White America

A lonelier Eminem explains himself for the benefit of his homies in the suburbs

Eminem
The Eminem Show
Interscope

I'm going to kill Eminem. Naw, I'm just playing. But I wrote him a little song:

Okay, no, but really. This new record is dark. Coming from a new, suffocated place. Em's still running his verbal A game, but with gum on his shoes. "Without Me" is probably still lodged in your frontal lobe after three weeks, but it's no "My Name Is." The overall mood of The Eminem Show (Interscope) is one of inchoate sadness. And for some strange reason, it doesn't seem addressed to his audience at all.

"White America" kicks things off to bring parents up to speed. See, this is a white guy who raps, but it's for the suburbs: "Look at these eyes/Baby blue baby/Just like yourself." And what's more, it's your Sam Goody-goody kids who have made him the besieged idol he is today: "If I was black/I wouldn't have sold half." As the album rolls on, though, we realize that these explanations and the detailed history of abuse is Marshall Mathers's attempt to explain himself to himself. No split personae. No flights of fancy. No Kim. No Stan. No funny voices. No Slim. Just him.

"Cleanin' out My Closet" blasts Mom for suffering Munchausen's by proxy--that is, telling him he was "sick." He now tells her that his eight-year-old Hailie is beautiful, "But you'll never see her/She won't even be at your funeral." In the devastating last song, "My Dad's Gone Crazy," he imagines that even his own little girl can't save him. When he looks back for some pearls of wisdom, he can only come up with "Like my mother always told me/Rana rana rana rana rana and codeine."

In "Soldier," he laments the changes brought on by fame: "Listen to the sound of me spilling my heart through this pen/MFs know that I'll never be Marshall again." Compare this lament with Nelly's desultory "Why do I live this way?" in last year's "Ride Wit Me." While both men nailed the sad panic of the leap from squalor to splendor, Nelly's nestled his plaint in a protective groove. With mostly hard-rock beats and the usual spareness, Em seems lonely on this record. And narcissistic to boot. In "Sing for the Moment," which makes primo use of Aerosmith's "Dream On" chorus, Em is trying to speak for his devoted minions but ends up sounding like the spoiled movie star he's about to become: "Now how the fuck did this metamorphosis happen/From standin' on corners and porches just rappin'/...but then these critics crucify you/Journalists try to burn you/Fans turn on you/Attorneys all wanna turn at you/To get they hands on every dime you have."

Word! There's nothing poor kids hate more than gold-digging lawyers. Em's preemptive step away from black hip hop ("Without Me" lays out his reality: "To do Black Music so selfishly/And use it to get myself wealthy") and into the rock mainstream may be smart marketing. But it still seems to leave our favorite racial harmonist vulnerable. If his ultimate fantasies didn't basically involve riveting women to the concrete with a water cannon of poison jizz, maybe I'd even feel a little sorry for him. As it is, I scrawl in response:

Not that dark isn't interesting. But this time around, the bigotry doesn't have the benefit of charm. "Drips," featuring D-12 pal Obie, is a plodder about diseased sluts. (Hey, just because he's paranoid doesn't mean women aren't out to give him AIDS.) Of course, he's always backpedaling on the homophobic and anti-woman stuff. When he says to Moby, "You bald-headed fag, blow me," he's just kidding. And he doesn't reeeally want to put anthrax in our Tampax--not any more than we want to soak him flaccid with a pail of acid. (And no less.)

Even if you can get past all that, The Eminem Show is still a skill-wasting downer. Like Howard Stern before him, Eminem exhibits a paranoia that is starting to consume his commentary. He's picking the wrong battles. I mean, who has time to beat down 'N Sync's Chris Kirkpatrick? Or Jermaine Dupri? Eminem even rides Limp Bizkit's DJ for, get this, siding with Everlast. And Tipper Gore? Who's that? Who knows, maybe he'll want to battle me when he sees my dope rhyme:

 
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