Sense of humour required.
Robert Christgau suggested in his essay on Eminem, “The Psychological Craftsmanship of Marshall Bruce Mathers”, that there is now some acceptance of what Eminem had claimed from the very beginning, that “his descriptions weren’t prescriptive nor his threats literal”, that Eminem’s purposefully offensive “Slim Shady” is or was an “ironic” character. Christgau goes on to suggest however that the division between character and “real life” may not have been strictly adhered to, giving the example of Eminem (or Slim Shady) stabbing an effigy of his ex-wife to death on stage as fans egged him on. Superstars whinge about the right to respect for a private life, but then thrust their own hang-ups into the limelight, making respect or privacy very difficult for everyone. Unfortunately as soon as there’s any splinter in the division between fiction and reality, the whole defence of characterisation falls apart, and it becomes almost impossible to fight against the slings and arrows of homophobia and misogyny, or appease the so-called moral majority. Furthermore, when your ex-wife slits her wrists or you have a Wikipedia page devoted to your feuds, it’s probably time to realise that if you’re not careful, negativity and unhappiness can insidiously creep into everything like an aggressive virus, and whilst being controversial sells records, trouble always has a way of permeating through the cracks.
Slim Shady is possibly missing in action, but in June 2014 Eminem began using the hash tag #SHADYXV on social networking sites and T-shirts. Shady XV was released in November and celebrates Shady Records’ fifteenth anniversary as well as the fifteenth release on the label (excluding Eminem’s solo releases). It’s made up of one CD of new material from Shady Records artists, the label founded by Eminem and his manager in 1999, as well as a “greatest hits” CD.
In terms of the new material, Eminem is credited on eight of the thirteen tracks, and his imprint is distinct. Poet Seamus Heaney has praised Eminem’s verbal dexterity, and much rhythmic wit is on display here. The title track is full of modern gags in an onslaught of words with “laugh-out-loud” moments. There’s a rude Pinocchio joke which is entertaining, but overall there’s a fair amount of inappropriate language which you may, or may not, accept as part of the bravado which comes with the genre.
Eminem’s other contributions include “Guts Over Fear” (backed by Sia), in which he ponders his career in the music industry, acknowledging that much of it has been built on rage, “Fine Line” recalls pre-fame simpler times, and “Right For Me” has an inventive style with what sounds like someone running over an accordion in the background. Eminem vexes about still being stuck on stage “at Madonna’s age” which, in the context of OAP superstars, is a refreshing notion.
Elsewhere he collaborates with others: Slaughterhouse and Yelawolf in “Psychopath Killer” is effective because it’s cold and cooly chilled-out, as Eminem puts forward the ultimate excuse for bad behaviour, he is “the product of a hostile environment”. “Twisted”, with Skylar Grey and Yelawolf, is surprisingly relaxed and “Detroit Vs. Everybody”, with an all supporting cast of (deep breath), Royce Da 5’9”, Big Sean, Danny Brown, DeJ Loaf and Trick-Trick, has moments of high drama.
As for the other artists’ solo efforts, Bad Meet Evil’s “Vegas” is controversial and rude—but funny, with something about a sausage being taken hostage. As a listener if you’re not willing to submit to the childish humour, much of this will be a lost experience. Slaughterhouse’s “Y’all Ready Know” is more of an adult proposition, with some deep, minor piano chords perfectly complimenting the edgy rap. Yelawolf provides “Down”, evoking the chaos of a crime-ridden city, and “Till It’s Gone”, which is melodically acoustic. D12’s “Bane” is catchy, but so is TV static.
The “Greatest Hits” CD is made up more of deep cuts than big hits, but with a few well known tracks included. There is substantially less Eminem than on the first side, although the white boy angst classic “Lose Yourself” makes an appearance in both its traditional and demo versions. Also included is the full-on gangsta attack of “You Don’t Know” (Eminem, 50 Cent, Ca$his, Lloyd Banks).
50 Cent contributes “I Get Money”, with the appealing shout-out of “South of France, Baby!”, the Caribbean-styled “P.I.M.P.”, the show-down of “Wanksta”, and the well-known Bacardi anthem “In Da Club”. The latter has been re-mixed by many over the years, with even a Beyoncé version (“Sexy Lil Thug”).
D-12 is represented by the lovers, downers and tripped-out saxophone of “Purple Pills”, the almost novelty of “My Band” (bordering on “Weird Al” Yankovic territory), and the heading-for-a-rumble of “Fight Music”. Eminem steps in to announce that “this song is for any kid that gets picked on”, and the sentiment illustrates Christgau’s idea of Eminem as “the little big man talking circles around the bully who stole his lunch money”.
Yelawolf’s contributions are the dark and menacing “Pop the Trunk” and the more generic pop of “Let’s Roll”, with Kid Rock. Obie Trice still has a bullet lodged in his skull following a shooting in Detroit, but turns in the heavy “Wanna Know”, the furtive and minimalist “The Setup” and the hedonistic “Cry Now” with Kuniva, Bobby Creekwater, Ca$his and Stat Quo. Slaughterhouse’s “Hammer Dance” contrasts street-powered gun-violence in the projects with a dance craze and is possibly not entirely convincing, but fortunately this is beyond my frame of immediate posh-boy experience.
Parental guidance may be required, depending on what sort of parent you are; from time to time the particular choice of words by Eminem and other artists does not avoid any accusations of homophobia, misogyny or politician incorrectness. Will you or your kids understand this may be ironic? Personally, I’m willing to believe that some of the terms are not as front-loaded as the sociologically-inclined would have us believe, and to give Eminem the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps though this is over-generousness liberalism, and it was this type of tolerance to falling standards that helped get us into all this squalor in the first place. But to propagate fear and loathing can never be a good thing—unless, that is, you want some platinum records on your wall and a fleet of Hummers in the garage. If that’s what you want, go ahead and knock yourself out dawg, but it may come with its own set of problems.