Eminem: Beyond the Encore, Part I

Make ‘Em Say Uhhhhhhhhhh! Na, na, na, na!

It had been a little over a year since Hip Hop had said goodbye to The Notorious B.I.G. And, almost two years since we said the same thing to Tupac Shakur. Puff Daddy’s “shiny suit era” of rap had given way to Percy “Master P” Miller’s vision and suddenly, Puffy and Mase’s candy-coated caricatures didn’t look so bad.

There was still good, true rap music out there, but in 1998 you’d have to move aside the stacks of unsold Mia X to find it. (And, if you don’t know”¦don’t ask.)

Lost in all the uncertainty of the Hip Hop landscape was the fate of the industry’s biggest producer. Dr. Dre, the alumnus of The World Class Wreckin’ Crew, N.W.A. and the Death Row Records empire, had found himself on the outside looking in.

In 1996, he famously left Death Row and started up Aftermath Entertainment. A few months later he released a substandard”¦oh, hell, let’s just say it: a genuinely awful attempt at a compilation album, featuring an array of has-beens and never-weres. The album’s poor sales and Dre’s flaky nature resulted in the scrapping of numerous future projects on Aftermath.

Rap fans remember the so-called “Firm Fiasco” of 1997 as the “can’t miss” super group of AZ, Nas and Foxy Brown hooked up with Dre”¦and missed. Everything he was touching turned into stone. It got so bad, that he crawled to former protégé Snoop Dogg to record Zoom. At the time, Snoop had his own issues and his verses were replaced with LL Cool J for release on the soundtrack to the movie Bulworth.

Dre had gone from million dollar beat maker to soundtrack purgatory in 18 months. And, as we’ve all learned from the movies, it’s usually just a matter of time before the down-on-his-luck Black guy hooks up and finds salvation with the virtuous White guy.

The Slim Shady LP was released in February of 1999. Eminem had already dropped a handful of regional and underground EP’s, before he and the Good Doctor found each other in 1998. This would be a huge risk for both, as Eminem was hitching his future onto a fading star.

And Dre’s future rested on the shoulders of”¦the virtuous White guy.

My Name Is“¦And so it begins. Marshall Mathers’ mainstream introduction would be this radio-friendly, intentionally nonsensical single. Dr. Dre drops one of his most unusual beats here, as the threadbare thumps and artificial scratches are a decent compliment to Em’s not-yet-clichéd craziness.

Got pissed off and ripped Pamela Lee’s tits off
And smacked her so hard I knocked her clothes backwards like Kris Kross

Guilty Conscience“¦A very good give-and-take track that served as something of a lyrical bridge between the old guard and the new school. Three separate sadistic scenarios are spelled out, while Dre and Em play the Hip Hop versions of those cartoon angels and devils that often appear atop animated shoulders. As an added bonus, this one arguably brought Dre’s career off of life support.

Now listen to me/while you’re kissin’ her cheek
And smearin’ her lipstick/Slip this in her drink
Now all you gotta do is nibble on this little bitch’s earlobe”¦

Brain Damage“¦This one’s supposedly a semi-autobiographical cut that covers Em’s junior high beatdowns from a bully. Years later, it would receive a crutch of credibility when his teenaged tormentor (whom Slim refers to by name in this song) sued Eminem over the emotional distress the lyrics caused him. Much of the imagery on this one is an eerily accurate take on the hallways & homeroom wars in school.

But he just wouldn’t leave, he kept chokin’ me and I couldn’t breathe
He looked at me and said, “You gonna die, honkey!”
The principal walked in (What’s going on in here?)
and started helpin’ him stomp me

If I Had“¦One of Eminem’ s earliest recorded entries, this one had been previously released on the Slim Shady EP. This also happens to be one of the most unintentionally ironic tracks you’ll ever hear, as Em rambles on about the fame and fortune he’s never received. The meandering Marky and Jeff Bass beat, along with Em’s slowed down flow only highlight the whining even more.

I’m tired of being white trash, broke and always poor
Tired of taking pop bottles back to the party store

’97 Bonnie & Clyde“¦Another previously released joint, this one remains an all-time favorite for many Em fans. Devilishly dark and subtle, it plays out like an afternoon of quality daddy/daughter time”¦with a few dead bodies in the trunk, just for kicks. The off-key hook serves to heighten the (no pun intended) black humor. It was originally released as a send-up of Will Smith’s saccharin-soaked ode to his son (Just the Two of Us).

See honey”¦there’s a place called heaven and a place called hell
A place called prison and a place called jail
And dada’s probably on his way to all of ’em except one
Cuz mama’s got a new husband and a stepson

Role Model“¦Another Dr. Dre (and Mel Man) produced piece, the beat is right out of the good doctor’s post-Firm depression era. It starts off well enough, with Eminem embracing the anti-hero honor, but it’s mostly a mishmash of outdated pop culture references and barbs that have been dulled by his better work.

Me n’ Marcus Allen went over to see Nicole
When we heard a knock at the door, must have been Ron Gold’
Jumped behind the door, put the orgy on hold
Killed ’em both and smeared blood in a white Bronco (we did it!)

My Fault“¦With a sped-up, seven-step beat looped over and over again, the foundation is laid out for Eminem to put his storytelling talent on display. This time, he voices four different characters and calls out the consequences of twenty-two ‘shrooms in the wrong girl’s system.

I never meant to give you mushrooms girl
I never meant to bring you to my world

Cum On Everybody“¦The obligatory “dance song”, as Em tells us. This one’s nothing special and the music segment it’s satirizing sank into self-parody long ago. Though, the third verse “we all must look alike” references to Mike D and Kid Rock manage to work.

I’m bored out of my gourd”¦so I took a hammer
and nailed my foot to the floorboard of my Ford

Rock Bottom“¦Well, on one hand, it’s an all-too-rare attempt from Em to actually rap about something on this album. Unfortunately, the beat sounds like something you’d hear in a schlocky C-level horror movie. It’s heavy on the cynicism, which is surely a shock to you all.

My life is full of empty promises and broken dreams
I’m hopin’ things look up”¦but, there ain’t no job openings
I feel discouraged, hungry and malnourished
Living in this house with no furnace, unfurnished

Just Don’t Give A F*ck“¦An all-over-the-map missive that manages to find words to rhyme with current NFL head coach “Marty Schottenheimer” in the first verse. From there, he disses Everlast, Vanilla Ice and wraps things up with a little Jim Beam & women’s swim team. This was a huge underground hit for reasons still unexplained.

You wacker than the mutha f*cka you bit your style from
You ain’t gonna sell two copies if you press a double album

As The World Turns“¦Eminem’s version of the “day in my life” concept. The beat isn’t bad, as it’s a little more complex that most of his stuff from around the same time with a steady and layered bass line. The reference to The Source would be a harbinger of things to come, though.

It all started when my mother took my bike away
Cuz I murdered my guinea pig and stuck him in the microwave
After that, It was straight to the 40 ouncers
Slappin’ teachers, and jackin’ off in front of my counselors

I’m Shady“¦Those of you who’ve wondered what makes Marshall tick probably won’t learn anything from this one. He plays the role of dopeman, deviant, best friend and bastard over a stripped down drum machine clap and an off-key hook.

Yo.. I listen to your demo tape and act like I don’t like it
(Aww, that shit is wack!)
Six months later you hear your lyrics on my shit
(What?? That’s my shit!)

Bad Meets Evil“¦Royce Da 5’9” has an effective cameo on this one. He and Em return to the give-and-take approach, which works because the two tone down their approach without compromising the content of their lyrics. D-12 should be listening to this one on a continuous loop.

Releasin’ rage on anybody in squeezing range
Cold enough to make the seasons change into freezing rain

Still Don’t Give A F*ck“¦Better than the original, with different lyrics and a similar beat and theme. The rhyming isn’t as clever, but “laxatives/adjectives” is kind of close.

My worst day on this earth was my first birthday


Eminem had his breakthrough hit album, while Dre received an extension off the reputation he’d been living off of for years. Dre used the momentum to propel the completion of his long awaited 2001 album, which prominently featured Eminem on a handful of cuts.

The two seemed made for each other and dove headlong into work on Eminem’s second LP, scheduled for release in 2000. Dre had lived three different lifetimes in the music industry and that fact that he had put so much time and effort in seeing this”¦”new” guy succeed didn’t sit well with certain members of Hip Hop establishment.

But, what do they know? We’re still in the warm and fuzzy chapters of this inspirational story, but there’s nothing wrong with skipping ahead. The story never changes, anyway. The Black guy’s saved”¦the White guy’s a hero”¦and they all lived happily ever after.

What’s left to tell?

Next, in Part II of Beyond The Encore, we’ll look in depth at how a school tragedy changed the country and how many of them found a new voice through it.