I honestly have no idea if this interview already aired, hasn’t aired yet, or never will; but last week I spoke via phone to Tavis Smiley (formerly of BET, recently of NPR) about hip-hop and the internet along with Felicia Palmers from Support Online Hip-Hop. One thing you have to say about Mr. Smiley is that he’s always got the latest scoop; because halfway through he said to both of us, “Eminem’s new album has been pushed up a week due to online bootlegging. Can I get your thoughts on that?”
Of course, I was prepared with an on-the-fly answer about online bootlegging (people want to preview albums, not steal them) but after the interview was over and my nerves settled down (you don’t talk to Tavis Smiley every day) I thought about what he just said: Eminem’s new album got pushed up a week. To this I smiled, knowing that historically in rap the release dates of rap albums are usually pushed BACK as opposed to FORWARDS. With more time to consider my answer and a longer format show, I would have told Mr. Smiley that the REAL reason Eminem’s album was pushed up was a marketing gimmick, and that “online bootlegging” was just a good excuse.
As if to prove me right, I walked into a K*Mart store in middle America while on vacation this Saturday (I won’t say which or where, you’ll see why in a minute) and saw “The Eminem Show” with a “limited time only limited edition DVD” packaged inside sitting on the shelf over in entertainment. Given that new albums usually come out on Tuesday, I was needless to say a little confused. I assumed some naive employee had made a mistake and put a shipment that arrived over the weekend out early; but to make sure I went to another music store and checked. The clerk there promptly told me what that K*Mart did was illegal and they could get in big trouble, because the album wasn’t being released until Sunday.
“Sunday?” I was incredulous. “Are you sure you don’t mean Tuesday?”
“No,” he replied, “it’s being released nationwide this Sunday. We’re having a big release party for the album here at midnight.”
That just proves my theory was right. After returning to the undisclosed location of the aforementioned K*Mart and buying a copy (it even rang up at the sale price of $11.88) I smiled like a kid on Halloween with a bucket full of candy. Sure, it wasn’t much of an exclusive given that there WAS a widely distributed bootleg online AND the album was coming out nationwide the next day, but I still felt a little bit smug that thanks to K*Mart’s mistake I had “The Eminem Show” early. So without further adieux, let’s make like Mr. Mathers on the opening skit of the album and bring the “Curtains Up” on his new album.
In typical Eminem fashion, the opening song “White America” is directly intended to poke a finger in the eye of his critics who decry the very freedom of speech he Constitutionally enjoys. Produced by Em and his long-time collaborator Jeff Bass, the sound of Eminem’s wrath attacks over a track of crunchy guitar stabs that give the plodding beat a truly ominous sound. The point Eminem is making may be somewhat predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less true:
“All I hear is: lyrics, lyrics, constant controversy, sponsors working
round the clock to try to stop my concerts early, surely
Hip-Hop was never a problem in Harlem only in Boston
After it bothered the fathers of daughters startin to blossom
So now I’m catchin the flack from these activists when they raggin
Actin like I’m the first rapper to smack a bitch or say faggot, shit!
Just look at me like I’m your closest pal
The posterchild, the motherfuckin spokesman now”
To lighten up the mood a little bit, Eminem and Dr. Dre follow this song with “Business,” a song with silly references to Batman & Robin that obviously conceptually inspired the “Without Me” video. The jokes don’t last very long though, because Eminem’s next song “Cleanin Out My Closet” is a direct attack on his mother for not really being one.
“.. now I blew up, it makes you sick to ya stomach
doesn’t it? Wasn’t it the reason you made that CD for me Ma?
So you could try to justify the way you treated me Ma?
But guess what? You’re gettin older now and it’s cold when your lonely
And Nathan’s growin up so quick he’s gonna know that your phony
And Hailie’s gettin so big now; you should see her, she’s beautiful
But you’ll never see her – she won’t even be at your funeral!
See what hurts me the most is you won’t admit you was wrong
Bitch do your song – keep tellin yourself that you was a mom!
But how dare you try to take what you didn’t help me to get
You selfish bitch; I hope you fuckin burn in hell for this shit
Remember when Ronnie died and you said you wished it was me?
Well guess what, I +AM+ dead – dead to you as can be!”
It’s safe to say this ends up being the same formula we already know and love from Marshall Mathers: lyrics that are so personal it’s hard to believe they’re fictional, paired with songs that have comically over-the-top violence and scathing attacks on entertainment icons. For those who have accused him of only taking on white artists (N’Sync and Limp Bizkit) or softball targets (Christina Aguilera and Will Smith) those who hear “Square Dance” will be glad to hear him call out Canibus with the words, “Not even on my radar; so won’t you please jump off my dick, lay off and stay off.” Em obviously wasn’t pleased when Canibus rapped an entire song as his character “Stan” on the otherwise almost forgettable “C True Hollywood Stories,” but if history is any indication Canibus is at his best when responding to a diss so a comeback may be in order.
Unfortunately the album drags a little at this point, starting with the unnecessary “Kiss” skit that relives the incident that got Eminem a weapons posession charge. “Soldier” is a self-produced song that not uncoincidentally soungs like it might have been produced by No Limit Records; with a militaristic chorus and a fat heavy bassline. This is a good sound, but it’s not HIS sound, it belongs to Mystikal or Mr. Serv-On. “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” is a little better – a joint production between Eminem and Mel Man where he talks about being blinded from seeing his own mistakes by the bright lights of stardom. He really shines on “Drips” though, a hilarious duet with Obie Trice about the dangers of unprotected sex. While both rappers are raw, Trice really steals the show and gives yet another indication why Slim signed him to his Shady Records label:
“She foamin at the lips, the ones between her hips
Pubic hairs lookin like some sour cream dip
without the nacho, my dick hit the spot though
Pussy tighter than conditions of us black folks
We in the final stretch, the last part of sex
I bust a FAT ASS NUT, then I woke up next
like what the fuck is goin on here? The bitch evaporated
Pussy and all just picked up and vacated
Now I’m frustrated cause my dick was unprotected
And Dr. Wesley, tellin me I really got that shit!”
As Ice Cube might say, it’s two-thousand-two BITCH, and look who’s burnin. While this song might serve as a cautionary tale to some, it’s still all about saying anything that’s raunchy or dead wrong for a laugh to Eminem. His fearlessness continues on the lead single “Without Me” when he lambasts everyone from Dick Cheney’s wife to the leading electronic artists of the day:
“A-tisket a-tasket, I go tit for tat with
anybody who’s talkin this shit, that shit
Chris Kirkpatrick, you can get your ass kicked
worse than them little Limp Bizkit bastards
And Moby? You can get stomped by Obie
You thirty-six year old baldheaded fag, blow me
You don’t know me, you’re too old, let go
It’s over, nobody listen to techno
Now let’s go, just gimme the signal
I’ll be there with a whole list full of new insults
I been dope, suspenseful with a pencil
ever since Prince turned himself into a symbol”
“Sing For the Moment” may throw his fans a curveball though: a song which appears to sample Aerosmith’s “Dream On” yet simultaneously features the REAL Joe Perry playing guitar. Obviously not a stretch for the hard rock icons though, who are still remembered for recording “Walk This Way” with Run-D.M.C. back in the 1980’s, so it’s an enjoyable diversion from non-stop hardcore hip-hop. “Superman” features Eminem playing with his flow in a stuttered cadence, but he’s done the gimmick before and his beat on this one inspires only partial attention to his flow. Things get a little more interesting though when he actually SINGS to his daughter on “Hailie’s Song” – as heartfelt a tribute from father to child as Creed’s “Arms Wide Open”:
“My baby girl keeps gettin older, I watch her grow up with pride
People make jokes cuz they don’t understand me, they just don’t see my real side
I act like shit don’t phase me, inside it drives me crazy
My insecurities could eat me alive
But then I see my baby, suddenly I’m not crazy
It all makes sense when I look into her eyes…”
Even though Eminem has never been the greatest singer and never will be, you just can’t hate on this smooth groove and Eminem’s tribute to the best thing that ever happened to him. If that’s a little too sappy for you though, you’ll appreciate “When the Music Stops” featuring D-12: a song about the suicidal impulses entertainers feel when they fall out of the public spotlight and no longer bask in adulation. Even more harsh is the Dr. Dre produced “Say What You Say,” where both rappers call out Jermaine Dupri for some comments he will OBVIOUSLY regret making:
“(But what about Jermaine?) Fuck Jermaine!
He don’t belong speakin mine or Timbaland’s name
And don’t think, I don’t read
your lil’ interviews, and see what you’re sayin
I’m a giant, and I ain’t gotta move ’til I’m provoked
When I see you I’ma step on you and not even know it
You midget, Mini-Me with a bunch of little Mini-Yous
runnin around your backyard swimmin pools
Over 80 million records sold
And I ain’t have to do it with ten or eleven-year-olds”
Ouch baby, ouch. Wrapping up the album are “Till I Collapse,” another surprisingly militaresque track by Eminem, and the cute and VERY twisted duet with his daughter Hailie Jade “My Dad’s Gone Crazy.” The end result though is an album that is neither as groundbreaking as “The Slim Shady LP” nor as simultaneously funky and controversial as “The Marshall Mathers LP.” What works about this album is that it falls into an Eminem comfort zone: you get what you paid for, and the beats and the rhymes work for the most part. It’s not the epic album that Eminem hasn’t yet and may still write, but for the summer of 2002 it’s good enough to keep his name and fame alive. Bootleggers be damned, because “The Eminem Show” bonus DVD definitely makes this album nice for the price, whether the release date was a gimmick or not. If you’re already a fan or just a casual listener who still appreciates good hip-hop lyrics and beats, it’s a must buy.