With the release of The Eminem Show, the John Wayne Gacy of MCs, the white rap giant who never met a pop star he didn't want to verbally eviscerate, displays shocking fragments of humility and -- dare it be said -- sincerity within his rabid rhymes. Eminem is making himself perfectly clear -- the liner notes come with a lyric sheet. Hate me or love me, he seems to be saying on Show, but make sure it's for the right reasons.
If The Slim Shady LP was a mere buffet of button-pushing crudeness and The Marshall Mathers LP was a brutal exercise in nihilism, then The Eminem Show is practically an apology. Of course, he doesn't just come out and say it was all his bad -- he ain't no punk. He still calls out those mediocre popsters whose asses he could easily kick. He still rags on his mom and his ex-wife. And for the fellas, he drops a couple of tunes on the dangers of groupies and chickenheads. ("Drips" may be the most outlandish yet subtle endorsement of safe sex since LL Cool J's "Pink Cookies ")
But Eminem spends most of the Show taking responsibility -- yes, the dreaded R-word -- for his past, present and future. He's suddenly realized that people are listening to him, and he's chosen to tone down the free-form bile so his festering rage can have some perspective. As he astutely notes on one track, "It just means so much more to so much more people when you're rappin' and you know what for."
Now his targets are selected from farther afield; even Eminem knows that slamming Britney and 'N Sync is old hat. Apart from the usual slate of playa-haters, gold diggers and ex-family members, he also has choice words for those who consider him a horrible role model. As he vividly declares on Show, it's a job he's more than willing to take on. On the rock-heavy tracks "White America" and "Sing for the Moment" (where he samples Aerosmith's "Dream On"), he bonds with his perennially pissed-off suburban teenage fan base: "I am the Derringer aimed at little Erica," he proclaims.
But the person Eminem is hardest on during Show is Eminem. His intense self-loathing -- a rarely tapped resource in the narcissistic world of rap -- is prevalent throughout. Eminem sees himself as a man whose talents will ultimately do him in, a man whose quest for fame prevents him from tending to the one thing he does give a fuck about: his daughter Hallie Jade. The little one figures prominently on Show; the old man sings (!) for her on "Hallie's Song," and she provides the hook for the demented finale, "My Dad's Gone Crazy." Her appearance reminds us that Eminem still has his priorities in order -- he's not lost in the funhouse yet.
As always, even if you straight-up loathe the man, you have to respect his otherworldly skills. He puts every cocoa-colored MC to shame with his cleaver-sharp flow. Compared to their prized crew member, Eminem's all-black Detroit posse D12 still sounds like a bunch of potty-mouthed kids from South Park. Fans may contend that Eminem is losing focus by straining to get serious, but they can't say he's losing his touch.
Eminem's apathetic, anarchic aesthetic is transforming into his own brand of socially conscious rap. Did you ever think a white rapper would be the one to lead us to salvation?