Eminem's big mouth just melts

May 26, 2002


The latest in a long line of gleeful pop bad boys (and darn proud of it), Eminem
drops his fourth collection of venomous spew today, and you can be sure he's
enjoying the controversy that's already building.

Last week, the office of Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife and a frequent
critic of the recording industry, slammed the former Marshall Mathers after the
Drudge Report revealed a few incendiary lines from "White America," a track
from the album. "F--- you, Miss Cheney! . . . with the freeness of speech this
Divided States of Embarrassment will allow you to have," Eminem snarls.

Spokeswoman Natalie Rule told Reuters that Cheney had "no response to the
personal attacks, but she sees this as a larger issue--mainly Mr. Mather's
repeated glorification of violence against women and gay people. That deserves
to be widely condemned."

Even the release date for "The Eminem Show" has caused hand-wringing.
Interscope Records had hoped to encourage fans to buy the disc instead of
bootlegging it by packing a bonus DVD of performance footage, interviews and
animation into the first 2 million copies. But leaked tracks began showing up on
the Internet and on unauthorized CDs, prompting the label to accelerate the
planned June 4 release first to May 28, then to today.

"We found we were able to meet the demand and get 'The Eminem Show' into
the stores even earlier than expected," sales and marketing chief Steve Berman
said in a statement. "Our mandate as a company was to put the album in
listeners' hands the way Eminem intended them to get it, and to do it as quickly
as possible to battle the problems we were having with illicit copying."

It's no surprise that label president Jimmy Iovine wants people to buy the album
before they have the chance to download it for free. Once they hear it, it's a fair
bet that many fans will pass on this one.

Nothing in popular music grows older quicker than carefully engineered
outrage--just ask Marilyn Manson--and we're unlikely to hear another
mega-hyped release this year that sounds quite this tired and played out.

For the first time in his career, Eminem is out of touch with current pop culture:
His references are all slightly out of date, if not downright dusty. Besides
Cheney, the targets of his biting insults include would-be lyric censor Tipper
Gore (what is this, 1984?); broadcast personality Joel Siegel; innocuous techno
maven Moby, and Sally Jessy Raphael--whose final show was on last week.

But I'm falling into the trap that Eminem has set for his critics, emphasizing his
words at the expense of his music. The rapper maintains that he's just a
foul-mouthed class clown, saying out loud the things that plenty of other people
think (or at least what other self-obsessed, angst-ridden, narrow-minded white
male bullies think).

He gripes that he doesn't get credit for his musical "genius." So let's examine
the music first.

Eminem and Dr. Dre alternate production credits, but it doesn't really matter,
because the rapper's tracks sound just like his mentor's. Dre's reputation as a
masterful producer has always been overrated: His mix of cheap analog synth
licks, childlike four-and-five-note hooks, and unimaginative drum-machine
grooves was old when it propelled "Niggaz4Life" by his first group N.W.A to the
top of the charts in 1990.

This is bubblegum pop, pure and simple, darker than the stuff churned out by
Max Martin's Swedish hit factory ('N Sync, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys),
but ultimately no more creative, challenging, or substantial. The best tune Em
and Dre come up with is an extended sample of "Dream On," and the pairing of
Aerosmith and hip-hop seemed a little too obvious when Run-D.M.C. first did it
16 years ago.

Eminem can't sing to save his life, but he tries entirely too often over the course
of these 20 tracks. And this time, there's no Dido to add tuneful relief.

Serious hip-hop fans often praise the rapper's "flow," the deft torrent of lyrics
that tumble from his mouth with a slightly exaggerated Michigan twang.
Mathers' tongue isn't growing any more nimble with age, though he does have
an impressive ability to cram more syllables into a sentence than any
Washington politician. But really, how much of an accomplishment is that when
the words are on the level of a scatological Dr. Seuss?

As for the substance of those words, most of the tracks chronicle Mathers' life
since 2000's multiplatinum release, "The Marshall Mathers LP." The poor
boy--during this period, he was vilified by a handful of critics (though he was
praised by even more, and he got constant radio and MTV play). He was sued
by his mom (though he insulted her at tedious length and continues to do so
here), and he was prosecuted by Michigan police (though he did pistol-whip a
man who'd innocently kissed his ex-wife).

Oh, and he happened to earn millions of dollars. Tough life, eh?

Mindful of the boycotts last time, Eminem tones down the gay-bashing here.
But to make up for that, he increases the misogyny. The most-quoted line so
far is his threat to a "bitch" in "Superman" to "put anthrax on a Tampax and
slap you 'til you can't stand."

"[You're] acting like I'm the first rapper to smack a bitch or say 'faggot,' " he
raps in that laidback drawl on "White America," then goes on to underscore that
the nation's kids love him, so he must be doing something right. Well, a lot of
people smoke crack, too, even though they know that it's bad for them. What
does that prove?

As for that drug, the penultimate track opens with the sounds of Eminem
sucking on a crack pipe, only to be interrupted by his preteen daughter, Hailie,
who proceeds to deliver the sing-songy hook of "My Dad's Gone Crazy," proving
she's a much better crooner than pops.

The song's verses are filled with Eminem's usual flood of hateful diatribes, but
his Interscope publicist, Dennis Dennehy, swears that Hailie didn't hear those
parts of the track, only the bits that she sang on. Eminem may be a lot of
reprehensible things, but he doesn't want to be known as a bad father--the sort
that would let a kid listen to his music.

The rest of us should take a cue from him and avoid "The Eminem Show" as