in The People's Album

To quote the great Aaron Lewis, lead singer of the band Staind, it’s been ahwhiiiile since I’ve done one of these.  Basically my excuse is that when you’re dealing with immensely successful pop albums, even the bad ones are usually kind of fun, and thusly still fun to write about.  This week’s album is pretty interesting, but not really that fun at all.  In fact, it’s an album that’s occasionally so unfun to listen to that I couldn’t even get through one of the songs on this album without feeling the urge to click the skip button.  However, I urge you to click the anti-skip button known as the “Continue Reading” button, and see what I have to say about The Marshall Mathers LP.

Album: The Marshall Mathers LP
Artist: Eminem
Release Date: May 23, 2000
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 
12.3 Million

Why Was This Popular?

Because America Loves To Give The Rest Of America The Proverbial Middle Finger

The first memory I have associated with this album was when I was eleven, and found myself watching an episode of MTV’s Making The Video.  This particular episode chronicled the making of the colorful, almost borderline cartoonish music video for Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady”.  From watching the behind the scenes production of the video, I got the impression of Eminem being a fairly smart guy with a twisted sense of humor and a knack for being a bit of troublemaker.  And then at the end of the episode, they of course showed the video for “The Real Slim Shady” — and I think I kind of liked it.  I mean how could an eleven year-old not?  It’s an undeniably catchy song, albeit in a pretty juvenile kind of way.

So after getting the sing-songy chorus of “The Real Slim Shady” stuck in my head while the song proceeded to become literally everywhere in the Spring of 2000, at some point I actually started listening to the song’s verses.  And from what I could tell, Eminem was talking about some pretty inappropriate stuff, which I realized I was in no way equipped to be comprehending at that tender age.  This also coincided with the fact that every adult I knew seemed to think that Eminem was bad news, and therefore my sensitive child ears should be avoiding his music at all cost.  And because I was always a good kid who listened to his parents and didn’t ever feel the need to rebel against them or give them a giant middle finger in the form of bad decisions and questionable friends, I decided Eminem just wasn’t for me.

Still, I can see how there were kids my age who didn’t get along with their parents, and needed someone who embodied everything that their parents hated, and that’s where Eminem came in.  It’s a story as old as music itself really.  There have always been those artists that come around seemingly just to cause parents to feel uncomfortable about what their kids are listening to, which of course is always going to be really appealing to disenfranchised kids.  I just wonder if Eminem might be the last rebellious superstar of this kind, what with music culture becoming so fractured and niche-oriented in the last few years.  But who knows?  Maybe there’s another Eminem waiting in the wings just to piss a ton of people off.

Did It Deserve To Be Popular?

I’ll be the first to admit that “shock art” is not really something that appeals to me.  I’d much rather hear a piece of music that speaks to me on some sort of personal level instead of something that’s there just to provoke a reaction.  But I think the thing about The Marshall Mathers LP that makes it remarkable, is that it’s both an incredibly provocative album, but also intensely personal.

Not to get all Anderson Cooper on you, but America was a very different place in May of 2000.  Instead of being embroiled in foreign wars, we were more concerned with the violence happening at home, as the Columbine shootings were still fresh in everyone’s minds.  And The Marshall Mathers LP still feels like a potent snapshot of that time, as violence runs rampant throughout the album.  In fact, it’s so blunt about violence that in the refrain to the album’s lead-off track, Eminem is repeatedly singing about how his alter-ego Slim Shady is going to “fucking kill you”.  It’s hard to understand why America was so gaga for an album that reminded them of one of the country’s biggest ongoing problems, but I guess sometimes the best way to exorcize your demons is to indulge them to an extreme degree, and The Marshall Mathers LP certainly took things to a pretty extreme degree.

Still, you’ve also got to take in to account that at the end of “Kill You” (the song I just mentioned), Eminem gives a casual chuckle while saying “Don’t worry, ladies.  I’m just playin’.”  And that’s really the album in a nutshell.  Many parents back in 2000 decried Eminem as an angry hoodlum who was poisoning America’s youth, while Eminem’s supporters (and Eminem himself) stated that all his middle finger-waving and gay-bashing was just a big rouse.  And on some level I think they were both right.  Which of course brings us to the biggest controversy that surrounded this album — Eminem’s liberal use of the word “faggot”.  I would say a lot of this album holds up pretty well, but his use of the word “faggot” sounds pretty not cool in 2014, and I doubt it will sound any cooler as time passes and the use of that word recedes even further from the American lexicon.

I guess I haven’t talked much about this album on a musical level, have I?  Well I can say that Eminem is obviously one of the most technically proficient MC’s of his time, and I think this is a big part of what made his lyrics easy for teenagers to get hooked on.  Also, Dr. Dre’s production is assuredly no-nonsense, though I think had just enough little ditties going on in the background to be able reach a pop audience.  But I think more than anything else, what made this album such a hit and what still makes it often captivating is how closely Eminem brings you into his world.  Songs like “Who Knew” and “The Way I Am” see Eminem speaking from his gut about how he feels about his newfound fame, while the hit single “Stan” sees him stepping back from himself and confronting the Shady army that was starting to amass all over middle America.  In fact, Eminem maybe makes things a little too personal with the domestic quarrel set to music that is “Kim”, a song that as I hinted at in my opening paragraph is just a little too emotionally intense for me to want to listen to.  But that’s the thing about Eminem.  Unlike so many other pop stars, you could never accuse the guy of being disingenuous, and I think that’s a big reason why people still love him.

Would I Pay Money For This?

I… probably would not.  I’m perfectly willing to admit that this is an important album, but it’s an album that I’m likely to never listen to ever again after writing this.  Which is fine, because I’m certain that Eminem most definitely does not give a fuck.

Yeah, I didn’t know the guy in the “Stan” video was that kid from The Final Destination either.

Next Time On The People’s Albums: We get to revisit those bums The Beatles again, as I’ll be talking about their greatest hits collection 1.