The Hang of Music: Shady Business

Sorry for the terrible pun, but I had to use it. The voices in my head told me to.

Or something. Look; we’re about to get into some serious madness, because this week it is Eminem’s debut, “The Slim Shady LP”. Remember him, the guy with the chainsaw?

Is it even possible to get an uncensored version of this? Seems to defeat the point…

… And yes, that IS censored.

Just so you know, I pretty much grew up on Eminem, and thanks to the Steve Berman skits on later albums, I can no longer think of him as anything other than Em. Not Marshall Mathers, not Slim Shady, not Eminem. Em. And suffice it to say that, unlike most of these reviews, I’ve only had to resort to wikipedia once, and that was to check that “The Slim Shady LP” has a “the” in it. Really – that is all I needed to know.

That said, I’ve always found his earlier stuff too harsh to handle. I mean, Kim off of “The Marshall Mathers LP” was and is high octane nightmare fuel in music form. But, like a little trooper, I’m looking at his very first album, “The Slim Shady LP”. And once the Public Service Announcement has warned us that “the views and events expressed here are totally fucked, and not necessarily held by anyone” (more on that later), we launch straight into “My Name Is”, which is probably his second most pop-tastic song, after “Without Me”. So good times then.

You know, I can see why that was a hit. It’s a lot of fun, and the second most take that’s in any of his songs, after “Cum On Everybody” – his self-proclaimed “I hate dancefloor songs” song, and a great pun at that. And one of the interesting things about both of these songs is that they have really good beats for very different reasons. “My Name Is” is an incredibly minimal song, barely more than rapping, four bass notes and a drum, whereas “Cum On Everybody” is actually really over-produced, presumably as a parody of the pop music it despises so. And like all good parodies, it sounds like what it’s lampooning until you listen closer.

By comparison, the rapping on this album (the thing Em is meant to be known and famous for) is some of the slowest I’ve ever heard. Rarely more than a few words a bar, it’s often more like just talking – or yelling. YetI still find myself having to wind the track back and relisten to what he said, and only sometimes out of shock. I find it’s a testament to Em’s care with his lyrics that I still feel the need to go back every now and then to relisten to what he just said.

Now, obviously, I have to cover the content of his songs. Sad, angry, self-loathing and poisonous. Songs about his wife/ex-wife and daughters. Oh, and musical versions of a middle finger to everyone. I find it difficult to know how far he’s being serious here. But yes, the album features examples of all of these. But there are other things, different and amazing things. Such as how, in “My Fault”, for example, he displays a genuine human emotion (regret and sorrow), other than hate and self-loathing/pity. ACTING!

But yeah, if you’ve listened to one of Em’s albums before, you know what to expect. But I have to say that all of these songs sound a lot more sparse, and a lot more personal because of it. There’s a lot less going on in terms of musical backing and distractions, and as such it all sounds so much more sincere. Or, in terms of his jabs at other musicians, funny.

He’s always had an obsession with his different personas. A lot of rappers use personas, but he’s always been fixated on his own; how they can be, what he can get away with in them, how they differ (if at all) from his real self. This is his second album, and his first that’s really in character (hence “Slim Shady LP”), and the opening song starts by talking about how he “hung his other self”. Compare that to later rants about how many shady imitators there are, and about how he’s spent so long as Shady that no-one wants anything else.

Compare this with Stan, off of the next album, where Em politely lays into a fan for not getting the difference between his persona as Slim Shady and his real life self.

“But what’s this shit you said about you like to cut your wrists too?
I say that shit just clownin dogg, c’mon – how fucked up is you?”

“Stan”, The Marshall Mathers LP

Throughout the ‘Stan’ segments, Stan also perpetually refers to Em as “Slim”, showing that he doesn’t in fact get the difference between the stage persona and real-life personality.*

I mention all this, in part because it’s interesting, but also because it’s relevant: Stan gets an appearance on this album too. Track 3, “Guilty Conscience”; Stan appears as a statutory rapist (and possibly a date rapist too – it’s not made clear). In fact, there are a whole ton of call forwards:

Wow.

Eminem’s got layers!

Wait, the girl on “Bitch” is supposed to be being a bitch? She seems to be exhibiting the normal reaction to Eminem. Her only real failure seems to be that she’s not in on the joke.

And what is the joke? It’s that Em, or at least Shady, is a horrible human being, and no-one is more aware of this fact than the man himself. In fact, I would wager that for all the ire he receives, the person who hates Em most is the man himself. (Except possibly Hayley. And in his later years Todd.) “Screaming ‘I suck!’” [Cum on Everybody]. It’s all the way through the album. However, I’m not daft enough to say that that justifies the times when he goes too far. No, “Refuge in Audacity” justifies those. But at any rate, I’m not here to convince you to listen to foul rap – though I am detecting a pattern in my rap tastes.**

So yeah, Eminem/Slim Shady is more than just an evil personification of the human ID. The persona that he presents is itself a complicated and flawed creation. And nowhere is this fact more clear than on “The Slim Shady LP”. So even just in that respect, it’s good.

But the most salient point is this: I used to be a huge fan of Em’s later work – The Eminem Show, Encore, NOPE NO LATER ALBUMS THAN THAT – but on relistening since hearing “Slim Shady LP”, they just sound tame and toothless. By comparison, I now feel more drawn towards “The Slim Shady LP”, “The Marshall Mathers LP”, and even “Devil’s Night” (a co-operative effort between Em, Dre and the rest of D-12) to an extent. So whether or not I’m happy with having two of my favourite albums ruined, I’ve got to be impressed with this album, as it’s not so often that one’s opinion gets so powerfully turned on its head.

Anyways, I hope you get this man, hit me back, just to chat. Truly yours, your biggest fan; this is Stan.

* It could be argued that, in later years, what with his more personal songs, such as “Cleaning Out My Closet” and “Mockingbird”, that Em himself has forgotten where to draw the line.

** Wait, nope – not so much.

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Posted on August 5, 2012, in Music, The Hang of Music, Tropes and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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