May 1999

Eminem - The Slim Shady LP
Interscope Records
Released: 1999

by David Sherman

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on CD]As 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 doesn’t 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” upbringing.

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 Eminem’s 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 can’t really complain because his mother takes more drugs than he does. His high-pitched, nasal
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 accompanying tracks.

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 he’s “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 wouldn’t be enough, I’d 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 “ baby’s mama’s not dead, she’s 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 CD, but
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. Eminem’s 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.