90’s Score: 9.5/10
2020 Score: 7/10
The first time I heard Eminem I was 8 years old and it terrified me. It was akin to accidentally seeing porn on TV. Plagued by a deep shame, I had nightmares for a week, and yet…I wanted to hear it again. It was perverse. Being a doe-eye suburbanite, I was used to having to bottle up my anger. I was so innocent and repressed that I didn’t say “fuck” until I was at least 12. Even though it awoke something in me, The Slim Shady LP hasn’t aged well. Eminem’s desire to offend anyone and everyone would mean it would never be released today. Listening to it in our current cultural climate, I can say that even I found myself aghast and I’m not easy to disturb. Love it or hate it, you will react. But isn’t that what art is supposed to do?
The Slim Shady LP is a complex listen and was unlike anything the world of hip-hop had ever heard. What makes it so groundbreaking is how Eminem takes violence previously introduced by groups like N.W.A. to a funhouse extreme thanks to his deliriously evil alter ego, Slim Shady. Shady is so obviously a cartoon character that you shouldn’t take him too seriously. Anyone with a dark sense of humour should appreciate the surreal nature of a line like “Beat Foghorn Leghorn with an acorn.” But not everything is played for laughs and that’s what makes this surprisingly diverse in tone.
If it was just an hour of an asshole making anti-PC jokes, then it would be unbearable. Em is at his most engaging when he interweaves his three personas until we don’t know who is who. The Slim Shady LP is a little too lopsided in that it focuses way too much on its title character, so some of the most effective songs are the ones in which Marshall Mathers directs the knife at himself. “Brain Damage,” “Rock Bottom” and “If I Had” all give a better idea of why he is the way he is. You might not forgive Eminem but you will empathize with his tragic tales of poverty, pain, abuse, and suicidal tendencies.
Does Em go too far? Most definitely! I can’t listen to “Bonnie and Clyde 97” anymore. Bringing your infant daughter onto a track about killing her mom is supremely troubling. Also, you’ll find yourself asking “is Eminem a misogynist?” Well…he sure has a complicated relationship with women. All I know is the rape jokes found in songs like “My Fault” make me cringe and want to denounce the guy completely. Lyrics about his fractured history with his Mom, thankfully humanize him a bit. It’s not an excuse, but it doesn’t take much critical thinking to conclude the guy probably just has severe Mommy issues.
If you look at the album as just an extreme therapy session and the vocalization of humanity’s worst impulses, it becomes much more fascinating to listen to, even if it isn’t always easy to swallow. It also helps that songs like “Guilty Conscience,” “Role Model,” “Rock Bottom,” and “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” are stone-cold classics that best show Eminem’s natural flow, eccentric rhymes and ability to inhibit multiple characters. The Slim Shady LP is above else the breakthrough of one of the most unique voices in hip-hop. He’s not in the top five of all time (as Syd Ghan previously ranted) but at least the top ten. An old English teacher of mine put it best: “I don’t like Eminem, but if he were in my class, I would give him an A.”
Written by Shawn Thicke
*Edited by Dominic Abate