Bad Guy – Eminem
The Marshall Mathers LP2
78.13 min • Aftermath Records • November 5, 2013
Little Bastard reviews
I recently had a conversation with a friend who is a massive hip-hop fan (and fellow music journalist) about hip-hop outfit Odd Future (OFWGKTA) who, with their side projects, have spawned some of the best urban music of the past twenty years. “I don’t like Odd Future, they’re too homophobic,” he said, to which I responded, “but two of them are gay”. And it’s true, Odd Future has the two most openly gay people in hip-hop, in the form of Frank Ocean and Syd The Kyd, and if they can understand the language used by Tyler The Creator & Co then why can’t the rest of us? Eminem often gets referred to as homophobic, and the Eminem vs LGBTQ battle all really began with a misunderstanding. In his debut single, ‘My Name Is’, one of the lines,
My English teacher wanted to have sex in junior high,
The only problem was my teacher was a guy –
got Eminem in hot water the lyric was perceived as homophobic. On his second album, as a reaction to the negative press and picketing he had received about the lyrics on The Slim Shady LP, Eminem became a parody of media’s perception of himself. “I am whatever you say I am,” became his mantra, and the lyrics on the The Marshall Mathers LP were some of the most artistic and offensive ever heard on a mainstream rap record. And to this day it’s still the best rap album I have ever heard.
The song ‘Criminal’ in particular is one of the most offensive things ever committed to a record, but it’s also an artistic triumph by a man who has been a big part of the rap revolution, having more in common with a twisted beat poet than your average gangsta rapper. Over the years, the supposed hate speech in his music has provoked outrage from not only the LGBTQ community, but also groups for women’s rights and racial equality, all citing Eminem as a bad influence on youth and impressionable adults alike. I’ve always had mixed feelings about his homophobic lyrics, as I’ve never seen Eminem as a rapper. For me, he’s always been a misunderstood artist who may not be totally understood until his career is looked at in retrospect, and people can truly see the artistic value of his work.
Opening an album by killing yourself isn’t standard chart fodder, but then Eminem is not a conventional rapper and this self referencing rap intentionally echoes the end of his hit ‘Stan’, as he is chased by police, screaming, “Eminem killed by Eminem”. Opener ‘Bad Guy’ is a 7 minute epic, with the ‘moral’ Eminem losing control, stalking and killing his darker and ‘immoral’ counterpart, saying that this is for,
Now say you hate homo’s again!!!!
as he plunges his car off a bridge. It’s impeccably produced, with almost Drake-esque backing, and a delectable chorus sung by the brilliant, and strangely uncredited, Sarah Jaffe. The track spirals into darkness, as Eminem’s voice distorts and he spits the disturbed rhetoric of a man on the edge, demonically saying he has committed the crime for,
Every faggot you slaughtered coming back on you…
Every woman you insult…
I represent everything you take for granted –
turning Eminem’s own offensive vernacular on himself as he drowns.
‘Rhyme Or Reason’ is a brilliantly catchy rant at his non-present father, ‘So Much Better’ is a typically genius and catchy jaunt through a break up, which will have you singing along to its chorus of,
My life would be so much better,
If you would drop dead.
Second single and testosterone stomping ‘Survival’, originally available to people who preordered the video game Call Of Duty: Ghosts, is all fighting lyrics and an energizing chorus from Liz Rodrigues. The gorgeously personal “it gets better” style anthem ‘Legacy’ deals with Eminem’s childhood and is an inspirational track that switches from being a meditation on his history being his legacy to a “fuck you” rant to his enemies. The amazing Skylar Gray provides chorus vocals on ‘Asshole’, and 1st single ‘Bezerk’, is the most fun we’ll have on here, sampling the Beastie Boys and channeling them via Joan Jett.
‘Rap God’ is the track that has, this time, caused all the controversy, but from the opening lines we can tell we’re fully in Slim Shady territory, and as what feels like one side of a rap battle, where rappers historically insult each other, anything in this ludicrously fast rap that causes offence is intentional in that way and nothing more.
Always one to try new things when in full creative mode, Eminem even sings through the majority of ballad ‘Stronger Than I Was’, and the singalong commercial highlight of the album comes on the Rihanna duet ‘The Monster’ in which Eminem says, “I’m not much of a poet,” which cements the self-doubt he has in himself, whilst talking about his friendship with the monsters inside his head. The song erupts into a stadium rock drum break that seems designed for the purpose of when he performs it live and singing along makes your night. Basically, it’s a bit of a tune.
One of the most interesting things about Eminem is his work manages to be completely personal and at the same time totally conceptual. Slim Shady, his violent alter ego, is not only the mouth piece for Eminem’s own frustration and anger, but also a mirror to society. Slim Shady is completely Eminem, whilst being the worst in all of us at the same time. Yes, when he’s at his worst his music can be very sub-standard, but when he’s at his best, he creates some of the most affecting music I have ever heard, and this album has that in spades.
Saying that the supposed “hate speech” in his songs promotes violence towards gay people is like saying that the French film Irreversible is pro rape. Art is there to reflect life and provoke conversation, and Eminem has certainly done that. I also think his work has always spoken for itself, and its obvious artistry negates the common belief held by casual fans (or people reading the lyrics out of context) that he is homophobic. Marshall Mathers LP 2 is not just a series of misplaced bigoted comments, it’s a sonic journey through the mind of one of the most troubled artists the world has ever seen, but also one of the most incredible wordsmiths of his generation. Eminem is not the problem – society is the problem and in his work he is exposing and reflecting that society. Those easily offended should probably stay away from this darker output, but if you can get past the overt brutality of this album, it is an incredible sonic work, like watching a Quentin Tarantino film, or a ghetto version of Hostel. But it’s certainly not for the fainthearted. Eminem’s venom, like South Park‘s satire, is completely indiscriminate, and like South Park he holds a mirror up to American society in a way that is both valid and important. Could he do it and be less homophobic and misogynistic? When society is more tolerant, probably. All he’s doing now is spitting back what we put out, and I will always applaud him for it, regardless of how unpopular it makes me.