The Marshall Mathers LP


album cover

He Is Whoever You Say He Is

From his very first utterances, the rapper born Marshall Mathers III presented himself as a street urchin and a kingpin, a victim and a perpetrator, a sensitive soul and a paranoid brute. His discography charts the development of not just his art, but the large walk-in closet where he kept his dramatis personae, the alter egos that help define poor misunderstood Em. He spends lots of time on the microphone talking about who he is, who you say he is, how he knows who the culture thinks he is, why that's wrong, how guys like you can't hope to fathom trickster souls like him.

Eminem got to be a bully with the identity politics bait-and-switch, but it was a good trick, and he took it to impressive extremes on this, his best (and darkest) album. Backed by Dr. Dre's most menacing slasher-film beats, Eminem dispenses blow-by-blow violence and withering dismissals with a verbal dexterity that has no equal in hip-hop. On the first single, "The Real Slim Shady," which borrows its tagline from the game show To Tell the Truth, Eminem dishes on the exploits of various celebrities (notably Christina Aguilera) while tossing out lines intended to taunt and confuse those trying to divine whatever his "real" identity might be. He changes everything else as well: While some rappers rely on the same cadence and tone for every caper, Eminem alters his flow, his voice, his word choices, his entire character, from verse to verse.

Just how extreme are these transformations? Compare "The Real Slim Shady" with another single, entitled "Stan," which shares letters from an obsessed (and seemingly unbalanced) fan. Backed by a brooding sample from the singer Dido, Eminem muses on fame (and how ordinary folks just can't understand its pressures) while the earnest and increasingly desperate "Stan" plans to kill himself and his pregnant wife in twisted homage to Eminem's "97 Bonnie and Clyde" from The Slim Shady LP. It's unsettling and extreme, and also gripping—a combination that distinguishes much of the rapid-fire wordplay here.

Not surprisingly, controversy followed Eminem throughout the promotion of this effort and the subsequent tour. He weathered the various firestorms like a combative champ, using the accusations as fresh evidence about how seriously he'd been misunderstood. In fact, many of these tunes find Eminem offering cagey responses in anticipation of the media reaction—making The Marshall Mathers LP a perfect Möbius strip of audacious statements followed by aggrieved reactions from Eminem's various alter egos. None of whom are exactly who you think they are.

Genre: Hip-Hop
Released: 2000, Aftermath/Interscope
Key Tracks: "Stan," "The Real Slim Shady," "Kill You," "The Way I Am," "I'm Back"
Catalog Choice: The Slim Shady LP; The Eminem Show
Next Stop: 50 Cent: Get Rich or Die Tryin'
After That: Busta Rhymes: When Disaster Strikes
Book Pages: 257–258

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#1 from Brent Carter, chilltown Va - 12/11/2008 10:04

The most controversial rapper’s most controversial LP. I didnt mind how brutal he was, I acutally highly enjoyed it. It was the way he put his verses together and lyrically, he is probably one of the best if not THE best. Right up there with Big L and biggie but it is so hard to compare them because they are soooo different i cant express that enough. His freestyles are some of the best I have ever heard and he is a lyricist we will probably never see again, no matter what you think about him because he doesnt care.

#2 from Dan, Batavia, NY, USA - 09/18/2009 10:21

I am not what you would call a fan of hip hop. I prefer my music to be more instrumentally and vocally (singing) focused, but there are songs on this album that I simply love and can not ignore. “The Way I Am” is one of those songs and my favorite rap song, period. Eminem’s intense vocal delivery on that song sets it apart from most rap, for me. Whereas I blame most rappers for sounding too lazy from a vocal perspective, Eminem is not afraid to really let it rip, and practically shout his lyrics. And the phrasing on that song is also commendable.

#3 from Kim, Canada - 01/14/2010 10:59

The Marshall Mathers LP came out when I was 12, a time when my favorite band was The Spice Girls. Eminem had such a bad reputation at the time; his music was banned from our house. So naturally we snuck it in.  It scared the heck out of me, and I loved it!  The sketches are a little crude for my tastes, but I still enjoy many of these songs today.  This is one of those albums that broke down barriers for people stuck in the perpetual self-replicating machine that is top 40 music.  Suddenly something invaded the airwaves which was completely unlike anything we’d ever heard, and it made everything else (including gangster rap) seem campy by comparison.  It was almost the rap equivalent of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.

#4 from Clarisse, NJ, USA - 10/07/2010 4:57

In my opinion, Eminem improves with every album. He started his career from quite high point, became incredibly popular after “Stan”. His music changes it’s quality with time but not the actual style that made Eminem popular. And I think this is great. I read an incredibly interesting essay that shows how performers become less or more popular when they change music style. Eminem makes simple but popular music. And that is why he stay popular even among people who do not appreciate rap in general.

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