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 offensive lyrics, but rather, how a talented artist can be so repugnant.
"Stan" is an interesting look into the mind of a fanatic (albeit through the eyes of an equally disturbed individual), but it's structured entirely around someone else's work (Dido's "Thankyou"). At first the track "Kim" is gratuitously violent, but it's ultimately so absurd and campy that it's almost forgivable. Unfortunately, like the rest of the album, the track seems to be the result of a severely maladjusted individual rather than intentionally satirical. 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?" To his credit, Eminem's view of parental responsibility is pretty sagacious, 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 undeniably a talented 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 Eminem 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.
In the end, Eminem basically holds up a mirror to society, but he doesn't ask us if we like what we see. Instead, he simply exists to exemplify the mistakes of an entire generation of parents. Like a homicidal maniac or a drug addict, Eminem's sheer existence should be a learning tool for our culture.