I’ve heard people call Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP a work of musical genius, yet socially inept. These comments seem to completely disregard the fact that the craft of music, in general, rests largely on its intended purpose. The question shouldn’t be whether the musical merits of the album outweigh its content, but rather, how someone so talented could be so repugnant.
“Stan” is an interesting look into the mind of a fanatic, albeit through the eyes of an equally disturbed individual, structured entirely around someone else’s work (Dido’s “Thankyou”). The gratuitous violence in “Kim” borders on camp, but like the rest of the album, the song seems to be the result of a severely maladjusted individual rather than an intentional satirist. Eminem doesn’t create fictional stories for the greater good; he uses words as weapons, and any insight seems purely accidental: “Why don’t you like me?/You think I’m ugly don’t you?”
“Who Knew” finds Eminem absolving himself of any social responsibility: “I never knew I would get this big/I never knew I’d affect this kid.” The song is the first of many astute retorts to displaced blame: “Don’t blame me when lil’ Eric jumps off of the terrace/You shoulda been watchin’ him/Apparently you ain’t parents.” He revels in the fact that there’s teen violence in upper-class cities on the epic “The Way I Am,” and he once again points to parental failure: “They blame it on Marilyn [Manson] and the heroin/Where were the parents at?” Eminem’s view of parental responsibility is on-point, but he paints it rather one-dimensionally.
And that’s where the insight ends. For the remainder of the album Eminem comes off as an undeveloped adult who’s still trying to get his parents’ attention. The only thing worse than Eminem’s homophobia is the immaturity with which he displays it. When accused of being homophobic, his comeback reeks of ignorance: “Nah, you’re just heterophobic.” Even less impressive is his witless take on Gianni Versace’s death: “Whoops, somebody shot me/And I was just checking the mail/Get it? Checking the male.”
Eminem is a gifted rapper and guest appearances by artists like Xzibit, Swifty, and Bizarre make his rhymes sound even tighter by comparison. But the collaborative efforts of tracks like “Bitch Please II” and “Under the Influence” make him seem like an ornamental prop in Dr. Dre’s ever-growing hip-hop dynasty. While he uses words like “bitch” and “faggot” incessantly, you’ll never find Eminem uttering even a benign “nigga.” He’s essentially hip-hop’s houseguest and would never bite the nipple he suckles from.