The Slim Shady LP

by Will Cummings

Marshall Mathers was born two months after my mother in 1972. About 31 years before Marshall Mathers was born, the naval and air forces of the empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. A couple of weeks ago, Eminem rapped, “Like Obama’s kids, I came out of my shell.” Why? How did we get here?

Eminem’s debut studio album was a financial disaster. Em reports that it sold 70 copies, but there’s evidence that suggests it could’ve sold a few hundred units. The rapper sold the cassettes and vinyl from the trunk of his car in late 1996 and the rest of his rise to dominance is mostly common knowledge. He was white trash, broke, and hopeless. And then he was taking a shit one day and realized that if he just dedicated his career to controversy and headlines then he just might be a globetrotter and he was spot-on.

He is the best-selling rapper ever with two albums that have reportedly sold more than 20 million units, putting him in the same league as Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and The Backstreet Boys. And I’m here to tell you that none of his albums are very good.

The debut album, Infinite, is perfectly forgettable. It was produced by Mr. Porter who ultimately came along for the wild ride that has been Em’s career with some more additions (mostly drums) from fellow rapper Proof who shaped the trajectory of Marshall’s career, even after he was tragically killed in 2006. It’s best described as a basic, lo-fi Nas impersonation, and its failure was more significant than any success could have been. Disappointed, Marshall formed a diabolical alter-ego – Slim Shady.

Following an EP that found its way to Dr. Dre, Eminem was next heard shrieking on a Labi Siffre sample, beginning the unending storm of unprecedented success. “My Name Is”, the debut single, is probably the Rorschach Test of Eminem’s early years. If you find it hilarious, you’ll love the next two albums but you probably won’t love sixth grade because that’s when you stop having recess. You also probably can’t read. If you want to gouge your eyes out at the high-pitched stress Em puts on his vocals then congrats on having mostly completed your brain’s development.

The lyrics of this song lay out the classic Eminem verse pattern: have a good line or two that makes sense: “My English teacher wanted to flunk me in junior high / thanks a lot, next semester I’ll be 35.” Next, you have a series of lines that make no sense when put together but rhyme: “Extraterrestrial, running over pedestrians in a spaceship while they’re screaming at me, ‘Let’s just be friends!’” That adds nothing to the song, but it sounds cool! When words flow well together it means you have a firm grasp of the English language, so never try too hard to say something of value. The third verse does well in comm-unicating the character of Shady, and it’s fine. I like how the beat gets a little dirge synth as Em talks about being buried alive, it’s a nice touch from Dre.

“Guilty Conscience” is a bad song. Certainly, an interesting concept, but they lost me at the whole date raping a child section.

“Brain Damage” is a highlight, showing the best aspect of early Eminem: just being a tortured weirdo who never fit in. It’s based on a true story before becoming a revenge fantasy in the last leg of the song until Eminem’s mother knocks his freaking head off with the TV remote. “If I Had” continues this little hot streak, Em rapping over a pretty simple beat, discussing the struggles of being broke white trash, and doing so quite well. The repetition of the word ‘tired’ can be a little mind-numbing, but you do feel bad for the guy. It’s an okay song, but I wish he didn’t say “I'd make the world suck my dick without a condom on while I'm on the john,” in the chorus.

“’97 Bonnie & Clyde” is probably peak horror-core Em. It’s another simplistic beat with swelling choral vocals and some record scratching. It’s a pretty eerie track that conveys this evil dichotomy of Marshall’s capacity to love – romance is not his… strong suit, but he does sound like a natural father. The fact that he snuck his daughter into the studio to record her baby noises in a song about disposing of her mother’s body is an interesting addition, for better or for worse. It’s a pretty good song, a standout on the album.

“Role Model” has a nice beat from Dre, a pleasant guitar lick with a boom-bap bass. We’re back to offensive lyrics, and this track is a lot better than “My Name Is”. There’s some brutal wordplay in the first verse: “hit the trees harder than Sonny Bono,” namely, but the second verse is just a bunch of filler pop culture lines that rhyme well enough. “Jumped in a Chickenhawk cartoon with a cape on / and beat up Foghorn Leghorn with an acorn.” It just isn’t clever, and I don’t know who’s finding humor in these lines. When I was wee-lad, I found the chorus and outro to be obscenely funny and quotable, but I was also eleven. This track also has the first diss towards Lauryn Hill, a one-sided beef that I will touch on later.

Is Ken Kaniff funny? It’s a staple feature on these albums, and I’m somewhere in between. The joke is ‘haha gay,’ but I have a refined, nuanced taste for these skits. The Slim Shady LP skit fits in with the general tone of “I, Marshall Mathers, am a little baby infant that thinks that homosexuality is gross, and it is funny when people die.”

“Cum on Everybody” is annoying. Our first line is “My favorite color is red, like the bloodshed / from Kurt Cobain’s head when he shot himself dead.” Why? Why did you feel inclined to say that? I’m not offended, it just is objectively not funny. It’s just crickets. It rhymes, just like “I have a wardrobe with an orange robe,” as he says a few lines later, but that is all. No funny, no laugh. The chorus is misery, and the joke is “cum is kinda like come.” I, Will Cummings, have never once heard this joke, and am very impressed with this ingenuity. “I’m bored out of my gourd, so I took a hammer / and nailed my foot to the floorboard of my Ford.” What is he saying? His punchlines are non-sequiturs! They just rhyme, and that is all the substance there is. And this is just the beginning of it. It gets so, so much worse as he gets into his later albums. He just provokes dark imagery without saying anything. It’s a child doodling a decapitated bully (or pop culture icon) with a crayon. There is nothing here!

We also get the second Lauryn Hill diss when Em says, “Bought Lauryn Hill’s tape so her kids could starve,” referring to a false claim that Lauryn had said that she would rather her children starve than have a white person buy her music. Now, deep in the Eminem lore, there is a song called “Foolish Pride” from his early days as a rapper. It’s a five-minute song about how all black women are gold-digging whores. This was in 1988, Marshall was sixteen, so I’ll let you decide how you feel about it (I do recommend listening to it to form an opinion – it’s bad). Eminem spoke in a 1999 interview about how he felt Lauryn Hill was racist towards white people, so this and the disses in his music are rich coming from the man-child who made “Foolish Pride”. There is nobody less qualified to rant about black women possibly being racist towards white people than Eminem, but he sure did do it.

“Rock Bottom” is pretty good. It’s a superior rehash of If I Had without the horrid lyrics of the chorus. There are great lines in here that have pained anger in droves: “live half my life and throw the rest away,” “I pray that God answers, maybe I’ll ask nicer.” The production perfectly captures the energy with this iconic guitar lick that has lived in my mind since I first heard it. The chorus is good enough to be etched into my mind after all these years. My favorite moment on the entire album is when the beat gives way for a little woodwind to play the melody as Em raps, “I got problems, now everybody on my block’s got ‘em.” That line is pretty nice. This and “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” are the two songs on this album that almost save it from me just entirely writing it off.

“Just Don’t Give a Fuck” takes us back into the rhyming crimes quickly: “I’m a M-80, you little like that Kim lady.” Absolutely pitiful. However, I do like, “I have a disease and they don’t know what to call it,” since I’m a sucker for ambiguous lyrics along those lines. In the chorus, he raps, “Talking that shit behind my back […] telling your boys that I’m on crack.” No, you told us that in every single song – literally in the verse before the chorus. I don’t think Eminem was ever on crack specifically, but the running joke on the album is that he is addicted to every drug ever discovered. The production on this track is nice, super grimy, and a little creepy and I enjoy what sounds like some midi strings that come in later, despite sounding a little cheap. The third verse nails the aesthetic of Slim Shady without crumbling beneath the edginess and filler.

“As the World Turns” is wholly unnecessary. Yes, it tells two stories in sizable verses. Yes, the stories are focused. And you can bet your ass that every word rhymes. But why should I give a damn about storytelling when the story being told is complete nonsense? It’s just lyrical vomit. The first punchline is “I fought a woman,” and the second is “I raped a woman after a skirmish.” This just sounds like a demented warm-up to actually writing something; getting a grasp of rhythm and style by jotting down some bullshit. It’s a bad freestyle, not a compelling song. Eminem said in an interview with Q Magazine that it has no meaning and is just a funny song to him. It isn’t funny, and kind of exemplifies the reasons I don’t like Eminem’s music. It’s all flash and no substance, even though that is what it begs you to believe.

“I’m Shady” is whatever. As the record nears, the veil is pulled down to reveal that everything vile is a fantasy. Slim Shady is, in fact, not real. He is just a bad MF DOOM, actually.

“Bad Meets Evil” is the first sign of the synergy of Royce Da 5’9” and Em – they pull the best out of each other. You can hear the competition in comradery and while the subject matter is still juvenile on both sides, there are some decent bars and it does match the premise of the song – two gunslingers that were once here to take over the Wild West. Royce is an important piece of Eminem’s career, especially in its second half, and this is a little taste of what they can do together.

“Still Don’t Give a Fuck” is our closer and it’s fine. It sports a grimy, spooky instrumental with hints of horror-movie strings and a super muddled and reverb-heavy guitar melody. The lyrics are much improved compared to other edgy tracks on this album, veering away from jokes that surmount to “it was funny when this celebrity died” and towards self-deprecating, violent, and visceral imagery. I just don’t find the value in the track’s main purpose of responding to all the backlash this album was destined to receive because the controversy-sparking content of the album is just so trite and begging for attention with no substance whatsoever. Either way, I guess the album ends on a high note.

This album is overall pretty bad. It’s trapped in this desire to be shocking but deeply personal, chasing this sparking of a ‘eureka!’ moment where the listener realizes this is album perfectly describes their personality and thoughts. This personality doesn’t offend me – that isn’t why I don’t like this album. It just bores me to fucking tears. And for the claims of Eminem being a lyrical God, no. If he was, he would saysomething. This album kickstarted this fervor of the ‘dangerous’ Eminem, but after listening to this album as an adult, he was probably only a danger to pets and other small animals.