Listening to Eminem when I was growing up was like eating forbidden fruit. Now that I look back on it, my mom was spot on for not allowing me to own The Marshall Mathers LP album. Instead, I listened to it with friends at summer camp back in the summer of 2000. Strangely enough, my love for rap and hip-hop would blossom from this particular, ridiculously controversial album.
The Marshall Mathers LP is still revered as an iconic album. Eminem raps laps around any competition, and his expression of emotion (a lot of rage) is undeniably intoxicating. But, if you take a listen from start to finish, you’ll be reminded that much of what you’ll hear didn’t land well back in 2000, and is still cringe-worthy today, even if it most of it is just schtick.
Take “Kim,” for instance. Eminem is heard arguing with his ex, which gets more intense as the song progresses. “Kim” ultimately ends with the rapper killing her as he shouts “bleed, b—-, bleed!” and you actually hear her gasping her final breaths. Imagine a song like this released by a mega artist today in the midst of the #MeToo movement? Yikes. No dice.
“Kill You” was another track that stirred up controversy in 2000 and also has aged liked 2% milk left out of the fridge on a hot day. Slim Shady went off on his mother in this song while also throwing some nasty shots discussing violence against women. (Although this is yet another track that will leave you feeling uncomfortable, Eminem has since righted this wrong by apologizing to his mother on the song “Headlights” that was on 2013′ s The Marshall Mathers LP2.)
“Criminal” and “Amityville” also had moments with violence against women, with Slim Shady killing a female bank teller on “Criminal” and I’m not even going to type what was said on “Amityville.” That’s one you can look into for yourself. Eminem also uses homophobic slurs throughout the album. Then, of course, there was the Ken Kaniff skit track, which like “Amityville,” I’m just not going to get into.
Despite the fact that there’s so much that’s not ok on this album, there are still parts of it that show why Eminem is considered one of the best rappers of all time, especially the hits.
“The Real Slim Shady” is still a jam. The track has an incredibly great beat produced by hip-hop legend Dr. Dre and a chorus that I still know every word to until this day. The track is signature Eminem with him poking fun at anyone and everyone throughout the song. The album’s other hit, “The Way I Am,” also still holds its own. This is a track full of self-awareness and an anthem for Eminem being unapologetic for who he is.
“Stan” remains a song that’s as impressive and dark today as it was then. Eminem raps as obsessed Eminem fan “Stan” over a catchy beat that includes a sample of Dido’s “Thank You.” “Stan” slowly descends into madness as the track goes on, becoming more unhinged with each verse. Stan, a fan of Slim Shady’s writes letters that go unanswered by the rapper until it’s too late. This track remains haunting, but the captivating storytelling is something not many rappers can do.
Even when you dig a little deeper than the hits, there are still some B-Sides that remain strong. The best of these has to be “Bitch Please II”, which would’ve fit right in on Dr. Dre’ s 2001. The features of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit and Nate Dogg all deliver and it’s still a fun track in 2020. This is a sequel to Snoop Dogg’s 1999 single “Bitch Please” which also featured Xzibit and Nate Dogg and was produced by Dre.
Other notable B-Sides include “Who Knew,” “Marshall Mathers” and “Under the Influence.” On “Who Knew,” Eminem makes fun of the idea that he’s a negative influence and causes people to do horrible things. He also cleverly comments on society’s effects on the youth and throws some shots at bad parenting. “Marshall Mathers” finds Eminem dealing with the fallout of the success of 1999’s “The Slim Shady LP.” “Under the Influence” was cool because it was the first time we got D12 on an Eminem album and they’d go on to take off a few years later.
I’ll even throw in “I’m Back” here as an honorable mention. The track is like a less good version of “The Real Slim Shady” with lyrics that a 13-year-old would think was great, but not so much someone flirting with 30.
I can’t say that I’d recommend listening to The Marshall Mathers LP in 2020, but at the same time, I can’t say don’t listen. There are songs that should never be heard from ever again. Yet at the same time, there are some tracks that should always have a place on early 2000’s rap playlists and live on.
In two years we’ll get a chance to do a retrospective on his best album, The Eminem Show, when that turns 20 in 2022. This album should serve as a better example of why Eminem is one of the best rappers of this time and is where the real Slim Shady stood the tallest.