Class Clown

Eminem turns the trials of the white urban poor into a scabrous comedy with himself as the punch line--and punching bag

Pretty tough to take, this stuff. But the reality behind these fantasies sounds a lot like impotence. Nihilism fuels Slim Shady. In "Role Model," Em admits he's "not a player, just a ill rhyme sayer/That'd spray an aerosol can up at the ozone layer." He's a loser in the self-destructive, Iggy Stooge-era punk tradition, and his darkest vignettes ultimately riff on his own irrelevance. "Since the age of 12, I felt like I was someone else," he squawks matter-of-factly, "'cause I hung my original self from the top bunk with a belt." Em's bully-busting fantasies have a loner, last-resort quality that would give even a belly-laughing fan a Littleton flashback: "Never ran with a clique/I'm a posse/I'm a kamikaze/Strap the bomb across me."

This sort of schoolyard alienation defies economic brackets, but Em knows that it's less money that leads to mo' problems. Whiteness, sans power or influence, can be truly ghastly. And growing up poor and white in black hip hop makes for a specific kind of cultural invisibility. Eminem asks, "How can I be white?/I don't even exist." And before the record even begins, an intro announcement declares, "The views expressed here are not necessarily the views of anyone."

Anyone who really matters, that is. Except that Eminem, like Dre's own NWA ten years ago, has suddenly, violently, and humorously flipped the script. Eminem's good fortune as a now-celebrated loser might just prove that mattering doesn't matter as much as you think.


Eminem performs an all-ages show at First Avenue on Sunday, May 16. The Beatnuts and Pace-Won open; (612) 338-8388.

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