Has the world gone crazy? You know the world is wildly out of order when the best golfer is Black, the tallest basketball player is Asian, and the biggest rapper is White. The only way I could possibly be shocked now would be for Bush to get reelected. Shit! That's it, pack up your travel bibles, rosaries beads and water bottles, because the apocalypse is coming!
While the question of sanity has never been taken into consideration when it comes to Eminem, as the semi-psychotic Slim Shady releases his forth album, "Encore," his waving ability to shock and bemuse his fans has come under shaky speculation. Augmenting the anxiety, Em's first hit "Just Lose It" isn't dropping any jaws or widening any eyes. Suddenly the more relevant question emerges of, how long can he keep this up? The problem with basing a career off shock appeal is sooner or later the gimmick becomes expected, then expired. With Eminem's shit list dwindling down, will "Encore" taste as flat and flavorless as old chewing gum?
The curtains rise to another surely disturbing chapter in the Book of Mathers with "Evil Deeds," a Dr. Dre produced thumper where Em repents for his previous sins of the tongue. However, Eminem's penance falters in comparison to previous openers like "Kill You" and "White America," sounding halfhearted and lackluster. Things bounce back with "Never Enough," featuring Nate Dogg and Em's right hand man, 50 Cent. It restates Eminem's lyrical pedigree and is pleasantly produced by Dre.
"There's not much you could do or say to phase me
People think I'm a little bit crazy
I get it from all angles, even occasionally Doc Dre-zie'll
Have to step in every once in a while to save me
To make me stop and think about it 'fore I just say things
Sometimes I forget what other people just may think
A lot of rappers probably wouldn't know how to take me
If they heard some shit I'd lay on the tape 'fore they erase me
I may be a little too fast paced and racy
Sometimes the average listener rewinds and plays me twenty times
Cuz I say so many rhymes, it may seem
Like I'm going too fast cuz my mind is racing
And I could give a fuck what category you place me
Long as when I'm pushing up daisies and gone
As long as you place me amongst one of them greats
When I hit the heavenly gates I'll be cool beside Jay-Z"
It doesn't take long for Em's sappy side to slip into to the album. "Yellow Brick Road" wistfully looks back on some of Eminem's high school trials and tribulations, including the quasi-racist tape Benzino resurrected and propagated to garner anti-Em support. Continuing to wring out sympathy from his tear-soaked towel of a life, Eminem doubles-up with "Like Toy Soilders," another self-produced, self-sorry introspection on the Slim Shady saga. These tracks are moderately endearing, but they lack the honest anguish and lyrical menace of blood-curdlers like "Cleaning Out My Closet" and "I Am." If radio attempts to promote Em's personal woes off "Encore," as they usually do, they are going to be hard pressed to find the same tender response from audiences. "Mosh" suffers from a similar stigma: a disconcerted, ADD Eminem who can't seem to lock down his lyrics. Dre provides a dark, foreboding backdrop. The stage seems set for Eminem to lay some the most scathing and prolific lyrics of his career…and he fumbles! All the ferocity is there but non-of his vituperative astuteness.
"All the people up top, on the side and the middle
Come together, let's all form this swamp just a little
Just let it gradually build, from the front to the back
All you can see is a sea of people, some white and some black
No matter what color, all that matters we're gathered together
To celebrate for the same cause, no matter the weather
If it rains, let it rain
Yeah, the wetter the better
They ain't gon' stop us - they can't
We're stronger now, more then ever
They tell us "No", we say "Yeah"
They tell us "Stop", we say "Go"
Rebel with a rebel yell
Raise hell - we gon' let em know
Stomp, push, shove, mush, fuck Bush"
But the show must go on. Fortunately, once the hump of pseudo-sensitive soliloquies are up and over, the later half of the album is pure hilarity. "Puke" literally has Eminem hurling over Kim every time he thinks of her. "My 1st Single" puns its own radio falter as Em jests "well I guess I just fucked that up so-." Eminem's oddly missed, A&R agent Paul returns for a short skit. Then Em heckles the late Christopher Reeves for an entire song on "Rain Man," while "Big Weenie" childishly provokes the jealous subalterns in Em's slim shadow. Then it's on to "Just Lose It," the album's first single. No need to stop here, you've heard it. In "Ass Like That" Slim impersonates Triumph the Insult Comic Dog for three perverse verses of ogling over the Olsen twins and booty bashing Hilary Duff.
The album closes as spasmodically as it began. "Spend Some Time" features Obie Trice and Stat Quo for a pseudo-love song. Predictably, Em lays down one for Haley with "MockingBird," but what is not foreseeable is that it actually works. "Crazy In Love" samples from "Crazy On You" by Heart for a manic love/hate ode to his ex-wife Kim. D-12 appears on "One Shot 2 Shot," and the album finally closes with a sure shot banger "Encore/Curtains Down." The Doctor lays the beat, 50 drops the hook, and Em and Dre foray flames back and forth:
"The buzz is tremendous, we drop you all to sense it
I don't gotta promote it for you to know that doc is off the benches"
"We keep the party rockin' off the hinges
We ain't showin' off, we just goin' off popular consensus"
"But critics say that Doc is soft, Doc is talk
Doc is all washed up, knock it off
Who the fuck is Doc impressin'?
Doc is this, Doc is that, you got the wrong impression
You must be on the cock of Doc, cuz Doc left you all guessin'
So DJ take the needle and just drop it on the record
We gon' have this mutherfucker hoppin' in a second
That's why we always save the best cut last
To make you scratch and itch for it like fresh cut grass"
Even though Slim is a solid producer, Dr. Dre's veteran presence was sorely missed on "The Eminem Show." Thankfully, an even half of the production on "Encore" is relinquished back to the Doctor to give it a more solid, hard-hitting heartbeat than its original counterpart. Unfortunately, Eminem's lyrics lack the drive and direction previous pressure granted them. His verses sound lazy and unfocused, essentially infusing a freestyle feel to them. He even brags, "I don't gotta make no god damn sense / I just did a whole song and I didn't say shit." Wherein Eminem's first two albums were violently packed with his evolving torment, his last two seem to have leveled off onto a plateau of comfort, leaving the artist less to confront.
Nevertheless, "Encore" does prove one thing: that even half-trying, Eminem is still better than most of the rappers beside him with plenty of personality to spare. "Encore" actually imitates Eminem's manic, moody personality, shifting as quick as his temper from "Puke" to "Crazy In Love," or from "Mosh" to "Mockingbird." Em spends half his time burning bridges and the other half rebuilding them. Overall the album is really just an encore of the manic-depressiveness you heard on "The Eminem Show." It's just more of that rambunctious, raving maniac insulting everyone within ear shot, but hey, isn't that what you buy an Eminem album for anyway?
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: November 9, 2004