Tuesday, August 7, 2007

[096] The Marshall Mathers LP

Album: The Marshall Mathers LP
Artist: Eminem
Release Date: May 2000
Label: Aftermath/Interscope
Producers: Dr. Dre & Mel-Man, Eminem, F.B.T., The 45 King

“Oh, now he’s raping his own Mother,
Abusing a whore, snorting coke,
And we gave him the Rolling Stone cover?
You Goddamn right, bitch, and now it’s too late;
I’m triple-platinum, and tragedy’s happened in two states.”
- from “Kill You”

There are a lot of albums on this list that derive their power from contradictions, but none come even close to Eminem’s sophomore classic, a virtual concept album based around Em’s fictional split personality. There’s a mental tug-of-war going on between Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers, and it leaves the listener dizzy with confusion. What does Eminem really think? How does he really feel? And how can anyone possibly tell from one song to the next? Well, the scary thing is that it all comes from the single, sane brain in Eminem’s head; the Marshall half drops angry screeds on the new realities of public fame, while the Slim half builds Jenga towers of bigoted cartoon violence that push the limits of taste. Even the halves of the album are like two sides of a brain, mirror images of each other; on “Marshall Mathers”, surreal nightmares give way to pop commentary cut from the same cloth as the overwhelming frustration in “The Way I Am”, which now in hindsight sounds like Eminem’s most groundbreaking song. Over the sort of gothic track that he’d become more and more associated with, he blurts his vitriol with a verbal-diarrhea flow. Likewise, the twisted introspection of “I’m Back” darkly mimics the subversive acting out of “The Real Slim Shady”. The album is masterfully sequenced in this way, even with a few disposable tracks in the second half, though those could be left in to alleviate the tension. The potency of traveling through “I’m Back”, “Marshall Mathers”, “Kim”, and “Criminal” would be too much to take without the party jams and guest appearances thrown in between.

At the time of release, the most obvious talking points on the album were the 6+ minute twin towers of despair: the unhinged, obsessed fan tragedy of “Stan” and the terrifying but essential marriage meltdown of “Kim”. The former rests on the kind detailed narrative that Hip-Hop needs to survive, Eminem playing Stan with abandon, spinning helplessly out of control, and as himself at his most calm and passive, happily offering the autograph he would later refuse in “The Way I Am”. On the latter, Marshall unleashes hell against the supposed harpy he made famous; while the song doesn’t seem as forbidden now as it did then, it’s still extremely unsettling, ending with cries of “Bleed bitch bleed” and the sound of a body being buried in the woods. This is Hip-Hop as theater, and it’s no wonder why Eminem eventually went to Hollywood; not only had he been working it as exaggerated criminal Slim and deeply troubled Marshall, but he masterfully disappears into his performances of Stan and Kim. And, as if to snap you out of it, “Kim” is followed by the throwaway D-12 posse cut “Under The Influence”, seemingly commenting on your reaction to the previous song with “I don’t give a fuck if you don’t like my shit; Cuz I was high when I wrote this, so suck my dick”, delivered with the teenage pleasure of early Adam Sandler.

The most interesting illustrations on the album though are the bookends “Kill You” and “Criminal”. Both tracks recklessly blur the lines between the two personalities, reveling in meta-knowledge of warped self. “Kill You” tries to make you believe that “Shady will fucking kill you”, and while you know it’s completely ridiculous, you’re not sure if Marshall is aware of what Slim is planning (Em did go to court for that weapons charge after all). “Criminal” starts by looking back in the mirror at “Kill You”, plainly stating that if you’re stupid enough to believe what Em says on record, well then, he’ll kill you too. He seems ready to dissect this dichotomy, knowing it’s the central theme of his album and his persona. Instead, he jumps back in the deep end with the wild revenge fantasies of Slim’s half of the brain. The voice in his head asks “How many records are you expecting to sell after your second LP sends you directly to jail?” This sentiment is echoed by interludes featuring his manager Paul Rosenberg and Interscope exec Steve Berman. But Eminem’s already answered his own question, in the outro of “The Real Slim Shady” – “I guess there’s a Slim Shady in all of us. Fuck it, let’s all stand up.”

01. "Public Service Announcement 2000" [intro]
02. "Kill You"
03. "Stan"
04. "Paul" [interlude]
05. "Who Knew"
06. "Steve Berman" [interlude]
07. "The Way I Am"
08. "The Real Slim Shady"
09. "Remember Me?" [feat. RBX & Sticky Fingaz]
10. "I’m Back"
11. "Marshall Mathers"
12. "Ken Kaniff" [interlude]
13. "Drug Ballad"
14. "Amityville" [feat. Bizarre]
15. "Bitch Please II" [feat. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit & Nate Dogg]
16. "Kim"
17. "Under The Influence" [feat. D-12]
18. "Criminal"

"The Way I Am" [video]

- BONUS: "Stan" [feat. Dido] [video]

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