Album released this week in… 1999: Eminem – The Slim Shady LP
EMINEM is a rapper who has spent the majority of his career building himself up just to tear it back down again. The Slim Shady LP is the first big hit that Eminem released but is actually his second full album. Infinite was released in 1996 but failed to reach the same critical success and only sold 1000 copies. Following the failure to achieve any success with Infinite, Marshall Mathers started writing much angrier lyrics for his raps. He also created the persona of Slim Shady through which he could reflexively look at his career thus far and rap about his frustrations. Initially he created a few songs as this alter ego and released The Slim Shady EP in 1997, with this 8-track tape in hand he went to the Rap Olympics in Los Angeles and placed second. Staff at Interscope Records who had attended the event sent a copy of the tape to the CEO Jimmy Iovine who then played it to Dr Dre and the rest is history.
Working on the album in Michigan, Eminem used the Slim Shady character to pick apart aspects of his own life and portray himself in, what can only be said to be, a very negative light. Pretty much from the get go, on the second track ‘My Name Is’, Eminem emphasises that he is not someone who should be emulated by fans. With lyrics like “Wanna copy me and do exactly like I did? Try ‘cid and get fucked up worse than my life is?” and with the entire lyrical content of ‘Role Model’, it’s clear to see that Eminem is trying to strip himself bear in front of the listeners warts and all.
Rather than being repellent, however, the lyrical ability that Eminem has is bizarrely refreshing. In a world of hip-hop artists who glorify their lives, even when discussing incredibly negative aspects of them, Eminem is more than willing to tear himself to shreds and play on the fact that he isn’t a “conventional” rapper to the extreme. The reason this album has achieved so many accolades since its release is because it has a classic two-one punch move that the best rap albums contain. The beats and the lyrical flow draw you in which allow you to enjoy the music but then repeated listening allows you to understand and think about the lyrics properly. The lyrics of this album, usually, courting a lot of controversy.
Most listeners will remember the late 90s and how rap music was seen, by some people, to be very bad because it spoke about killing, drugs and speaking about women in negative ways. Eminem manages to hit on nearly every topic that censors hated about rap in this album. But given that the lyrics are coming from a persona that Eminem is playing, listeners can understand why the content can be so vile. People who criticise rap artists for having objectionable content in their lyrics often forget that rap, like many forms of art, is not usually a simple glorification of a particular way of life or even a call for people to emulate the lifestyle spoken of in the music.
When you take the song ‘’97 Bonnie and Clyde’ at face value it’s a song about a man taking his toddler-aged daughter to a lake so they can dump his wife’s body there and run away together. But when you take into account the context of these lyrics the listener will understand that they come from a point of extreme frustration. Rather than being a glorification of murder the song itself is a comment on people who choose to do those things and if the listener is reviled by the song then Eminem’s work is done as a musician. Feeling revulsion toward the song is significantly easier, as well, when you know that the baby noises on the track are actually made by Hailie Mathers as a toddler. That added layer of meaning is what makes Eminem as good a rapper as he is.
With the addition of retrospect, however, The Slim Shady LP is not as good an album as Eminem’s later works. It stands as a good album in the sense that it lays a fantastic foundation on which he has built an amazing career. But the overall album, with the exception of a few of the tracks, is ultimately forgettable. It wouldn’t be until a year later, when Eminem released The Marshall Mathers LP, that fans would receive something that exhibited how well he could perform when working at his best. If Marshall Mathers is the completed sculpture, Slim Shady is the half finished block. Listeners can hear the sound and style of rap that Eminem is trying to create but it’s not quite at a point that it feels polished and confident. But when you’re telling an origin story it’s always the bumpiest and roughest tale that gets released and the follow-up is better because it doesn’t have to explain itself again. When the biggest negative aspect of an album is that it doesn’t hold up as well when compared to later releases you’ve still got a pretty good album.