Thursday, 5 March 2015

05/03/15 - Eminem, etc

At the risk of starting some kind of “beef”, I think perhaps it’s time Eminem gave it a rest. Take a look at recent single Guts Over Fear:

‘Sometimes I feel like all I ever do is
Find different ways to word the same old song
Ever since I came along
From the day the song called "Hi! My name is…" dropped
Started thinking my name was fault
’Cos any time things went wrong
I was the one who they would blame it on
The media made me the equivalent of a modern-day Genghis Khan’

Alright, first of all Genghis Khan was the founder of the largest contiguous empire in history. Rappers are famously bigheaded, but I don’t think anyone’s genuinely accusing him of that.
But anyway, you can see here that he’s acknowledging a certain stagnation in his material. He’s right to highlight that. Yes, he’s had his troubles, but it may well be time to stop lamenting a lifestyle of trailer parks, violence and gang culture. He’s probably doing alright for himself in his massive house(s).

Don’t get me wrong, I like Eminem. I like some of his work a whole lot. I was seventeen when The Slim Shady LP came out, so it neatly coincided with my acquiring a driving licence; the east Kent coast isn’t exactly downtown Detroit, but I felt pretty gangsta cruising along Whitstable seafront blasting Just Don’t Give A Fuck out of my 6x9s. (In my, er, 1.0-litre Vauxhall Nova.)
My Name Is was very much a comedy-rap anthem of the era, while the Dr Dre collaboration Guilty Conscience was genuinely brilliant. And Bad Meets Evil remains one of my favourite rap tracks to this day, Royce da 5’9” is really good on that. Role Model, Rock Bottom, My Fault, I’m Shady, ’97 Bonnie & Clyde, there are loads of great tracks on there. It’s a very good album. But my favourite, and I suspect a lot of people’s favourite, is The Marshall Mathers LP.

This album, his third, came out in 2000, and is probably best known for the single Stan, featuring Dido. It’s a consistently excellent album throughout (well, aside from the dumb skits – but hip hop albums often have terrible skits in them for some reason; they’re not funny the first time and they don’t bear repeated listening, but whatever. There are presumably drugs involved), and some of it is intensely gritty. Kim is really uncomfortable listening, he sounds genuinely psychotic. Hell, most of it’s pretty dark, but it’s a very well-rounded and impressive album.
It’s true that much of it is characterised by violent misogyny, and makes insensitive references to murder, rape, Columbine and, um, Christina Aguilera, but he was working hard to create a persona of an angry white man in a predominantly non-white genre. This is a theme explored rather more sensitively in the semi-autobiographical movie 8 Mile of 2002, which has aged well and is worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. (But you have, haven’t you? Everybody has.)

His later musical work is, in my opinion, patchy at best. The 2001 album Devil’s Night by D12 (the hip hop group that Eminem was part of) was pretty good, but The Eminem Show of the following year had half a dozen good tracks on it at best, as did 2004’s Encore. I can’t comment on 2009’s Relapse or 2010’s Recovery as I didn’t even bother buying them (this really isn’t a very well researched argument, is it?), but 2013’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 was a real disappointment. Not so much that it was bad – it wasn’t really, it was certainly a lot better than Encore or The Eminem Show – but it was heralded as the spiritual successor to The Marshall Mathers LP (well, the clue’s in the name really, isn’t it?) and it just wasn’t. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Eminem justified the title thus:
‘Calling it The Marshall Mathers LP 2, obviously I knew that there might be certain expectations. I wouldn't want to call it that just for the sake of calling it that. I had to make sure that I had the right songs – and just when you think you got it, you listen and you're like, 'Fuck, man. I feel like it needs this or that,' to paint the whole picture. So there's not gonna be, like, continuations of every old song on there or anything like that. To me, it's more about the vibe, and it's more about the nostalgia.’
I don’t buy that. The vibe was totally different, the production sounded too polished, there was cheesy R&B on there, it just didn’t work for me. Some of the songs were great – Bezerk and Rap God, for example – but it wasn’t enough.

Still, who am I to slag off his work? He does what he does and it sells, fair enough. It’s just the continuing references to life in the trailer park and the bleakness of impoverishment that irk me. He’s suffered. We get it. But that was a long time ago. He’s a wealthy man in his forties now – I’m not saying he should turn into Will Smith, but a sense of perspective wouldn’t go amiss. And there’s a whole world of creative opportunity out there – why not shock the world by making, I dunno, a calypso album, or writing a sitcom, or acting in some more movies, or getting into sculpting in bronze? A cameo in EastEnders wouldn’t go amiss. Or a series of kids’ books about a cheeky fox with a genetic deformity and a can-do attitude. Or something. Just please, not that same old song again.

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