Title: The Marshall Mathers LP
Artist, year: Eminem, 2000
Labels: Shady, Aftermath, Interscope
Singles: “The Real Slim Shady,” “The Way I Am,” “Stan,” “I’m Back.”
The year is 2000, and a blonde, blue-eyed homeboy, Marshall Mathers, from Detroit is just climbing ranks in hip-hop’s hierarchy. Discovered by former N.W.A. super-producer Dr. Dre back in 1998, the troublesome emcee had a lot to say in his debut album Slim Shady LP a year after. It was the first time the world entered the world of Eminem (or, more fittingly, Slim Shady): a frustrating, homicidal, and unsettling working-class from the Motor City with a daughter to raise in a dysfunctional family, realizing that music is his only way to escape his unhappy life.
Then, in just a matter of two years, Eminem rose from an unsigned hype to a stellar hip-hop talent on the top of the world and a brand-new millionaire, and it’s only a matter of time until his biggest nemesis, the critics, cornered him into being a one-trick pony. Right off the bat, Eminem has one quick response to this. In fact, it’s the first thing he addresses throughout the 18-track and 72-minute explosive and transgressive work of The Marshall Mathers LP as he discusses in ‘Kill You,’ “They said I can’t rap about bein’ broke no more / They ain’t say I can’t rap about coke no more.”
MMLP’s cultural impact, two decades later
Two decades after its release, The Marshall Mathers LP is a cultural cornerstone in the hip-hop world. Even so, modern rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator have credited this album as the inspiration for their earlier, aggressive tones: Lamar’s “Control” verse claims New York’s throne while blatantly namedropping some of the hottest rappers in the game for a competitive call-out, Tyler taught himself how to “put the words together” thanks to the LP, and the list goes on.
Culturally speaking, The Marshall Mathers LP puts Eminem at the forefront of pop culture, not only for his satirical jabs against pop stars and politicians but also for his contribution to the dictionary. The track “Stan,” which vividly entails the two-way interaction between the rapper and a progressively obsessive fan, has now become an officially recognized term by Oxford that’s widely used in the fandom community. Albeit sarcastically boasting, “Hate fags, the answer’s yes,” Em linked up with openly gay music icon Elton John to perform the track on the stage of the 2001 Grammy Awards, making one memorable night of the awarding body’s history and putting the controversy to rest… for a while.
After all, Eminem has every right to be that braggadocious. In many ways, The Marshall Mathers LP pushes the envelope and puts Em’s name on the Mount Rushmore of hip-hop. After its release, he would end up selling over 21 million copies only for this magnum opus of an LP, making it one of the highest-selling albums of all time. He followed it up two years later with The Eminem Show, a stellar conclusion to the classic “alter-egos” trinity, with 27 million copies sold, cementing his status as another G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) in the rap game. His status as the best-selling rap artist of all time still holds true to this day and no one could top that achievement.
Blurring the lines between fiction and reality
Coming from Detroit’s rap battle scene, Eminem still has a lot of ammo in his arsenal: his censorship controversy at a Senate hearing, his perplexing relationship with his obsessed aficionados, his undying love for his daughter in his brand-new crazy world of fame, his estranged, Axl Rose-esque love for highschool sweetheart Kimberly, and his personal battles against his demon of substance abuse with dozens of eerie nods to the world’s current affairs.
For a melanin-deficient rapper like Em, getting respect has always been the goal. With The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem proves that he’s more than just Dr. Dre’s poster boy to appeal to the white demographic. He brings a unique style, lyrical complexity, and Tupac-like screw-the-world demeanor that oozes the charisma of an emcee in ‘The Way I Am,’ “I sit back with this pack of Zig-Zag’s and this bag / Of this weed, it gives me the shit needed to be / The most meanest MC on this, on this Earth / And since birth I’ve been cursed with this curse to just curse.”
The Marshall Mathers LP is an aesthetic perfection of young Marshall like never before: angry yet retrospective, hilarious yet button-pushing, hot-headed yet unbothered, problematic yet reasonable. His overnight success is a magnet for dollar-hungry estranged family members — his mother sued him for character defamation for $10 million —, as he rants in ‘Marshall Mathers,’ “Last year I was nobody, this year I’m selling records / Now everybody wants to come around / Like I owe ’em somethin’.”
In comparison to Slim Shady LP, The Marshall Mathers LP incorporates more elements of guitar riffs and hard-hitting drums. Dre, who now acts more like a coach, is still on the wheel, but he gives Em his first producing credit for ‘The Way I Am.’ Detroit’s very own Bass Brothers and the Bronx’s 45 King assembled the beats in a truly star-studded, match-made-in-heaven combination of rapper-producers, and the rest is history.
The weak point of the album, however, comes over the sixteenth track, ‘Kim.’ Hailed as the most problematic song of the album, ‘Kim’ intentionally serves as a cathartic outlet of Eminem’s angst as it entails a vivid description of him murdering his estranged lovebird and a prequel to 1997’s ‘Just the Two of Us’ from Slim Shady EP. While it still fits the album’s narrative well, it’s just simply unlistenable, not due to its graphic nature, but six minutes & seventeen seconds of screaming over Led Zeppelin’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’ samples & sound effects of slitting a throat is too much of a cringe-worthy effort to be put in a legendary album like this.
For all its controversy and sheer brilliance, The Marshall Mathers LP is a sick, grueling, morbid, and forbidden territory of Eminem’s wildest fantasy. It is not made for the faint-hearted.