Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Eminem

  • The Slim Shady LP [Aftermath/Interscope, 1999] A-
  • The Marshall Mathers LP [Interscope, 2000] A
  • Fucking Yzarc [[bootleg], 2000] A-
  • The Freestyle Album [[bootleg], 2000] *
  • The Eminem Show [Aftermath/Interscope, 2002] A-
  • Encore [Aftermath, 2004] A
  • Relapse [Aftermath/Interscope, 2009] B-
  • Recovery [Aftermath/Interscope, 2010] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Slim Shady LP [Aftermath/Interscope, 1999]
Anybody who believes kids are naive enough to take this record literally is right to fear them, because that's the kind of adult teenagers hate. Daring moralizers to go on the attack while explicitly--but not (fuck you, dickwad) unambiguously--declaring itself a satiric, cautionary fiction, this cause célèbre runs short of ideas only toward the end, when Dre's whiteboy turns provocation into the dull sensationalism fools think is his whole story. Over an hour his cadence gets wearing, too. But he flat-out loves to rhyme--"seizure"/"T-shirt," "eyeballs"/"Lysol"/"my fault," "BM"/"GM"/"be him"/"Tylenol PM"/"coliseum," "Mike D"/"might be"--and you have to love the way he slips in sotto voce asides from innocent bystanders. Sticking nine-inch nails through his eyelids, flattening a black bully with a four-inch broom, reminding his conscience/producer about Dee Barnes, watching helplessly as an abused Valley Girl OD's on his shrooms, cajoling his baby daughter Hailey into helping him get rid of her mom's body, he shows more comic genius than any pop musician since--Loudon Wainwright III? A-

The Marshall Mathers LP [Interscope, 2000]
Unless you hope to convince the platinum hordes that you live on Mars, there's even less point moralizing about this one than there was with the last. Right, Marshall Whoever is homophobic; right, he breathes. In context, the worst thing about his casual fag-baiting is that it's at once so received--like the shock-horror his boys envision in "Amityville," the one provocation here whose boundaries are predictable--and, because he's a devastating wordslinger in every context, so hurtful anyway. But the real Slim Whoever seems far more deeply disturbed about stardom, drugs, his marriage, and boning his mom--which latter, like it or not, is the fantasy (or whatever) that sets all the rest up, a big fat fuck you to the black culture Eminem respects and owes so explicitly, for if Snoop or Too Short or DMX would never say such a thing, just how bad can they be? Disable your prejudgment button and you'll hear a work of art whose immense entertainment value in no way compromises its intimations of a pathology that's both personal and political, created by one of those charming rogues you encounter so much more often on the page--exceptionally witty and musical, discernibly thoughtful and good-hearted, indubitably dangerous and full of shit. He may yet give a fuck--he has it in him. But not on anyone else's terms or timetable. A

Fucking Yzarc [[bootleg], 2000]
No connoisseur of commercially illicit music, I neglected to seek this out when it surfaced last summer and ended up taping a borrowed one, though I'm sure the Napster-literate could burn something similar. We've all heard some of this music, but having the guest shots compiled here on one longform cements what a nonstop force he is. "Stan" or no "Stan," he's a rhymer not a storyteller, an inspired free-associater who like so many rappers loves rhyme as raw technical device and finds fresh sonic material in a self-renewing English language hooked on celebrities, brand names, neologisms, code--and a world where "real" poets long ago distanced themselves from rhyme the way "real" composers distanced themselves from tune. Unlike such African American coequals as Mos Def, or Aceyalone, say, he has no apparent metaphysical ambitions--he's a comedian and prankster whose own art mines the metaphysics of entertainment, a/k/a celebrity. He's totally ill here, more into sex, and smack up against Dr. Dre's or Missy Elliott's his flow rocks. Interscope: You got the juice. Market an improved version when Marshall Mathers falls off. A-

The Freestyle Album [[bootleg], 2000]
Just illin'-rhymes 'n' beats, some worked out over multiple takes and then released elsewhere ("15-27 Freestyles," "8-13 Freestyles"). *

The Eminem Show [Aftermath/Interscope, 2002]
See: White American. A-

Encore [Aftermath, 2004]
Any lingering doubts that puking and diarrhea noises might effectively forestall maturity were allayed by the crinkled noses and pursed lips they've elicited from arbiters of creativity at Billboard and Cokemachine-glow alike. Except to report tediously that he sounds bored and complain ad infinitum that he's obsessed with the love of his life (plus, right, the beats are no good, details later), how else to objectify the cycle of disinterest inevitably inspired by the mainstreaming of 8 Mile? Me, I say good riddance to his rock dreams, so much vainer than his mosh dreams, and note that said noises are hard to listen to, which is a compliment. Funny, catchy, clever, and irreverent past his allotted time, he can't make records this good forever--no one else has. But I also note that the mostly unreviewed three tracks on the bonus disc keep on pushing--"We as Americans" is a high point. That's rare. A

Relapse [Aftermath/Interscope, 2009]
As he told "XXL": "I wanted to go back to Proof's idea of, 'Let's just say the most f*cked up sh*t we can say.'" In other words, this great artist's big concept for his first album since 2004 is a D12 homage. Having slyly categorized it as horrorcore early on, and riding Dr. Dre's most bombastic beats ever, he unrolls the offensive work of art bluenoses have always insisted was there: misogyny up the wazoo, lesbians-only homophobia, libels for a stepdad, murders unnumbered, sexual humiliations previously unknown to hip-hop and more dropped names than Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who's funnier--and also, uh-oh, more boyish. In a socially redeeming denouement, all of this and more is blamed on the drugs we hope he's kicked, we really do. There's even an inspirational number no more boring than the one about offing Lindsay Lohan. But for the first time in his career Eminem settles for sensationalism straight up, and, worse still, makes you wonder whether he ever truly knew the difference. Em, this is not a Slim Shady album. Slim Shady had a lightness about him. B-

Recovery [Aftermath/Interscope, 2010]
The comeback is for Eminem, not Slim Shady--and for Marshall at his most martial. His most confessional as well--he admits Relapse was "ehh," admits he came this close to beefing with Wayne and Kanye, admits "I'da had my ass handed to me." No matter how cleverly he's rhyming, which varies, he could use subject matter beyond married-to-the-game and his traditional obsessions. But with Shady in the shadows, rarely are these themes lifted by Em's long-recessive sense of play. Bringing the proceedings over the top, however, are the three final tracks: Rihanna's "Love the Way You Lie" hook depositing some bodily fluids on Em's conjugal seesaw, "You're Never Over" nailing Marshall's love for Proof, and the bonus boast "Untitled" renewing our love for Shady. And delivering the best music qua music in 77 minutes is none other than Lil Wayne, whose 16 on "No Love" would be the funkiest thing here if Wayne didn't then hand Eminem his ass back by inserting acutely timed grunts and such for the rest of the track. A-

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