Eminem has always been intolerable
Brent DiCrescenzo cannot comprehend the praise delivered to the superstar rapper. The Marshall Mathers LP 2, like The Marshall Mathers LP before it, is nothing more than exquisitely rendered truck nuts.
Fri Nov 8 2013
"You make my pee pee go da-doing doing doing."
That line comes from "Ass Like That," a song recorded by Eminem, a grown man, nearly a decade ago. Encore, the rapper's fourth major release and origin of that single, was certainly not his most acclaimed, but esteemed critics like Robert Christgau were still able to hear a grown man say "You make my pee pee go da-doing doing doing" and grant the album four stars (in Rolling Stone) and an A (in his own Record Guide).
To be fair, it wasn't just Christgau and Rolling Stone blowing so much smoke up the MC's poo poo. In 2005, VH1 ranked Eminem one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time (two years after Rolling Stone did the same). Vibe named him the greatest rapper alive in 2008. For the life of me, in the 14 years since Slim Shady burst on to the scene, I have never understood this. Eminem has forever been a one-tool player with deep character flaws. To put it another way, Eminem has always been a Juggalo without the clown makeup.
In his verses, Marshall Mathers has cut up people with chainsaws, stuffed women into car trunks and choked them, and stabbed "fags" in the head (in case you have forgotten or forgiven "Criminal"). The delineation between Eminem and, say, Blaze Ya Dead Homie or Twiztid often come down to black and white paint. To be clear, my displeasure at these lyrics does not stem from some genteel prudishness. As a teenager, after bombing steep suburban Atlanta hills on a skateboard, building acid–aluminum foil explosives in Gatorade bottles behind the movie theater, or shooting a sawed-off BB gun in the woods, I'd listen to N.W.A., Gravediggaz, Da Lench Mob, Ice Cube. Violent rap, for the most part. Like I said, I was a teenager. Yet even then, the anger and violence of Ice Cube or RZA seemed to be either the result of injustice or clearly fantastical and wrapped in the trappings of comic book horror. Eminem, on the other hand, has awkwardly skated the line between confession and cartoon. He wants us to believe his hatred flows from a well of instilled abuse and pain—and that it's all just a character. It's just a joke, guys! He has no problems with homosexuals in real life. In other words, Eminem is some sort of inverse Orson Scott Card.
I will admit that I, like other critics, am willing to don blinders if the backing music is on point. Thing is, I never found the music on Eminem records to be of interest. The token triumphant songs ("Not Afraid," "Survival," et al.) rely on platitudes and bland backing vocalists. They're cheesy. The comedic songs rely on dated cultural references (has anyone tried to squeeze as much milk from Kevin Federline?) and locker room jokes Adam Carolla would deem lazy. His beats have always struck my ear as tinny, cheaply inorganic and carnival-like (even the Dre ones), the product of someone without great taste. The samples have always pulled from trite and obvious sources, from Dido and "Dream On" early on to the Zombies and Joe Walsh on the just-released The Marshall Mathers LP 2. The Eminem output around the turn of the millennium sounds like child's play next to contemporaries such as Dungeon Family, J. Dilla, DJ Premier, Dan the Automator, Madlib, Kanye West, the Neptunes, et al. Who would ever listen to Eminem instrumentals? At best, the beats have been a soapbox, a foundational afterthought under the overwhelming spume of verbiage.
Which brings me to the mic skills of Mathers., the supposed reason to stomach the homophobia, misogyny and general juvenilia. At his essence, Eminem is a battle rapper. For the vast majority that were not able to attend Motor City club battles or Los Angeles Rap Olympics events in the 1990s, the only glimpse of this skill set we have is his biopic, 8 Mile. The MC wars pump the audience's adrenaline as much as a David vs. Goliath boxing match in this Rocky analogue. Eminem dazzles in these scenes of one-upmanship. His quick wit and improvisational skills evince a rare talent. If Eminem concerts were unscripted round-robin tournaments, I'd watch them all.
Thing is, these improvisational skills do not translate into a more scripted arena in which he stands alone. Yes, many, many words course out of Eminem's mouth at great speed. His technical ability and linguistic agility measure with those of the best. So? They're nasally, rigid and graceless. I don't care to hear a full album by Rahzel or John "Motormouth" Moschitta, Jr., a.k.a. the Micro Machines Man. Yngwie Malmsteen will not be held as one of the great songwriters of our era. Rich Little is not held as master thespian. No basketball analyst mentions the names Rafer Alston, Steve Novak and Jeremy Evans in the same breath as LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. The works of Constantin Brâncuși would not fill museums if all he sculpted were truck nuts.
And that's what The Marshall Mathers LP 2, like The Marshall Mathers LP before it, is—exquisitely rendered truck nuts. Having interviewed Eminem, I found him to be charming, sharp and vivacious. His appeal is certainly not lost on me. As a massive fan of hip-hop, I have tried to like him so many times, only be be repeatedly repulsed by his character and lyrical matter, or left cold by his rigidly loquacious and nasally flow. Marshall Mathers has a truly great album in him. But what hope is left for a 41-year-old doing Yoda impressions and spitting shit like "I hate all bitches the same?"