This review originally appeared at Sonicnet.com in March 1999.
The Slim Shady LP
Reviewed by G. Beato
Given the constant name-checking that most rappers engage in, it's somewhat ironic that Eminem, in "My Name Is," the MTV hit that has served as his introduction to most of the world, identifies himself via an alternate persona: Slim Shady. Of course, such secondary aliases are something of a hip-hop trend these days - RZA is Bobby Digital, Everlast is Whitey Ford. But while those name changes seem motivated by a desire for brand diversification and commercial reinvention, respectively, the appellative ambiguity of Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem, aka Slim Shady, seems more personal, more elemental to his particular talent. As he spins off-the-cuff, over-the-top tales riddled with references to suicide, his drug-addled mother, and the travails of growing up as an alienated welfare kid whose one solace - rap - was compromised by the "inauthenticity" his whiteness saddled him with, one can't help but imagine a younger Mathers alone in his room, practicing his performances, inventing personas, wishing he were someone, anyone, else: LL Cool J, Kid Rock, a cold-hearted murderer whoever.
"These are the results of a thousand electric volts/A neck with bolts/'Nurse, we're losing him, check the pulse,'" he declares at the start of "Brain Damage," and the vague, conflated electroshock-Frankenstein-imagery seem particularly apt - does the first line reference an electric chair killing him? a defibrillator reviving him? Either way, Eminem and Slim Shady are the monsters borne of Mathers' desire for a more formidable identity, self-invented and, at the same time, simulataneously stunned and jump-started by all the usual lowbrow hallmarks of contemporary electronic culture: South Park, Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, COPS, and pretty much every gangsta rap album ever produced echo throughout the densely rhymed, darkly humorous, and gratuitously misogynistic tracks that constitute "The Slim Shady LP." In Slim Shady's universe, the four food groups seem to consist of shrooms, booze, crack, and weed; every woman is a bitch or a slut, and there are numerous references to rape; the tale of a man murdering his baby's mother is rendered as parody; and the closest thing to a "love song" is a track on which Eminem croons "I never meant to give you mushrooms, girl" to a hapless woman he meets at a party who inadvertently ingests a lethal dose of mushroom caps.
The televisual and shock jock influences are so strong on "Slim Shady" that the music that accompanies Eminem's lyrics often seems like an afterthought: almost all the songs are stripped-down, straight-forward affairs, with slow, simple beats and the occasional synthesizer and keyboard parts to fill out the sound. "Guilty Conscience" sounds like it was swiped from a Pac Man game; "My Fault," which has a faster tempo than most of the songs here, sounds like a Midwestern wedding band trying to play something funky. It's a seemingly deliberate approach that often works quite well - the fact that Eminem can make cheesy, generic riffs like the one that propels "Cum on Everybody" sound so great is a testament to the virtuosity of his sneering, smirking, perfectly timed vocals.
Still, it's a combination that can prove wearing. Eminen's nasal staccato is so potent that it might conceivably benefit from some more compelling counterpoints. On the other hand, maybe it wouldn't. Trading as heavily in disaffection, amorality, and unrepentent nihilism as he does on songs like "Just Don't Give a Fuck" and "Still Don't Give a Fuck," he could easily slip into unwitting self-parody. But the sheer momentum of his lyrics validates his message: "I'm tired of committing so many sins/I'm tired of always giving in when this bottle of Henny wins/I'm tired of never having any ends/I'm tired of having skinny friends hooked on crack and Mini-Thins," he raps on "If I Had," jamming as many rhymes as he possibly can into each measure, as if he thinks he's got just a few scarce moments to communicate all the pain, anger, disgust, and self-loathing he's felt in his life, along with the twisted sense of transcendence and misanthropic humor those feelings have fed.
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