A few minutes into his major-label debut ‘The Slim Shady LP’, Eminem asks kids if they want to see him stick nine-inch nails into each one of his eyelids. It’s a fierce introductory statement that immediately highlights his no-holds-barred blueprint of kicking conservative society in the backside, an approach that would later prompt the FBI to call for a worldwide ban on Mr Bleached Blonde.
Released in February 1999 off the back of his underground and relatively unsuccessful debut ‘Infinite’ (1996) – a record assembled in the midst of a relationship break-up, a move back home to his mother, and an attempted suicide – this would be the first time that we were introduced to Marshall Mathers III’s Slim Shady alter ego. The persona allowed the Detroit MC to free himself, digging deeper into his own personal upheavals, and helping to develop his trademark nasal rhyming and disturbingly violent imagery.
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‘My Name Is’
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Supported by the heavily rotated single ‘My Name Is’, the Dr Dre-produced record turned Eminem from an unknown rapper into a worldwide celebrity and a spokesperson for the misunderstood black-hoodie-and-chain-wallet generation. Lines like, “99 per cent of my life, I’ve been lied to / I’ve just found out my mom does more dope than I do,” had kids reaching for the Parental Advisory-stickered jewel case, using Eminem’s music as a release from their politically correct middle-class families who would probably find a pair of jogging pants offensive.
But under the comedic and satirical surface, this album paints a portrait of a broken man struggling with concepts of real life, the sort that lives at home, not at award ceremonies or on MTV.
Tracks like ‘Rock Bottom’ and ‘If I Had’ highlight this. On ‘Rock Bottom’, Shady spits: “My daughter wants to throw the ball but I’m too stressed to play / Live half a life and throw the rest away,” yet a verse later, he says that he wants “the money, the women, the fortune and fame”. It’s evident of the aptness at which he can switch between alter egos: the first line coming from Mathers, and the second from the “evil, backstabbin’, deceitful Shady”.
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‘Just Don’t Give A F*ck’
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The use of alter ego, and the pre-fame period in which the majority of these songs were composed, allowed Eminem to break down the fourth wall. ‘If I Had’ is the anthem of every minimum-wage worker who swears under their breath each time their greedy boss enters the room. It’s the sound of gas-store clerks and the in-betweens “tired of not being millionaires”. Instead of leaning on the banal platitudes of bling-and-bitches hip-hop, and putting himself into the situations of common people, Eminem appointed himself as a psychiatrist – mostly for the rest of the world, but also, importantly, for himself.
Although often criticised for being explicit for the sake of being explicit, Eminem used the Slim Shady persona to delve into highly characterised storytelling. ‘’97 Bonnie & Clyde’, the first part of the story featured in ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’’s ‘Kim’, tells the frightening story of Eminem and his daughter on their way to dump a body. The track is made all the more disturbing because unlike ‘Kim’, released two years later, Eminem doesn’t need to raise his voice. He’s creepily serious. It’s the sort of realised character development that would be expected of a Tarantino movie.
On ‘The Slim Shady LP’, all aspects of Eminem are on show. It’s a bipolar record, equal parts funny, disturbing, thought provoking, and comforting. It’s unafraid of judgement and no other rapper has made a record like this. Because, as stated on ‘Just Don’t Give A F*ck’, Slim Shady “just don’t give a f*ck”.
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Words: Ryan Bassil
Clash’s Spotlight series looks back at albums marking key anniversaries, or that simply come back onto our radars and we feel are worthy of (re) highlighting. Check out more features like this one here.
Eminem’s most recent album, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’, is reviewed here.