90s score: 7/10
2016 score: 5/10
“You can be King/you can rule the world, you can be anything. It’s on you, baby. Whoever, wherever you are.” No matter how many times I listen to Infinite, it’s hard to believe some of these positive and hopeful words were penned by hip-hop’s perpetually offensive, angry, and depressed bad-boy Eminem.
The weirdest thing is that Infinite is FULL of moments like this. Even the most angsty song on the record is called “It’s Okay” and, while not quite as saccharine as the title suggests, it is hands down the most hopeful Eminem song I’ve ever heard. However, that isn’t to say that the Eminem the world grew to hate isn’t hinted at on this record.
“Maxine” is an unfortunately familiar slut-shaming anthem that excuses its harshness under the veil of health concerns. Eminem will always be thematically repetitive, so as much as I shake my head at moments like this, his flow and storytelling skills almost make up for it. “Jealousy Woes II” embraces Eminem’s emotional, heartbroken side without taking it to Slim Shady’s dark and violent playgrounds. “Backstabber” sounds like early groundwork for the Slim Shady character. Rather than embodying him, however, the narrator starts off as a victim of The Man with Green Hair, but ultimately exacts revenge on him for this attack.
“Never 2 Far” laments his pre-fame financial struggles, a theme that gets carried over to the Slim Shady LP and becomes ironic when contrasted with his disdain toward his fame and fortune later in his career. Another factor that distinguishes this part of his career from the rest is how few drug references there are. In fact the most obvious one is not about using, but about how he “quit smoking sets” to “free up” his chest.
Many of the rest of the lyrics on Infinite involve smoothly delivered bragging about Eminem’s skills as an emcee. It’s interesting to consider how rhymes like this are typical in rap, but as Eminem got more famous without receiving the critical praise he felt he deserved, these claims eventually came across as childish whining. On Infinite, however, Eminem’s lyrical skills seem to match his confidence in them.
Much like on the Slim Shady LP, the production on Infinite is minimal and typically 90s, usually nothing more than a snare and bass drum, with occasionally a jazzy keyboard or guitar part and a funky bass line. On “Backstabber” there are prominent vinyl scratches. These songs also mostly lack the catchy pop choruses of Eminem’s later work, focusing more on endless verses with constant rhyming and other forms of wordplay. It’s also worth noting that this whole album was produced by two people, showing Eminem’s preference for a less-is-more attitude that continued even when Dr. Dre was the only person curating Em’s beats.
While Infinite is an interesting history lesson and bizarrely tame origin story for one of rap’s most wild and offensive characters, it sounds dated and as such it’s no surprise that it didn’t distinguish itself at the time. Other than his obvious lyrical skill, Infinite does nothing to separate itself from what the average rap record sounded like at the time.
I can’t help but wonder though, if this record had set off Eminem’s career like Slim Shady LP did, would we have gotten a generally more positive and less offensive career from him? Eminem has always insisted that we, the public, legitimized and validated his monstrous persona; as much as that attempts to absolve him of any obvious wrongdoing, I think he might have a point.
Written by Brian Charles Clarke
*edited by Kate Erickson