.
This is a fun CD as far as rap records go, but it should be enjoyed now. Eminems
range as a performer is limited, and once the humor is absorbed, little remains to be
discovered. Without the episodic interruptions of concocted public-service announcements,
soap operas and westerns, this CD would be monotonous.
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