PHOTO: Album Artwork
It’s hard to believe that Detroit rapper, Eminem, would only take the music world by storm a mere year before releasing what would become the biggest selling hip-hop album of all time, The Marshall Mathers LP. In early 1999, Eminem released his first album signed to a major label, The Slim Shady LP; nobody anticipated the whirlwind year that would follow. Not only would he go on to win the Grammy for Best Rap Album, he would also gain even more recognition within the hip-hop community working on Dr Dre’s 2001. However, with his newfound commercial success, continuing on into the 2000s, Eminem’s lyrics would be heavily scrutinised by angered parents and politicians alike.
Despite this, The Marshall Mathers LP is regarded as one of the greatest rap albums of all time. The opening skit, as well as the album’s first track, ‘Kill You’, acts as Eminem’s rebellion against those who had attempted to censor his art and suppress his freedom of speech, hence his excessive use of profanity and over-the-top depictions of violence, drug use and misogyny. Delivered over a Dr Dre and Mel-Man beat, this opening track introduces the themes of rebellion and protest that are prevalent throughout the entirety of this album.
Moreover, there are also tracks that give an honest insight into the mind of the rapper, highlighting the personal impact of his newfound fame, an idea perhaps expressed best on ‘The Way I Am’. Here, Eminem addresses his frustration with being approached in public while with his daughter and being hassled by fans, resulting in his wish that he would just “die or get fired”, or even dropped from his label. ‘Marshall Mathers’ is another confessional song, this time delivering some of the most memorable disses of this era of hip-hop, over the interesting choice of an acoustic guitar, contributing to the uniqueness of this rap album.
Furthermore, the disses found on tracks such as ‘The Real Slim Shady’ and ‘I’m Back’, do give the album a comical feel at times. However, these celebrity put-downs are intertwined with more serious criticisms of society, including a comment on the timeless issue of US gun laws in ‘Who Knew’.
‘The Way I Am’ was also one of Eminem’s most impressive lyrical displays at this point of his career, utilizing anapestic tetrameter throughout each verse. In fact, even on more light-hearted tracks such as ‘Drug Ballad’, which Eminem claims to have written in 20 minutes, Mathers produces technically impressive verses. Just look at the tight internal rhyming when he raps: “And everything’s spinnin’, you’re beginnin’ to think women / Are swimmin’ in pink linen again in the sink / Then in a couple of minutes that bottle of Guinness is finished”. He consistently produces impressive rhyme schemes on this album; this technical ability results in him being considered one of the best lyricists in the rap game.
Another talent that Eminem demonstrates on this record is his storytelling prowess, most impressively on the gripping short story: ‘Stan’. This tale of a fan with an unhealthy obsession with his favourite rapper is the pinnacle of storytelling in hip-hop. The song gets progressively more disturbing, with Stan’s frustrations leading to him acting violently, taking the lyrics from The Slim Shady LP literally, ultimately drowning himself and his pregnant girlfriend. The eerie beat, with its rain effects and pencil scratchings, is aided by a generous sampling of Dido’s ‘Thank You’.
However, the other stand-out example of storytelling on the album, is the most disturbing and controversial song of the rapper’s career. The track ‘Kim’, which depicts Eminem murdering his ex-wife, was removed from the clean version of the album. Eminem claims he had intended to demonstrate how much he cares about his ex-wife; the listener hears him shout, “Oh my God, I love you”. Interestingly, by looking past the lack of rhyme scheme and the harsh delivery, ‘Kim’ is actually an incredibly unique track that is full of emotion, and can astonishingly lead the listener to sympathise with him at moments.
The album also hosts a number of guest rappers. The most impressive collaborative effort takes the form of ‘Bitch Please II’, featuring Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit and the late Nate Dogg. Each artist delivers over a trademark Westcoast Dre beat, harking back the glory days of G-Funk.
Its subject matter challenged the boundaries of popular music, the lyrical technique was unrivalled and the production flawless. The Marshall Mathers LP is not only one of the truly classic rap albums, but also one of the most culturally important albums of the 21st century.