Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Slim Shady Essay

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CRAFTSMANSHIP OF MARSHALL BRUCE MATHERS III

DISCUSSED: Rappers Who "Represent" "Reality," Stories vs. Sermons, Handsome Boy Modeling School, The Sophisticated Cultural Literacy of the Twelve-Year-Old, Dr. Dre, What We're Buying When We Buy Blackness, Verbally Murdering One's Wife, Gangsta Boilerplates, Fatherhood, Toilet Noises, Childishness and Whiteness, The End of Moral Panic, Sexlessness, Posse-Pumping


As shtick, Eminem's somewhat petulant late-2005 decision to prepare the second act of his American life in rehab was tedious, like the Hollywood role that in late 2002 persuaded pundits to validate an artist whose three hip-hop albums had enriched public discourse more than they ever would by the time 8 Mile opened. For Marshall Mathers the Vicodin fan, on the other hand, rehab came right on time, just as Eminem the artistic seeker needed a film credit to broaden his options. The loser in both cases was Slim Shady, the bad-boy projection of Marshall Mathers who surfaced on Eminem's indie Slim Shady EP in 1997 and went public after former N.W.A mainstay Dr. Dre oversaw 1999's Slim Shady LP for Interscope. Not that Slim ever went away. But his logorrheic schizo-slapstick was swamped by the rock anthems of 2002's The Eminem Show and disappeared altogether from the agonistic 8 Mile. When Slim once again fulfilled his destiny as a pain in the ass on the only album Eminem has released since 8 Mile, 2004's preemptively entitled Encore, he was taken to task for his immaturity by a music community a lot less discerning than he is--or than Eminem is.

That I have a right to expect readers to follow the shifts and feints of Marshall Bruce Mathers III's triune persona is proof of the respectability that became his lot after 8 Mile. Though a superior vehicle in its class, the film was a neorealist romance that diverged from Mathers's true story in many ways. It gave fictionalization Rabbit Smith a nicer mother, a saner love life, a healthier hip-hop scene, a John Updike reference, and a job stamping auto bumpers where Mathers's employment was strictly service-sector. By presenting Eminem as a working-class hero financing his demo on OT, it convinced the sociologically inclined of his essential virtue. Finally they bought what he'd claimed from the very beginning: that his descriptions weren't prescriptive nor his threats literal. But this missed the bigger point--that rock and roll perennial, the triumph of smarts over school. It missed the organic intellectual, and the little big man talking circles around the bully who stole his lunch money. It missed the natural-born alien who knew just from living that character and identity are mutable, with race an example rather than a defining case, and that moral responsibility in the public arts is equally mutable--a fact he accepted, explored, exploited, and expanded as the good people cringed.

In 8 Mile's climactic battle-rhyme scene, Rabbit is the anti-Slim: he preempts his black rival, Papa Doc, with improvised confessional poetry that lays out every embarrassing personal revelation his opponent might level at him and then outs the motherfucker as a graduate of Detroit's top private school. Thus Rabbit is "real" and Papa Doc isn't. When hip-hoppers embrace this tired trope, the tendency is to throw up one's hands--it's a philosophical survival mechanism, who can blame them? But when cultural arbiters deploy it, keep your eye on the queen. The ninth-grade dropout is acceptable when he pulls himself up by his bootstraps, faces his demons, expresses himself, and so forth. But should he become a teen idol by mastering postmodern media theory and African trickster tradition at the same time--not that they're so different--he's a menace. That stuff is for the university certified, who can be trusted to keep kids away from it.

According to official legend, Slim Shady was invented by Eminem--Marshall Mathers the artist, which means Marshall Mathers most of the time--while Mathers was taking a shit. This was in 1997, after his indie-rap debut Infinite tanked. Eminem was already the acknowledged talent of the otherwise African-American hip-hop crew D12, supposedly (though let's hope not) the dozen best rappers in Detroit except they could only find six qualifiers. Like rappers since the beginning, each had a handle. Sometimes a handle implies a persona, like the Fresh Prince or Ol' Dirty Bastard. Sometimes it doesn't, like MC Run or Jay-Z. And sometimes it falls in between--try to imagine Chuck D and Rakim, or Big Boi and Lil Jon, with each other's handles. D12's handles--Kuniva, Kon Artis, Bizarre--suggested characters. But in addition, these characters had alter egos. "Everybody in my clique had an alias. They was like, 'You can't just be Eminem. You gotta be Eminem aka somebody else.'"

When hip-hop scribes try to explain Slim Shady to the condescending, they generally cite seminal gangstas N.W.A and the Geto Boys. But though these groups were certainly provocateurs--N.W.A greatly overstated their eagerness to break the law, and the Geto Boys trumped them by mixing in slasher-flick shock-horror--their personas, as groups and individual rappers, had one layer. The trickiest thing about them they shared with every other rapper who ever ran afoul of the thought police: a bare-faced willingness to tell a core constituency that their particular rap flava "represented" "reality," which most in their hoods would scornfully deny, while indignantly informing anyone who accused them of inciting violence and such that their songs weren't sermons, G-d damn it, but stories, no endorsement implied--as Foucault might put it, representations. These cheap and apparently contradictory claims have their truth quotient, and both work for Eminem. But a more precise precedent for Slim Shady is the Gravediggaz, who stuck their heads out in 1994, when Prince Paul of Stetsasonic/De La Soul and Wu-Tang Clanner RZA--both of whom also generated other fronts, as in the meta-ironically multicultural Handsome Boy Modeling School and the sexist excuse for a man that is Bobby Digital--joined Fruitkwan and Poetic to demonstrate that the ghetto was grislier than any horror movie: "So you wanna die, commit suicide / Dial 1-800-CYANIDE line / Far as life, yo it ain't worth it / Put a rope around your neck and jerk it." By the time Shady erupted, former Ultramagnetic MC Kool Keith had gone underground under such aliases as Dr. Dooom and Dr. Octagon, as had former KMD brother Zev Love X, aka MF Doom, Viktor Vaughn, and King Geedorah.

As usual in hip-hop, this formal innovation originated with African-Americans. But unlike the Missy-slims-down, alternative-Andre-3000 persona tweaks with which pop icons pursue longevity, the illing alter ego is an underground move for black rappers, whereas the white rappers who are such embarrassingly big deals in undie-rap are into bad poetry, social protest, and woe-is-me. Slim Shady trumped both alternatives. Extreme though his tales and rhetoric were, there was nothing sci-fi or "horrorcore" about him; he was understood--by his intended audience, not the moralizers he outraged so efficiently--as a projection of Marshall Mathers's antisocial impulses. But far from self-expression, this triumph of the id was a fabrication--a cross between Cartman of South Park and what biographer Anthony Bozza calls an "avenging angel." And though I wish I didn't feel obliged to explain so late in the game, Eminem's audience got this. There are always nuts who'll believe what they want to believe, and Moby wasn't nuts to observe: "I'm thirty-five. I can understand the ambiguity and the irony. Nine- and ten-year-olds cannot." But Stan's little brother notwithstanding, neither was Eminem ironic to claim that his music wasn't intended for nine-year-olds. Twelve-year-olds are different--in these media-saturated times, hip to jokes their elders just don't get.

Eminem was unusually ambitious for an unknown rapper--contacts were handed not a tape of Infinite but a vinyl pressing. He had a right, though, because he was also unusually gifted--as an artist. Richard Kim's 2001 description of Eminem as a "brillian[t] . . . businessman" who "recognizes that pain and negativity, of the white male variety particularly, still sell" credits him with a commercial shrewdness that ranks low among his talents if it exists at all. Slim Shady was devised as a coherent frame for Eminem's intoxicated wordplay, trebly articulation, pop beats, and irrepressible sense of humor. He targeted not the latecoming adults who thrilled to 8 Mile but, how about that, rap fans--in addition to hip-hop's core demographic, meaning adolescents young and old, the adepts, aesthetes, hustlers, small-time bizzers, and other cognoscenti who frequent the venues where hip-hop wannabes battle and entertain. When Dr. Dre called Eminem up, it was a bigger break than he'd had the arrogance to angle for.

Too much is made of Eminem's debt to Dre, whose weed-thugs-n-jeepbeats The Chronic changed hip-hop permanently and for the worse in 1993. Musically, Dre is a decisive but intermittent presence, overseeing just eleven tracks on Eminem's first three albums and eight more on his fourth and supposedly worst. These include such crucial songs as "Guilty Conscience," "Role Model," "Kill You," "The Real Slim Shady," "Mosh," "Rain Man," the transcendent "My Dad's Gone Crazy," and the unprecedented "My Name Is." But they do not include the equally impressive "97' Bonnie and Clyde," "My Fault," "Cum on Everybody," "The Way I Am," "Stan," "Kim," "Criminal," "White America," "Square Dance," or "Like Toy Soldiers." Dre's greatest gift to Eminem (for which he was soon reimbursed, then repaid with interest when Eminem reeled in 50 Cent) was credibility. For all the scare talk about the white takeover of an African-American genre--beefed up early by the rise of fellow Detroiter Kid Rock, who soon went swamp-rock, and late by his profit-taking enemies at The Source--Eminem's skin color was initially a negative. The white fans who dominate the hip-hop underground are all too eager to cheer their own, but the white guys who follow mainstream hip-hop are buying blackness. They see rappers as romantic outlaws who know how to handle themselves--and their women--in a hostile world. Only after he'd convinced them did his whiteness became an advantage, as The Eminem Show's "White America" famously explains: "Let's do the math / If I was black I would've sold half."

But that was later, when Eminem was servicing the rock audience his rap audience evolved into after "My Name Is" made his name pop. With its addictive Dre loop, catchy-funny chorus, turf-claiming scratches, sotto voce backtalk, and he-fuck-da-police-in-different-voices, Slim Shady's greatest hit was radio-ready froth as Cartoon Network comedy routine--a joke Lynne Cheney herself could recognize if not enjoy as such. Yet like many jokes, it is antisocial. Its offensive content--"stick nine-inch nails through my eyelids," "rip Pamela Lee's tits off," "stuck my dick in the tip cup," "Put a bulletproof vest on and shoot myself in the head"--announces its evil intent in the voice of a high-pitched pitch man addressing his target demographic with a simple, damning "Hi kids! Do you like violence?" (In the video, "violence" becomes bizarro-funk nerds "Primus" and Lee's "tits" become the so much less sadistic "lips"; in an AC/DC-hooked mixtape version, "In a spaceship while they screaming at me 'Let's just be friends'" becomes the far nastier, and wittier, "Raping lesbians while they screaming at me 'Let's just be friends.'") Key line: "God sent me [in the video, 'Dre sent me'] to piss the world off." Key point: romanticize this, wiggers. Maybe you believe those tales of big gats and bigger dicks; maybe sometimes they're true. But this isn't. This is a verbal construct. And the construction worker is just like you.

Cut to "Role Model," aka "Just Like Me," because the title, which cites the "Do I look like a motherfucking role model?" of Ice Cube's N.W.A days, never surfaces in a song whose unobtrusive Dre-beat stays well underneath the lyric and whose chorus goes: "I slap women and eat 'shrooms then OD / Now don't you wanna grow up and be just like me?" Sexual and drug abuse are barely the beginning, of course--in this song Slim Shady, for it is he, admits or claims uncountable unspeakable acts that, not to worry, no sane fan would imitate. Too bad you can't expect any mass of fans to prove uniformly sane, but you can't blame the white boy for that, can you? But wait: "How the fuck can I be white, I don't even exist." So before you take him literally, ponder this credo: "I'm not a player just a ill rhyme sayer."

Part of the charm, brilliance, and power of MBM III's triune persona is the way it disintegrates. On the one hand, it's a subtly calibrated work of psychological imagination, on the other three-card monte to sucker the thought police. Nevertheless, Eminem's album titles--The Slim Shady LP, The Marshall Mathers LP, The Eminem Show, Encore, and finally (so far) the greatest-hits Curtain Call--do signify an aesthetic evolution, from persona to person to artist to goodbye to now-I'm-really-going. Once I rated Marshall Mathers over Slim Shady because I thought the debut thinned out toward the end and because, as a card-carrying mature person (it gets me in cheap at the movies), I appreciated the depth of "Stan," "Kim," and "Who Knew," in all of which Marshall the person reflects on the surprising success of Slim the reconstructed id. Shifting and feinting, the debut's "My Fault" and "Rock Bottom" have a lot of Marshall in them, but not like The Marshall Mathers LP, where the illing title track, for instance, suggests Marshall the real-life homophobe, etc. rather than Slim wilding--Slim gets his own space only in "The Real Slim Shady," "Kill You," and "I'm Back." Some would include "Kim," but the song's moral is too powerful for Shady's purposes. Held up by philistines, ideologues, and ninnies as Exhibit A in the case of The Good People v. Marshall Mathers, Eminem's second excellent wife-murdering song exposes, complexly but unmistakably, the shameful and indeed unmanly insanity of jealous rage. Go after something dumber--Neil Young's "Down by the River," say.

In retrospect the two albums don't sort out as cleanly. Much of Slim Shady's final third--particularly "Still Don't Give a Fuck," a Slim-as-Marshall? outing featuring the boast, "I get imaginative with a mouthful of adjectives / A brain full of adverbs and a box full of laxatives"--seems more precious as Slim becomes an endangered resource. And the four Marshall Mathers songs on which Eminem strokes his D12 homies and hangs with illustrious thugs are as hard to sit through as the Kan Kaniff skits, where Eminem impersonates a gay crank caller, rival, or bleached-blond pop god. Kool Keith and the Gravediggaz turn illing into significant fun. These clowns make up C movies and play the gangsta game that guest has-been Sticky Fingaz once called "nigga in your nightmare." While one can sympathize (a little) with the perverse pleasure black Americans must take in throwing white America's racist stereotypes back in its face for big bucks and fabulous prizes, that doesn't render the stereotypes piquant or their consequences desirable.

Though Eminem was often slotted gangsta when he first launched his attack on civilization, this was ignorant or dishonest. True, Marshall Mathers was eventually arrested for waving guns at people. But Eminem had no penchant for the graphic threats, crime-scene yarns, and demeaning sexual demands of gangsta boilerplate, and he never came on thug. The only black presence on Slim Shady not counting Dre, Eminem's buddy Royce Da Five-Nine, understood this on the schematic Wild West gothic "Bad Meets Evil," where his light, articulate projection has no nightmare in it. Compare Marshall Mathers's "Remember Me?," where Sticky Fingaz gutturalizes his rat-a-tat-tat, or "Amityville," a decent-enough Detroit-as-murder-capital rhyme ruined by a stupid caprice in which fake D12 sicko Bizarre watches ten of his pals deflower his little sister, or the well-named "Bitch Please II," where Dre's posse roll out "simplistic pimp shit" that climaxes with Xzibit's scintillating "Assume the position and get down on your knees." Note that on these tracks--though not on the funnier D12 feature "Under the Influence"--Eminem deepens his voice to vie with his black collaborators, who put a warrior veneer on their most fanciful rhymes so nobody thinks they're fags or shorties.

Cut to the two ugliest songs on The Eminem Show: the Obie Trice feature "Drips," which equates vagina and contagion, and the dance-rap duet "Superman," Eminem's only detailed exploration of the magic kingdom of abusive casual sex. "Bitches they come they go," he philosophizes to a just-fucked ho who "don't know Marshall" before slapping her off a barstool, and this time Dre will not be called upon to impersonate Slim's superego, as he was to unpackable comic effect back on "Guilty Conscience." "Superman" is gangsta posturing no less than the generic D12-Dre sequence that follows--whether or not it's also an autobiographical reminiscence by the guy duet partner Dina Rae called "Sweet. Sensitive. Shy." But it's also hard rock posturing as practiced by Guns 'N' Roses no less than the "hip-hop-influenced" Korn.

The Eminem Show flatters the volunteer army of pale-faced not-yet-men who inspired "White America": "I never woulda dreamed in a million years I'd see so many motherfuckin people who feel like me." Eminem was twenty-nine, his initial audience had aged three years since "My Name Is," and over that time the resentfully heterosexual male chauvinism hipper gay critics exaggerate in his appeal had become musically worrisome. However roughly, approximately, and contradictorily, The Eminem Show is where Eminem the artist forges Slim Shady the unrepressed id and Marshall Mathers the self-doubting workaholic into one all too meaningful creation--an effort that would culminate in 8 Mile's Oscar-winning "Lose Yourself," a keyb-powered declaration of autonomy often cited as his greatest work by the older white guys who'd just then joined his posse.

The Eminem Show is a good album, and its closing "My Dad's Gone Crazy" could be the artist's greatest song. Not for the first time, but more multivalently than ever, Eminem simultaneously celebrates and calls into question his own devotion to fatherhood, always the moral constant in his public identity and the convincingly heartfelt theme of the only significant new song on Curtain Call, "When I'm Gone." His beloved daughter Hailie Jade is his conscience now, but there's a devilish glee in the innocent six-year-old's sampled vocals as she tries to figure out what's gotten into her illing dad. Recapitulating the teens-gone-wild sense of play that laces The Slim Shady LP at a deeper level, it makes one wonder, with real concern, how she'll like this song when her dad decides she's old enough to hear his records uncensored. But there's nothing else like it on The Eminem Show. The rhythms are stiff, the self-pity is thick, the celebrity death matches are enough already, and the cameos are payback and filler.

A year and a half after 8 Mile, Encore catapulted to quadruple platinum--only half the sales of Marshall Mathers or Eminem Show, though up with Slim Shady--and small respect. Despite the antiwar "Mosh," the antibeef "Like Toy Soldiers," the absurdist "Rain Man," and the apologetic "Yellow Brick Road," as well as a full passel of well-executed lesser songs, it's admittedly sillier than the first two albums. But it's also a small miracle. Just as he'd once negotiated the ever escalating challenge of arousing meaningful scandal, Eminem became one of the few rock artists to re-access the lyric freshness of his opening salvos after a bout of meaningfulness. Encore also passes the basic avant-garde test of remaining both hard to resist and hard to listen to, and that it does so via the disreputable childishness of singsong melodies and toilet noises--recorded, one is convinced, during actual bouts of diarrhea and reverse peristalsis--is further tribute to Slim Shady.

Whether Encore will prove Slim's last hurrah is between Eminem and the vagaries of inspiration. For the nonce, however, he's gone: the very last credit for Curtain Call's promo rap-doc reads "Slim Shady R.I.P." So with Slim relegated to history, the question becomes: how will he fare there? Since whatever his larger meanings Eminem is finally a musician, it is as music that Slim must and will survive. In the feverish mischief of its multisyllabic rhymes and trick enjambments, the music he makes out of the poetry he makes out of speech creates its own place in hip-hop tradition, and by subordinating bass to treble like no other major rapper, he extracts musical meaning from racial difference as well. His delivery implies not only childishness but whiteness; the hook sense Dre and Interscope encouraged in him produced a wealth of tunelets; his bass lines--from Dre, the Bass brothers, or himself--tend toward the bouncy rather than the soul-shaking. The sound this all adds up to, most itself when it's least rock, has its own signature, integrity, and pleasure principle. It's not as deep as competing hip-hop sounds from Eric B. & Rakim to Kanye West. But its capacity for self-replenishment is something special. It revisits childhood not unlike the early Beatles, and while I would never equate the two--in his old age, this Slim Shady fan treasures The Beatles' Second Album more than Rubber Soul--I think it could enjoy a comparable afterlife.

Meanwhile, though he's still despised by ethicists on all sides, the moral panic Eminem set off has faded away. Either you accept the irony and multiple-persona defenses or you do not; either you believe the young suss his complexity or you do not; either you agree that he reflects more than inflects a racist, sexist, and homophobic America or you do not. Nevertheless, a few observations are in order.

Half a lifetime ago, rejected by an African-American girlfriend, Eminem let fly some epithets on a basement tape not intended for release. After The Source unearthed it, he uttered three remarkable, unironic words about these epithets: "I was wrong." He has also said, accurately and often, that his whiteness impeded his early progress. And beyond that he has never suggested that hip-hop is not an intrinsically African-American form. He has reached out to black rappers at every level of fame and achievement, and stuck more loyally than was good for his music with the low-talents of D12. In short, no matter what The Source wants its demographic to believe, Eminem's racial attitudes have been admirable if not impeccable.

About women the evidence is dicier, but let me begin with something nobody ever says: Eminem is not a sexy guy. Of course girls (and some guys) think he's cute; probably he's run through lots of pussy. Nevertheless, to anyone who listens to much hip-hop his sexlessness is striking. Most hip-hop artists strive to present themselves as both sensualists and cocksmen. In the rare instances when sex occurs at all in Eminem's music, it is emotionally fraught, and his relationship with Kim is beset by the kind of jealous insecurity mainstream male hip-hoppers never, ever cop to. So his obsessive gibes and worse at his mother and significant other proceed explicitly from a failure of confidence that in most hip-hop is masked. In "Kim" particularly, this etiology is intensely moralized--which didn't stop Eminem from stabbing a Kim doll to death on tour as his fans egged him on.

How ironic was that? I wasn't there, and wouldn't be sure if I had been, but let's guess--probably a little and definitely not enough. Which brings us to the gay question, which despite the confusing incomprehension of his adversaries is all too straightforward. Effectively, Eminem is a homophobe. But the proof isn't the endlessly cited "fag or lez" lines in "Criminal"--which go, in toto, "My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge / That'll stab you in the head whether you're a fag or lez / Or the homosex, hermaph, or a trans-a-vest / Pants or dress? Hate fags? The answer's yes." Over and over the second of these lines has been cited as a physical threat to homosexuals even though the stanza is absolutely, one-dimensionally--even for the kind of fan who wants to stab Kim dolls--about the power of his words to cause pain. Just before, Eminem has mocked those who believe he might actually "kill somebody" by . . . threatening to kill them--with words. Aesthetically, legally, and in terms of all trickster and Lord of Misrule traditions, this is a crucial distinction.

Only there's a problem. Words do lacerate. They do destroy. Eminem has told us how his mother's words damaged him. So the reflexive use of the emasculating epithet "fag"--like the reflexive "nigger," which Eminem abjures, and "bitch," which he fucks with--constitutes an attack even if, as Eminem insists, it isn't meant to impute literal homosexuality. In hip-hop culture, the cliche "fag" or "faggot" has been ratcheted into a systematic slur; its generalized pervasiveness grievously insults all homosexuals and wounds many of them. Especially in an artist who keeps his distance from other hip-hop brutalities, embracing this one is suspicious. Regarding real homosexuality, Eminem remains ignorant and fearful--the Versace jokes in "Criminal" are just one clumsy example. Yet the most physically sexual moment on any Eminem album is the Marshall Mathers Ken Kaniff skit. Somebody sounds like he's really enjoying that simulated blow job.

I saw Eminem perform for the first time in August 2005 at Madison Square Garden. Following the obscene-by-numbers Lil Jon and the genially uncouth 50 Cent, he entered in the suit he'd worn in a Jumbotron teaser that had him pondering suicide, and I hoped foolishly that he'd keep it on. But soon he had changed into some white baggy or other. Almost every time he did a whole song, "Mosh" or "Square Dance" or, hell, "Lose Yourself," his intensity was startling even compared to that of the higher-riding 50 Cent. But often he stepped aside for D12 or some lame label signing, and while such posse-pumping is SOP in hip-hop shows, it was hard not to suspect he was feeling lazy or bored. "My Name Is," a song he is said to hate, was relegated to a medley. Shortly afterward, the tour's European dates were cancelled for his rehab. The concert also featured a bit in which Eminem dropped his pants and mooned all those retirement rumors. But though it seems unlikely he'll disappear like Axl Rose--he's more into work, and more talented--how many encores can he do?

What will probably ensue is a (much) less autobiographical film role or two, some unmomentous production work, and an album in 2007 or 2008. Figure the album will either be one where Eminem tries to recapitulate his shtick--which would be a miracle if he brings it off, a bummer if he doesn't, and a bummer if he comes fairly close--or something more pretentious that mixes politics and sociology, a measure of musical experiment, and a plot or concept (pray he has the sense to avoid singing lessons). But then allow me to indulge a fantasy based on Eminem's freestyles and cameos, for which I claim metaphorical but not predictive validity. The existing cameos could constitute an interim CD--from Missy Elliott's pop generosity to Shabaam Sahdeeq's underground virtuosity, one that would show how broadening full collaboration can be for an artist in the market for options. The freestyles, like most freestyles, tend to blur into each other because they're crudely recorded over crude beats. One of them, however, I've been playing for anyone I can get to listen. "We're Still #1" is the irrelevant title.

Peace to Thirstin Howl, A. L., and Wordsworth
My mother smoked crack, I had a premature birth
I'm just a nerd cursed with badly disturbed nerves
You wanna be the one to step up and get served first?
Ninety-nine percent of aliens prefer earth
I come here to rule the planet, starting with your turf
I hid a secret message inside of a word search
With smeared letters runnin' together in blurred spurts
I hang with male chauvinist pigs and perverts
Who point water pistols at women and squirt shirts
Been a bad boy since diapers and Gerber's
My first words were bleep bleep and curse curse
Never had it and I still don't deserve dirt
My breath still stinks and I'm on my third Cert
Yanking out my stitches and hollering "Nurse, nurse,
You said this shot would numb it, chick it just hurts worse"

Since seeing isn't hearing, read this piece of what some would call doggerel aloud, distorting words like "premature," "your," and "Gerber's" so that their ure/our/er sounds duplicate their counterparts in "prefer," "birth," and "curse." The result is an intricately articulated stammer, breathtakingly musical when you listen. Though I wish "Never had it" was "Never had shit," as it is in some transcriptions, it's a telling demonstration that as one of those aliens who prefers earth, Eminem's lacerations hurt worse.

In more recent freestyles--notably "Bully," contra The Source and Murder Inc.--Eminem essays some shrewd, lucid psychological analysis. My fantasy? That the artistic seeker combine the modes of "We're Still #1" and "Bully" and art it up for the rap underground. It would sell like, oh, Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska. And the spirit of Slim Shady would live on.

The Believer, February, 2006