I was ten years old when Eminem stuck his middle finger up to the world with The Marshall Mathers LP. To people who said he could never make it in hip-hop because he was white. To naysayers who called him a never-will-amount-to-anything piece of white trash. To his absent dad, his child’s mother, his English teacher, and his dope-head mom. He didn’t give a fuck, God sent him to piss the world off.
And here we are, 13 years later. Eminem is eight albums deep in his career. He’s experienced inconceivable success, scandals, law suits, drug issues, recovery and finally, a full circle return in the form of The Marshall Mathers LP2.
And me? Well, Em and I have sort of lost touch. I admired him for not giving a fuck. I loved the way his witty lyricism hopped jumped and skipped through this maze of beats. How he challenged himself at every turn. How fast can I flow on this beat? How much can I offend mainstream America? Like he got off on the image of mothers covering their sons ears, begging him to stop bragging about slitting faggots’ throats and raping women. His subject matter thrilled me. Like the thought of running away for a night just to see how my parents reacted. Or saying a swear word in sixth grade social studies to get a gasp out of the girl next to me.
But I’m twenty-three now, and honestly, MMLP2 doesn’t really do it for me. Sure, Eminem exercises his renowned lyrical abilities. He can spit as fast as Twista, tell graphic tales, and make hilarious allusions to current events all in one verse. But thirteen years later, I no longer get a thrill from hearing about women being drowned and violently fucked, and frankly, It’s hard not to cringe from the image of my childhood idol breaking a table “over a couple of faggots backs.”
Now–before I get slim-shady’s fan group all riled up into thinking I’m some oblivious, easily offended critic—I get the whole alter-ego thing. I understand that Eminem doesn’t actually believe all these things. That slim shady is his evil rapping twin persona that was born to see how easily he could offend sensitive ears. That Eminem actually supports gay rights, probably respects women, and has done his best to raise his daughter to believe the same. I get it. I just think the act is exhausted, and find myself asking: why?
Why is Eminem so angry? He’s not the same twenty-seven-year-old who had something to prove. He’s a successful rap icon, self-proclaimed rap god who has earned a spot on most everyone’s list of top-ten MC’s alive. Why does he find it necessary to rekindle the flame he sparked at the beginning of his career, revisiting the same subject matter, hunger, and angry-menace attitude? The very persona that earned my respect as a young fan of hip-hop has me at a loss, wondering why a forty-one year old mogul hasn’t really changed at all. What was once an impermeable confidence now comes off as a desperate desire to prove that this middle-aged man still has his old tricks.
When I think of Eminem’s peers, rap icons like Jay-Z and Kanye, they’ve matured in ways we couldn’t have perceived at the start of their careers. They’ve grown into icons who have learned how to revisit their past with more reminiscence than full-fledged embodiment. Who can brag about how far they’ve come and how much they’ve learned with a newfound maturity, and a worldly awareness of what they represent in the world hip-hop.
The intro to “Rap God” really says it all. We hear a comic book, Wu-Tang-esque voice : “Look, I was gonna go easy on you and not to hurt your feelings, But I’m only going to get this one chance.” As if this is Slim-Shady’s only chance to prove something to the world. Prove what? That he can still portray this misogynist, homophobic persona? That if he doesn’t do that, he’s going easy on us? Eminem hasn’t hurt my feelings, he’s just left me disenchanted by his range of material. In thirteen years, he hasn’t found a way to prove his dominance in the rap game without bragging about sexuality dominating women?
He begins to acknowledge this lack of progress in “Asshole.” In the last verse, he spits:
Only women that I love are my daughters
And sometimes I rhyme and it sounds
Like I forget I’m a father, and I push it farther
So father forgive me if I forget to draw the line
It’s apparent I shouldn’t of been a parent I’ll never grow up
Eminem embraces some self-deprecation here, revisiting the self-criticism that has always added an admirable complexity to his music. But at this point in his career, the wheels have fallen off. Slim’s don’t-give-a-fuck attitude that made him so appealing in his early work feels different now. Like he’s trying too hard to be careless.
I’ll still spin “Till I Collapse” on my heavy rotation and hell, I think MMLP2 has some great lines, killer flows, and stadium beats. I still think that Eminem is a hilarious, complex rap icon who has filled a necessary hole in hip-hop. His ability to paint horrifying pictures and embody a range of characters is unmatchable. It’s easy to see how his music has inspired a new generation of rappers–Odd Future, Kendrick Lamar, and Yelawolf to name a few. Perhaps that’s why, as much as it pains me, I’m being so critical of my childhood icon. Because, thirteen years later, I expected more from a rapper who is fully capable of doing so.