The hip hop mastermind, Eminem, is three people in one. He is Eminem, the rapper who has released 7 LP’s, 9 number one albums, and two of the top 10 best selling albums if the last 10 years. He has become the best selling artist of the last decade, and is considered by just about everyone to be an absolute cultural icon. On the other hand, we have Marshall Mathers, the rather introspective man who only peaks out from behind the curtain to spill some emotional demons. And finally we have Slim Shady, the evil personified, the outrageous and often offensive caricature of Eminem’s psyche that is used an outlet to tell about all the things you never should hear- all the things that make Slim Shady the master of wordplay and controversy.
Chronicling the history of Eminem and his various persona’s is easy if we look at his 7 LP’s, and how they represent stages of Eminem’s career and life. As of 2011, we have Eminem dug out of the dark recesses of near death and career suicide, Marshall Mathers is at his most mature and content, and Slim Shady? Well, Slim Shady is dead.
All of this has been brewing since Eminem’s debut album Infinite in 1996. Here we have Eminem young, barely a baby in the game, having released the album on underground hip-hop label Web Entertainment. This album represents the birth of Eminem. Here we have rhymes and a flow that sounds eerily reminiscent of Nas of Illmatic fame. And even then, Slim Shady was only barely surfacing. The album is rather tame, perhaps Eminem nervous of rocking the boat too much, and trying to just succeed as a white man in a dominantly black culture. After this followed the Slim Shady EP, which was the precursor to the major label full length, where Slim Shady became born.
The Slim Shady LP is still one of the best hip-hop debuts ever released. It announces Slim Shady to the world, where songs like My Name Is, Guilty Conscience, and My Fault. These songs all have that psychotic edge that made Emimen so controversial in the first place. but we only got a small peak at Marshal Mathers on this record. Even songs like 97 Bonnie and Clyde were in the point of view of Slim Shady, who kills his real life wife, stuffs her in the trunk, and rides off to the pier with his real life daughter, Hailey.
Where the Slim Shady LP introduced us to the alter ego, The Marshall Mathers LP showed the world the sensitivity and demons haunting the other side of Eminem, the one where Marshall Mathers sheds the pain that has plagued him since he was a child. the album is, to this day, one of the most haunting and magical releases from a hip-hop artist. It’s so introspective and personal, you can’t help but wonder what Eminem went through to get this out and to the public. Looking back, it was extremely brave to have released this album. Whereas before, he largely used Slim Shady as a barricade to cover his true feelings and ideas. When he spoke about his wife, it was in the form of Slim Shady. When he spoke about fame and influence and family, it was from Slim Shady. So now we have an artist tackling his other half, the one that speaks in the form of the emotional disaster. listening to this day, Kim is still one of the most intense songs ever composed by an artist. And its intensity is only heightened from how personal of an album it truly was. In some ways, one can learn more about Marshal and his family than they can their friends family’s- or even their own. We know uncle Ronny, we know Hailey, we know his mother and his girlfriend and Proof and all hi9s close friends who knew where to put their cards from the beginning.
The Marshal Mathers LP showed the world that Mr. Mathers was broken, and upset about it. And because of his unrivalled popularity, it remains one of the most personal and nearly beautiful albums ever written- and we all saw it happen.
This is where The Eminem Show becomes such a unique album. Here we have songs that come from Slim Shady as well as Marshall. Here, we knows he is on top of the world, and he speaks about more public and all-encompassing topics. Even Dr. Dre, Eminem’s likely father figure, continued his relationship to this album.
If the first two major label albums were the birth of Eminem’s two alter ego’s, this is the culmination of both sides coming together and playing their strengths. The Eminem Show is a quintessential Eminem album. Eminem is at the peak- the peak of critical acclaim and the peak of his mental stability as an artist. The Eminem Show was the perfect storm of events.
Every hero must fall. Without the fall, there is no redemption. Without redemption, the story is flat. Encore came out in late 2004 after the massive success of his first three records. And on that record he seemed to be blatantly aware that he was at the peak of his game. The last two records were both largely focused on Marshall Mathers, and relinquishing the demons that make those albums so personal. he relinquished enough- how much life was there to give away? How many demons did Eminem have?
Cue Slim Shady.
This record was dominated by Slim Shady- Rain Man, Big Weenie, and Just Lose It to name a few. These songs were silly, outrageous, but most importantly…bland. Even some of the more serious songs were flat, uninteresting, and lacked the vocal prowess we witnessed from Eminem three times before.
This album had to be made. I think this album will be mostly forgotten in the history of Eminem. With that said, I think it was important to represent the lowest low the artist could hit. there has never been a larger drop in quality from one album to the next than there was with The Eminem Show and Encore. It was frightening. Even the comedy was tasteless. But Encore must exist, and forever it will.
And then Eminem took a break. A long one. A large part of Encore’s unrestrained mediocrity was drugs, which swarmed Eminem by this time. He was also managing legal issues and feuds which peaked and became outright dangerous. It wasn’t long after this album that his best childhood friend Proof died. The pressure which has been building for three albums and many years finally erupted, and the break was an absolute necessity.
After five years, Relapse was released. originally planned as a double album, it was split into two separate releases, one becoming Relapse. Relapse is easily the most intriguing album in the collection. For one, it isn’t really of the highest quality. it is also nearly entirely entranced by the Slim Shady alter ego. Which is intensely interesting to me, as Encore seemed to be an artistic failure, he decides to return to this personality to craft an entire album of material. I don’t necessarily think it was a conscious choice. I tuink, in some ways, the album that will follow was not ready to be made. He had to cushion the next album with accents, over-the-top shock comedy, and an album drowning in such silliness there was no way to take him seriously- and he didn’t want to be. i am sure after mentally managing the personal haunts through rehab was enough to where Eminem wanted to go out and release the funniest but also most harmless album of his career.
The other half of Relapse metamorphosed into a new creature entirely- Recovery. This is the most important album of Eminem’s career. The Slim Shady LP was significtant in that it was a debut, and of course the Marshal Mathers LP determined if he had a long-lasting appeal. The Eminem Show cemented his legendary status and Encore was necessary to for Eminem to reinvent himself for the future. Eminem was already a legend, but Recovery gave Eminem a second life. Relapse, for all intensive purposes, fell under the radar. Compared to the power of Recovery in the media and cultural world, Eminem catapulted back into the music world and on the tips of everyone’s tongue.
he also wholly killed Slim Shady, as this album was an announcement to the world that the days of old were gone. A new Eminem is born. I consider this the birth of Eminem in some ways, as it seems like the culmination of all his knowledge gained through all the previous albums.
Every artist must change and grow. The ones that do not…die. Many artist have failed to evolve and they will always stay in a specific almost niche level of popularity if they were to begin with. But it is fascinating to look at the growth of Eminem as a person through his albums. Slim Shady was a necessary manifestation of his pain, and Marshal became the man to show the emotions, the personal level of attachment that all suburban kids witnessed first hand. No artist has ever been as personal at Eminem’s level of popularity, and because of that, I think he touched millions of people. it took an almost incomprehensible level of emotional anguish to make these records, and it almost killed him.
It is alluring thinking of what the future can offer Eminem now that he is in the earbuds of essentially a whole new generation of kids. Young girls dig Love the Way You Lie, and even longtime fans consider Recovery a near return to form. We can only expect his next album will be mesmerizing and representing the path he has taken his life- Eminem, Slim Shady, or Marshall Mathers. They are all necessary to make the artist who he is, and I just hope the fans appreciate the power and sadness and anger that went into making these records.
the top 10 Eminem songs
10. Say Goodbye Hollywood
9. Rock Bottom
8. Guilty Conscience
7. Til I Collapse
6. When the Music Stops
5. Lose Yourself
4. Kill You
1. The Way I Am
the top 5 most personal songs (as Marshall Mathers)
5. Talkin 2 Myself
4. Going Through Changes
3. Cleanin Out the Closet
1. The Way I Am
the top 5 Slim Shady songs
5. One Shot 2 Shot
4. Rock Bottom
3. The Real Slim Shady
2. My Name Is
1. 97 Bonnie and Clyde
Best song on each album
The Slim Shady LP- Rock Bottom
The Marshall Mathers LP- The Way I Am
The Eminem Show- Soldier
Encore- Never Enough
Recovery- Going Through Changes