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Guess who’s back…back again

Nick Anderson | Friday, April 17, 2009

An Oscar for Best Original Song, three-time winner of The Source’s lyricist of the year, three Grammys for Best Rap Album, four Grammys for Best Rap Performance, best selling rap artist twice, NME’s best rap act, ranked 82 on Rolling Stone’s “The Immortals,” named best rapper alive by Vibe in 2008, fastest selling rap album in history, four platinum albums. Eminem has a few honors already racked up.On April 7, Eminem released his latest single, “We Made You” off of his highly anticipated new album “Relapse,” which is scheduled for release May 19. As his first official release since 2005, it is hard not to be a bit disappointed. The song contains the expected amount of celebrity bashing, profanity and drug references which makes it feel a little dated. Six years ago, Eminem was unparalleled in his combination of both critical and commercial success, but with his newest effort we have to ask, was his act ever really that good? To answer this question, one must start at the beginning. “The Slim Shady LP” was released slightly more than ten years ago. After hearing Eminem freestyle on a radio show, Dr. Dre signed him to the label Aftermath and released his first album. With impressive hype surrounding the release following the huge underground success of “I Just Don’t Give,” the song “My Name Is” delivered.In his first album, Eminem was engrossed in his Slim Shady persona. Each song walks a balance between funny and dark, charming and troubled, smug and sympathetic. The lyrics jump freely from his drug abuse to his stunted childhood, his frustrated love life to his broken home, and from cartoonish violence to threats aimed at his family. The second single, “Guilty Conscience,” continues this fine line between hero and villain as an angel played by Dr. Dre verbally spars with Eminem’s devil on robbery, date rape and even murder. The following year, Eminem release his second album, “The Marshall Mathers LP.” Undeniably, “The Real Slim Shady,” the first single off the album, made him a household name. Controversy surrounded his lyrics; parents found the music sexist, profane, sexually explicit and violent. While these allegations hold true, others found value in his humor and social criticism. Remarkably, after a decade of examining these songs, it is still hard to tell when he is joking. Two more songs off his sophomore album stand out as examples. Both “The Way I Am” and “Stan” are incredibly dark and aggressive rants responding to his fame. The former is a violent, selfish song where Eminem lashes out at his fans, critics and record label. The latter tells the story of an obsessed fan and a compassionate artist. Surprisingly, “Stan,” the least successful song at the time of release, is considered as one of the strongest rap singles ever created because of its poetic narrative, sympathetic and personal portrayal of an artist, exceptional production and an impressive hook provided by Dido. Several components run through his first two albums which contribute to Eminem’s success; his flow is accessible, the crafty balance between humor and darkness provides a dramatic tension, the anger fueling his lyrics is unrestrained without being out of place and the production features Dr. Dre in near perfect form. When it comes down to it, no one should feel comfortable listening to Eminem’s first two albums. His early work was rarely fun and would certainly be out of place at a club or party. At the same time, Eminem really was, for a few years, the voice of a generation; the only problem is most of his audience didn’t give him the chance to act as such. As he’s released more material, Eminem gradually lost some of his grace in vocalizing his anger and began to feel manufactured.Today, he feels out of date and appears to be playing catch up with the current music scene. Even with that, the greatness shown on his first two albums cannot be ignored.