Dr. Dre can be called many things; influential, certainly, popular, without a doubt, even the most talented rap producer of his generation, arguably. But despite his many accolades, he is not original, or at least not lyrically. In the early 90s he was doing tracks with MC Ren and Snoop Dogg about guns, weed and hos. Look at tracks from his album “2001” and, lets face it, you still see tracks with MC Ren and Snoop Dogg about guns, weed and hos. He has always been willing to follow the traditions of West Coast gangsta rap, traditions which he, admittedly, helped to create. Rarely has he produced anything other than “big-screen TVs, blunts, forties and bitches” rap, which makes it all the more strange that Eminem, his most successful protege, is about as far away from the rag-wearin’, low-ridin’, Glock-poppin’ gangsta as one can be, rapping as he often does about “homosexuals and Vicodin”.
It is not the purpose of this article to make sense of this slightly bewildering connection. One can only assume that Dre’s tastes are more varied than his tunes lead you to assume.”The Slim Shady LP” was well-received, and sold a huge number of copies. It also produced a pair of hit singles, “Guilty Conscience” and “My Name Is…”, which brought Eminem fame, money and recognition, and sparked hysteria from various critics, commentators and gay-rights groups, mainly caused by the traditional attacks based on bad language and obscene content, but also partly inspired by Eminem’s unpleasant and vocal homophobia. The album established Eminem’s style, unhinged flows over a stripped-down, G-Funk backing, but although it was clear at this stage that Eminem was far from just another gangsta rapper, it was his follow-up record, “The Marshall Mathers LP“, that would truly cement his reputation as rap’s eccentric and complicated leading light.
From the first to the last track, “The Marshall Mathers LP” is an album designed to shock and repulse. In places it is so unpleasant as to be barely listenable, for example, on the skit “Ken Kaniff”, or the song “Kim”. But unlike many albums created in a similar spirit, here, there’s method in the madness. Eminem’s rapping technique is beyond compare, and his lyrics, while unpleasant, display a certain wit: “Will Smith don’t gotta cuss in his raps to sell records / Well I do / So fuck him and fuck you, too!” There is a real problem in Eminem’s misogynism (“Think I won’t choke no whore / Till her vocal cords / Won’t work in her throat no more?”) and homophobia (“…Stab you in the head / Whether you fag or lez / Whether homosex, hermaph or trans-a-vest / Pants or dress? / Hate fags? The answer’s yes”), though, and even the wit and skill with which it is delivered cannot alter the fact that many listeners will be put off by this. Still, there is a huge amount to enjoy in Eminem’s music. His raps are animated, witty and complex, the Dre and Mel-Man production, though usually unadventurous, is very competent indeed, and the album as a whole is consistent yet varied. There is, in my opinion, one stand-out track. One of the greatest rap songs ever written, and certainly Eminem’s finest hour, “Stan” is a hugely affecting track, comprising a fantastic story and some brilliant production featuring “that bit with Dido”, which makes for a wonderfully haunting backing.
The rest of the album teeters on the edge of the sublime, and only just avoids falling into the abyss of the ridiculous. The juvenile humour of tracks like “The Real Slim Shady”, “Under The Influence” and “The Kids”, rarer here than on “The Slim Shady LP”, some how manages to fall into step with the gangsta violence of “Remember Me?”, “Amityville” and “Bitch, Please II”, and with the tirades against fame that are “The Way I Am”, “Marshall Mathers” and “Criminal”. This rich tissue of themes is held together by Eminem’s seemingly boundless skills as a rapper, even though in the hands of any other these transitions might seem nigh on impossible.
“The Marshall Mathers LP” was a massive album in every sense. It was hugely significant “for the industry”, very controversial, and, naturally, massively popular. After this album came out, Eminem was no longer seen as the flash-in-the-pan golden boy of rap. Now he himself was the starmaker. Admittedly, his first “product” was Dido, hardly a valuable string to his bow. But of course, since then, Eminem has started his own successful record label, starred in the semi-biographical, critically acclaimed movie “8 Mile”, and discovered 50 Cent, making himself a mentor and “go-to guy”, just as Dre has been for so long. “The Marshall Mathers LP” was the key to Eminem’s development, and so, despite its faults, it was an album which changed the face of hip-hop forever.