If you are Eminem, how do you follow up two critically acclaimed, multi-platinum hip-hop albums? There are two primary schools of thought: stick to the formula and keep pumping out the same material until the public tires of your sound, á la Ja Rule, or, like Outkast and Lauryn Hill, risk it all by experimenting and hope that you are not abandoned by hip-hop’s fickle fan base. Unfortunately, Eminem’s third album represents a musical fence-straddling that results in a disappointing combination of promising musical experimentation and uninspired lyrics.
On his first album, The Slim Shady LP, we were introduced to a hungry MC fighting for respect (“I’m tired of other rappers who ain’t bringin’ half the skill as me / Saying they wasn’t feelin’ me or ‘nobody’s as ill as me’”). On The Marshall Mathers LP, we saw a more confident and mature Eminem seemingly taking the elevator to legend status with his amazing wit and creativity, superb lyrics, and flawless production. This album, however, leaves little trace of the inspiration and passion that permeated the previous two LPs.
In place of sincere, fiery tracks like “Marshall Mathers” or “Rock Bottom”, The Eminem Show is filled with unimaginative pieces like “Say Goobye Hollywood” and “Cleanin’ Out My Closet”, which leave the listener with the distinct feeling that s/he has heard the songs before. On these tracks, Eminem wastes dynamite self-produced beats by subjecting himself and the audience to four minutes of rehashed personal drama. (Note to Eminem: WE GET IT! You’re dad left, your mother’s evil, Kim’s a slut, and you love Haile. Next topic, please.)
Perhaps the only major flaw in Eminem’s last two albums was, with the exception of Royce the 5’9, the poor quality of the guest appearances. This album is no different. Only extreme loyalty could justify allowing the mediocre efforts of Obie Trice (“Drips”) and every member of D-12 (“When The Music Stops”), save Bizarre, to make the final cut. Even Dr. Dre’s verses on the battle rap, “Say What You Say”, are average at best.
The album is not, however, without its bright spots. On “Soldier”, Eminem rides a wonderfully produced track to near perfection, spitting some of the album’s hardest hitting lyrics, which attempt justify his recent senseless acts of violence: “Willin’ to stick out my neck, for respect if it meant life or death, never live to regret that I said / When you’re me, people just want to see, if it’s true, if it’s you, what you say in your raps what you do / So they feel, as part of you obligation to fulfill, when they see you on the streets, face to face, are you for real.”
Fortunately, the album reflects Eminem’s considerable personal and musical growth. Gone are many of the heterosexist and misogynist lyrics that were part and parcel of Eminem’s first two LPs, although “Superman” is a notable exception. On this ode to gold diggers, Marshall experiments successfully with a rapid-fire flow and his usual, over the top lines, like “put Anthrax in a Tampax and slap you till you can’t stand”. “Hailie’s Song” shows Eminem at his creative best, as he spends most of the time singing a tribute to his daughter over Aerosmith’s “Dream On”. You won’t confuse him with Babyface, but it is a major sign of maturity for a rapper who once threatened to “hit a pregnant bitch in the stomach with luggage”.
In a nutshell, the major problem with The Eminem Show is that its content, which relies heavily on shock value, does not shock us anymore. The skits seem stale, the themes redundant, and the lyrics half hearted. Although Eminem at 50 percent is still better than nearly every other MC on the planet, this album still leaves us disappointed. This album will not cause any fans to jump off the bandwagon, but it certainly won’t gain him too many new ones.